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Vol. 4, No. 1 = No. 8 (2001 Winter)

A Quantitative Analysis of the Personal Characteristics and Workplace Experiences of Women and Men as Professional and Community Leaders

  • Rose Lyn Zanville
June 19, 2017


In the past, the subject of leadership in women has been confined to anecdotal figures who are remarkable for their small numbers. Women leaders have emerged as a more common phenomenon in American society in the last three decades, reflecting the transition in the status of women in society. According to Dye and Strickland (1982), between 1970 and 1980, the total number of women managers and administrators in the U.S. workforce increased over 100%. However, this change has not extended through all levels of leadership. Hymowitz & Schellhardt found that by 1985 only 2.7% of the top executives and directors of AT&T were women and 8.3% and 15% of division and district managers were women. In contrast, 22% of second-level supervisors and 38.7% of first -level supervisors were women. The slow progress of women on this front has two possible explanations. One is "the glass ceiling," a term that was coined in 1986 by Hymowitz and Schellhardt, two Wall Street Journal reporters. This is an invisible barrier that blocks women from advancing to senior leadership positions in organizations. An alternative explanation to "the glass ceiling" might be a delay in the pipeline with appreciable numbers of women only now reaching the point in their careers where senior positions are available. With increasing competition for leadership positions, women will likely encounter a growing number of obstacles to promotion (Pipelines of Progress, An Update on the Glass Ceiling Initiative, 1992). In a survey of female senior executives, one-third believed that the number of female executives in their companies would remain static or decrease (Business Week, June 8, 1992).

In 1991, the author was a participant in a yearlong program run by a private, nonprofit organization for women professional and community leaders. Beginning that year, the author initiated a study of these women.

The goal of this study was to discern how factors of personal background and workplace experience compare in successful women and men leaders. It was then extrapolated that these factors might influence the course of advancement for women leaders vis a vis men leaders.