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Women's next career frontier: top management

By Marilyn GardnerStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 3, 1986


THE question used to be, ``How do we get women into middle management jobs?'' Now it's ``How do we get them out of those jobs?'' Few women are better qualified to address either question than Anne Jardim, a dean of the Simmons College Graduate School of Management for Women, who ten years ago co-authored, with Margaret Hennig, the now-classic book, ``The Managerial Woman.''

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A decade after her book chronicled the obstacles facing upwardly mobile women in the 1970s, Dr. Jardim finds a new set of barriers confronting women managers, class of '86. Some of the challenges are predictably the same. Male clubbishness and female stereotyping have not gone away. But a number of the mid-'80s problems would have been as difficult to predict as they are proving hard to resolve. Some women have shown a reluctance to advance to jobs they feel unprepared for. And many are less prepared to drop former associations as ``outgrown.''

Today, she says, women hold up to 40 percent of middle management jobs in some fields.

But many find themselves either treading water or settling for lateral moves as they watch male colleagues advance to senior management jobs. A recent study by Korn Ferry International, a New York recruiting firm, found that among 1,362 executives polled, women held only 2 percent of top positions.

``The barriers at the senior management levels are more complex than anything that existed to bar women from the first management jobs in 1975,'' Dr. Jardim says. ``They're more complex because they're more psychological in nature. We're no longer down to asking, `Can she do the job? And if she can't, is there training available for her to learn?' The thing has shifted from performance into subjective judgments.''

Dealing with those subjective judgments can prove difficult, not only for female employees but for those who want to help them advance.

``Ten years ago,'' Dr. Jardim recalls, ``when you talked to a woman who was in her 40s, who was doing a phenomenal job, and who had a boss saying she was promotable, she might say, `I'm not ready. I don't know enough. I don't know the job I'm going into.' You could do a lot of fairly simple things with a woman like that in terms of building confidence, letting her see that her own work history was strong enough for her to take the position and learn the job when she got into it.

``That's not the case now,'' she explains.

Some of the problems women face also grow out of women's attitudes toward relationships and competition.

``At the very highest levels of organizations,'' Dr. Jardim says, ``the men who have pulled themselves up that ladder by that point have pretty well been able to deal with social connections in ways that say that they're not very important.

``Women are not doing that with the same degree of comfort that men are doing it, and thank God they're not. But at the same time they're hitting the senior levels of organizations and finding men up there who are able to dispense with people outside of their own small group in ways that these women can't accept.