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


  • Rose Lyn Zanville




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
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.