Preventing the Career Advancement of Professional Women

By Arnold, Margaret L.; Shinew, Kimberly J. | Parks & Recreation, September 1997 | Go to article overview

Preventing the Career Advancement of Professional Women


Arnold, Margaret L., Shinew, Kimberly J., Parks & Recreation


Women represent the majority of entrants into the leisure service field. According to Bialeschki (1992), more women than men are graduating from undergraduate leisure studies curricula. Despite this pattern, recent studies have shown that women remain underrepresented in upper-administrative and managerial positions (Arnold & Shinew, 1996; Cousineau & Bolla, 1989; Smale & Frisby, 1989). For example, Arnold & Shinew (1996) examined female representation among middle- and senior-management positions in Illinois public recreation agencies and found that women comprised 54 percent of middle-management positions, but a low percentage of women occupied senior-management positions (less than 11 percent).

The lack of female representation among upper-management positions is not limited to the field of leisure services. Using the accounting profession as an example, a recent study found that 12 percent of the partners of smaller firms were women, and only five percent of the partners of larger firms were women (AICPA, 1994). Similarly, the Glass Ceiling Commission found that although women and minorities make up 57 percent of the work force, 97 percent of the senior managers at the largest service and industrial firms are white, and roughly the same percentage are male (Parshall, 1995).

The purpose of this research update is to examine the most recent literature related to the issue of female underrepresentation. More specifically, the purpose of this research update is threefold. First, we examine common promotional barriers that women encounter in the workplace. Similar barriers are reported by women both within and outside the leisure field, thus indicating that this is an issue for women in a variety of professions. Second, we examine the role that family responsibilities play in women's career advancement. Balancing the obligations of the home environment as well as those of the workplace can be problematic for many women. Third, we examine the role that barriers have had on the career advancement of women, as evidenced by the lack of female representation in upper-administrative positions. We conclude by reviewing the strategies that have been suggested in the literature that address the barriers professional women encounter during career advancement.

Common Barriers

Catalyst (1994), a woman's advocacy group, reported that the most common barriers for women include concerns about their suitability for leadership positions because of stereotyping, exclusion from informal networks of communication, and an absence of effective management training. Other common obstacles include the failure of upper-level managers to be accountable for the development and advancement of women, inadequate appraisal and compensation systems, inflexibility in defining work schedules, and the absence of programs that help employees balance work and non-work responsibilities.

According to Powell (1988), stereotyping is a prevalent barrier for female managers. Kirchler (1992) found blatant stereotypes when examining the obituaries from deceased male and female managers. Analysis of the contents found that men were described as "intelligent," "knowledgeable," and "experienced." Women managers, on the other hand, were portrayed as "adorable," "likable supervisors," and "highly committed workers." Although these characteristics are no less desirable, they are perceived to be inferior in the workplace.

Despite conflicting research findings, women are often perceived as not being as committed to their jobs as male managers. For example, Powell (1988) found that women managers were more committed to their jobs than were male managers. Other studies have reported that professional women were less attitudinally committed than men, whereas women in nonprofessional, blue-collar positions were more committed (Cohen, 1992).

Often times a lack of training and development programs has been cited as barriers toward promotion. …

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