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Executive Women: Substance Plus Style

PSYC 4310

Executive Women: Substance Plus Style

The article “Executive Women: Substance Plus Style” deals with the issue of

whether the “abilities and attitudes of male managers are different from those

of female managers” and that these differences have been used to keep women out

of managerial positions. Furthermore, it suggests that it has now become

“fashionable” to state that these differences are favorable and complement the

business environment. Lastly, the article focused on several strategies that

women should follow in order to succeed as a middle or upper level manager

within a large corporation. The authors refute the notion that the differences

between male and female managers are great. They mention that “the few studies

that have looked at women and men in comparable managerial roles have discovered

more similarities than differences across sexes” (Catalyst, 1986). A test bank

from “thousands of managers and professionals in management development programs

from 1978 to 1986″ was cited as another reason why they believe there are few

differences between male and female executives. The tests revealed that

executive men and women scored equally on most areas and that executive women

are just as capable at leading, influencing, and motivating groups, as well as

analyzing problems. The authors go on to show that, despite these similarities,

women are disproportionately represented in the ranks of Fortune 500 company


Repeated references are made to studies that were conducted with 22 people, 16

men and 6 women, whose job is to select executives for top jobs. These people

are continually referred to as “savvy insiders” throughout the article. These

so called savvy insiders were tasked with providing an example of what they

considered to be a woman who “made it” and one who “derailed”. They describe

what basically amounts to a woman who utilizes characteristics of both masculine

and feminine personalities. They came up with these four contradictory sets of

expectations that women must overcome: take risks, but be consistently

outstanding; be tough, but don’t be macho; be ambitious, but don’t expect equal

treatment; and take responsibility, but follow others’ advice. The research was

based on a comparison between male and female managers and by tests that

measured personality dimensions, intelligence, and behavior in problem-solving

groups. As I had learned in a previous psychology class, personality tests are

not really an effective measure of personality, nor is an intelligence test

necessarily an accurate means of determining ones’ success in the future. I

would have been more convinced by experimental research rather than by a review

of tests or an interview with 76 people. I have noticed a trend that has been

occurring in the military in which many for women are being promoted to the

upper officer ranks than at any time before. The Admiral in charge of all Navy

training, Vice Admiral Tracy, seems to embody the principles that were discussed

in the article. To me, she epitomizes, what I would consider to be, the

quintessential executive woman. She is tough but not overbearing; she is firm,

but will listen to others’ advice; and she never seems to shed her feminine

qualities. It appears that the social dominance of males in our society is a

difficult obstacle to overcome for women who are attempting to climb the

corporate ladder. While the article states that men and women have more

similarities than differences, the differences are hard to ignore. As stated in

our textbook, Social Psychology, “men’s style of communicating undergirds their

social power, men tend to be directive and women tend to be democratic”. I

believe that the past gender role of women in our society is still affecting

what is happening today. As long as the perception that women should fulfill a

subservient role persists, I believe it will be difficult for women to achieve

equal numbers in upper management in the foreseeable future. While it is

apparent that women need to adjust their behavior to become successful, perhaps

it is time that men adjust their own behavior to better integrate what

constitutes the other half of the population of our society. It would be

interesting to see the outcome of an experimental study that observed how role

reversal training could possibly affect the attitudes of male business leaders.


1. Morrison, A.R., White, R.P., Van Elsor, E. (1987 August). Executive Women:

Substance Plus Style. Psychology Today, 18-26.

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