We are of the opinion that, beyond those external factors, women managers are influenced by internal factors such as age and identity, which can prove crucial in order to understand the process of reaching and consolidating jobs in upper management.
Our initial premise is that people’s expectations, whether men or women, change as they go through different periods in the life cycle (Kets de Vries). That is why we will pay special attention to this variable, under the assumption that it is highly significant at the various stages of personal and professional development.
A second issue to take into account is the development of economic capacity resulting in financial independence. We live in a consumer society that equates ownership of material goods and money with power and authority; inversely, a lack of them creates low self-esteem. What we feel towards money will rule our lives. This is a topic on which people tend to be reserved, and this silence is even more marked among women. Existing studies point out that the difference lies in the fact that women find it difficult to reconcile their roles as mothers and workers, and feel pulled between both jobs, while men for their part feel “trapped” by the need to make money, which ultimately becomes an expression of their manliness. This supposition is confirmed by CIS studies that show how men tend to attach greater value to financial security than women.
Our study showed that many adults remain faithful to the financial laws they learnt as children, which led us to try to disentangle the mental and emotional paradigms that block the road to financial freedom, and which often originated in childhood through the messages about money that we heard at home. These mental paradigms tend to color economic transactions with an emotional element. (2. Kaufmann A. Woman ,power and money, editorial Lo que no existe , Madrid)
For women, the social expectation of financial independence often clashes with the selfless attitude that is expected of her, making professional performance subordinate to caregiving, especially when it involves her immediate family. This conditioning factor varies depending on her stage of the life cycle. This research explores two different stages:
Adult life (30 to 45 years old): Existing studies (as well as testimony from interviews and group discussions carried out in this study) show that motherhood is overrated as the core of a woman’s identity and that this condition is viewed by others as permanent.
Maturity (46 to 60 years old): This period can produce frustration due to the fact that the children are leaving home and to the difficulty of expanding personal horizons once the reproductive and educational roles are completed. This is the time for a woman to put her wishes ahead of other people’s, to act on her own behalf rather than others’, to move from selflessness to selfishness, to drop the “ball metaphor” – in other words, to stop making herself available to assist the play of others. We feel that the real innovation of our proposal lies in the incorporation and analysis of the interaction between the variables tied to formal education (basic and higher) and informal education (messages received from parents), as well as variables tied to emotional intelligence, the stage of the life cycle, and workplace socialization, including the issue of wages. All of these variables act as either facilitators or inhibitors of women’s advancement from middle to upper management positions.
We will therefore explore the influence of family role models (father/mother), their capacity for stimulating or inhibiting personal ambition, and differences in attitude towards their male offspring (women’s behavior and attitude towards her brothers, for instance). We will analyze how all of this affects women’s self-esteem and either aids or blocks their access to upper management, while also helping create a new model for managing work relations that is often less harsh, and shows greater capacity for negotiation as well as conflict resolution.
At a second stage we will examine the influence of a woman’s partner and his participation in the roles and tasks relating to family and reproduction. We will look at his capacity to happily accept her professional advancement, and to take on tasks that she has no time for. We believe that men have been socialized to be the main family support, and if they do not achieve that position of provider many of them feel invalidated. For a woman’s rise to upper management to stand a chance of success, it is crucial for her partner to accept a shift in roles and a redefinition of their identities. A broad range of possible attitudes opens up here, from a partner’s clear-cut opposition to acceptance and unconditional support. We believe that life as a couple brings into play the identities of both members, and that understanding organizational and personal readjustments requires a period of reflection about the emotional impact created by these changes.
Another topic that is explored in the interviews and group discussions is the impact of formal education, which does not always do enought to promote women’s independence or to help them exercise control over their emotions, especially fear and guilt, two feelings that can prove paralyzing when social mandates are not fulfilled. Thus, a detailed analysis of the limitations created by each dimension (family, social and professional) will show us which aspects need to be reinforced in order to design specific seminars to fill the educational gaps that may be hindering women’s access to positions of responsibility.
After considering the personalities of women managers or women in a position to access upper management, we will examine their attitudes and conduct on the job at various stages of their career: as subordinates, as peers and as superiors, in their relationships with men and other women. First we will take a look at how they see themselves. We will also explore the male experience, and later analyze how they see women in relations of subordination, equality or seniority.
We must not lose sight of the fact that this is a purely qualitative study whose main strength lies in its heuristic nature and therefore its capacity to create hypotheses and suggest relationships that could only be empirically verified through a quantitative survey. Such a study has not yet been carried out, and it is quite obvious that it would be relevant to do so. The results of this qualitative phase enabled us to design a questionnaire to determine in detail where the blockages occur. Its application to a representative sample of women in upper management positions on one hand, and to women with the potential to reach such positions on the other, would seem a highly recommendable endeavor.
The results of this second stage could lead to actions aimed at transforming these limiting factors into factors that underscore personal abilities and creating tools to help women fully develop their professional and emotional capacities.
 Kets de Vries, et al La organización neurótica (The Neurotic Organisation), Barcelona, ed. Apóstrofe, 1983.
(2) Kaufmann A. Woman , power and money, Madrid, editorial lo que no existe)
(3) Kaufmann A. Woman in Management and life cycle. London, Longmans Mc MillanPress.
(4) Kaufmann A. Changing female identities. London, Longmans Mc Millan Press.