Monday, May 19, 2008

The Glass Ceiling, and Trying Harder

Queens of the hill: Creative destruction and the emergence of executive
leadership of women

Stacie Furst & Martha Reeves
The Leadership Quarterly, forthcoming

Despite penetrating the middle management ranks of many U.S. businesses, women continue to lag far behind men in their appointments to top leadership positions. Many explanations exist for why the glass ceiling exists, but few theories offer suggestions for how women break through this ceiling. In this paper we propose that the concept of 'creative destruction' can help us understand why some women ascend to leadership positions. Using empirical research and anecdotal evidence from the experiences of several high-profile female executives, we argue that women may rise to leadership positions in turbulent environments that are receptive to new talent and open to innovative, bold ideas. Further, we propose that under these conditions women may be seen as especially attractive candidates to guide organizations because they are perceived to utilize a leadership style that promotes openness and inclusion, and facilitates change.


Gender Differences in Seeking Challenges
: The Role of Institutions

Muriel Niederle & Alexandra Yestrumskas
NBER Working Paper, April 2008

We examine whether women and men of the same ability differ in their decisions to seek challenges. In the laboratory, we create an environment in which we can measure a participants performance level (high or low), where a high performance level participant has on average higher earnings from solving a hard rather than an easy task, and vice versa. After we identify each participant's performance level, they choose the difficulty level (easy or hard) for the next two tasks (only one of which will be chosen for payment). Although there are no gender differences in performance, or beliefs about relative performance, men choose the hard task about 50 percent more frequently than women, independent of performance level. Gender differences in preferences for characteristics of the tasks cannot account for this gender gap. When we allow for a flexible choice, high performing women choose the hard task significantly more often, at a rate now similar to the decision of men. Such a flexible choice makes challenging choices easier when participants are either risk averse, or uncertain about their ability. Our results highlight the role of institution design in affecting choices of women and men, and the resulting gender differences in representation in challenging tasks.

(Nod to KL)