What Men Think They Know About Executive Women

Article ID: 524838

Released: 1-Nov-2006 3:30 PM EST

Source Newsroom: University of Alabama, Culverhouse College of Commerce

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Newswise — Attitudes about women in executive roles have improved over the past 40 years, but not as much as many men seem to think, according to a study published in the September issue of the Harvard Business Review.

One of the authors of the study, Dr. K. Michele Kacmar, is a professor of management and the Durr-Fillauer Chair of Business Ethics at the Culverhouse College of Commerce at The University of Alabama. The other authors are Dawn S. Carlson, assistant professor of management at Baylor University and Dwayne Whitten, assistant professor of information and operations management at Texas A&M University. "I think this is good news for female M.B.A. students," Dr. Kacmar said. "It means that when they are placed in charge of an area, they will in most cases be viewed as a positive, strong leader as most of their male counterparts have always been."

The three researchers have built on surveys done in 1965 and 1985 to measure attitude changes in the workplace. The current study uses the same set of questions as the two previous surveys.

"Over the past 40 years, female respondents have indicated steady support for the idea of women in senior management, and men have warmed up to it along the way," the researchers wrote. "Since 1965, the percentage of male respondents who said they agree with the statement `Overall, your attitude toward women in management is favorable' has increased from 35 percent to 88 percent. Indeed, in our 2005 survey, men's answers were as positive as women's."

The latest survey also found that men and women are responding similarly to the statement, "I would feel comfortable working for a woman." Most female respondents continue to say they would, although there as been a slight drop since 1985. But as for the men, 71 percent said they would, up significantly from 1965 (27 percent) and 1985 (47 percent).

"For the most part, men don't see their attitudes toward female executives as being a big problem," Dr. Kacmar said, "and that in itself may be a problem. When men see the business world as being more rosy for women than women do, that perception may not be accurate."

Dr. Kacmar said the business community needs to work toward the point that female executives are "welcome at the table for what they bring to the table, not because they are female. We are getting closer to that ideal but a gap remains." She also said that unfavorable attitudes toward women in business are very subtle and sometimes difficult to discern.

"When every single board member has a daughter or a wife or a sister who can educate them on what it is like to be a female executive, then we will see real change in this area," she said.

Last spring the National Association for Female Executives, in announcing its top 30 companies for executive women, noted that "with women accounting for less than two percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and less than ten percent of line managers, the glass ceiling is still firmly in place across much of corporate America."

"Because women now hold managerial positions at most American companies, women's advancement remains a problem that many don't recognize as one," said Dr. Betty Spence, President of NAFE. "In organizations where women are truly succeeding-where we find women running divisions and country operations-they have implemented tough measures, like having the board review succession planning and compensation for gender equity, and holding managers accountable with their own advancement and pay"¦"


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