Women's Entry into Management: Trends in Earnings, Authority, and Values among Salaried Managers

By Jacobs, Jerry A. | Administrative Science Quarterly, June 1992 | Go to article overview

Women's Entry into Management: Trends in Earnings, Authority, and Values among Salaried Managers


Jacobs, Jerry A., Administrative Science Quarterly


This paper examines whether the dramatic increase in women's representation among managers between 1970 and 1988 was real or was simply a case of women being given managerial titles but not commensurate pay or supervisory responsibility. Earnings and authority differentials between male and female managers are analyzed with data from three sources for this period. The results indicate that the sex gap in earnings among managers narrowed during this period, while the gap in authority remained constant. Thus, women's increasing representation in management was not simply a matter of their artificial reclassification. Nonetheless, the sex gap in wages within management continues to exceed that in the labor force as a whole. The implication of these results for theories of internal organizational dynamics are discussed.(*)

The increasing representation of women among the ranks of managers in organizations in the U.S. is perhaps the most dramatic shift in the sex composition of an occupation since clerical work became a female-dominated field in the late nineteenth century. In 1970, census data indicated that one in six American managers was a woman; today more than two in five are women. Far more women are managers than are lawyers, doctors, architects, computer specialists, engineers, and natural scientists combined, even though women have entered each of these fields in large numbers in recent years. The surge in the number of women managers accounts for fully one-quarter of the decline in occupational sex segregation since 1970.(1) Yet much recent data indicates the continued paucity of women among senior-level managers. The term "the glass ceiling" has become a familiar term for describing the invisible but powerful barriers to advancement for women executives (e.g., Garland, 1991).

Recent surveys confirm the near complete absence of women from top managerial positions. Fortune Magazine recently surveyed 799 of the largest U.S. industrial and service companies and found that only 19 of the 4,012 (less than half of one percent) highest paid officers and directors were women (Fierman, 1990). Of the next echelon of managers, 5 percent were women. Another survey, by the Catalyst organization, found that less than 3 percent of the top executives in Fortune 500 companies were women (Ball, 1991).

Research on recent M.B.A. recipients yields a more favorable reading of women's gains than do the studies of top executives. Olson and Frieze's (1987) review of the literature on the earnings of male and female M.B.A. holders reports that while many of these studies found little or no gender differences in starting salaries, studies that followed business graduates for a longer period after graduation were more likely to show a significant gender gap in earnings.

A great deal of research has documented the difficulties women have faced in advancing through the ranks of managers. Studies of corporations and other settings have shown that women are far less likely to attain positions of authority within organizations than their male counterparts (Kanter, 1977, Wolf and Fligstein, 1979; Powell, 1988; Boyd and Mulvihill, 1990; Freeman, 1990; Reskin and Ross, 1992). A recent international review of the sexual division of labor in the workplace maintains that the generalization "men control, women obey" continues to hold (Bradley, 1989: 1). In light of this pattern of evidence regarding the barriers to the progress of women managers, many specialists in the area of women's opportunities are understandably skeptical when presented with census data showing the remarkable entry of women into management and wonder whether these women are really managers in anything other than title. Here, I attempt to determine whether the growth of women managers is real or is the result of artificial reclassification of women without a corresponding real change in earnings or authority.

Skeptical Interpretations of Women's Entry into Management

Haw women's representation among the ranks of managers increased fro 18 to 40 percent, as national survey data indicate? …

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