Visiting researcher discusses women's career paths to executive leadership

Posted on September 09, 2016

Dr Bobbi Thomason from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School shared her research findings on women's career paths to executive leadership during a visit to the University of Pretoria on Thursday, 1 September 2016. She presented some of her data at the Brown Bag lunch and research series hosted by the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, which is an interactive forum for all research-related matters. Some of the sessions are presented by the Faculty's academic staff and others by local or international visitors.

Her presentation, titled 'Women's paths to executive leadership: Enacting career scripts by shaping and selecting organisational and familial settings', shared insights from her research of women's career advancement in Amman (Jordan), Tunis (Tunisia) and Cairo (Egypt).

Explaining her motivation for undertaking this research, she said: 'There is a general lack of women in the highest echelons of management, even if women enter organisations at approximate parity to men.' This is a topic she is familiar with, having worked as the international researcher for Sheryl Sandberg's bestseller Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.

She explained that the underrepresentation of women in positions of power is not unique to S&P 500 companies. It is, however, particularly evident in the countries she collected data in, because 'women's participation in the Middle East and North Africa region's labour force remains one of the lowest in the world'.

The data collection involved interviewing women across a range of industries in three categories of career progression, namely executive, 'on the rise' (those with the intention and ambition to reach executive leadership, but were not there yet) and those whose careers had plateaued. From this, Dr Thomason was able to identify the various behaviours the women used to navigate the career path to executive leadership by shaping and selecting their settings. She plans to publish a research paper detailing her findings.

'Gender equality will happen over time,' she said, stating that more research was necessary to answer questions about where individual level changes need to start and at what point the small changes gain enough traction to change the structure.


- Author Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences

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