Research Says: Women In Leadership Don’t Automatically Promote Women Company-Wide


Study: Women in Charge: The Impact of Female Managers on Gender Inequality (Academy of Management, 2012)

Finding: Despite a widely held assumption that women in leadership will help promote women throughout the organization, in at least one organization this didn’t happen.

Note about The Woman Effect Research Index: This study was performed by researchers not affiliated with InPower Women. Our Research Index includes all relevant research to the subject of women, business and power. We do not influence how the research was conducted or reported by the researchers. In our abstracts, we focus on pulling out the most actionable advice for individual women. To suggest additional research we should index, or discuss our choice of abstract focus, please contact us

InPower Insight: Women’s equality is not a woman’s issue, it’s a cultural issue.


MIT doctoral student Mabel Abraham studied a US bank with a significant percentage of women in management and found that – counter to the myth that women in leadership will help more women below them advance – they didn’t have much of an effect on gender inequality in the workplace.

Abraham studied data from 68 branches of a large U.S. bank where 44% of branch managers are women. The job positions examined for this study spanned from tellers at lowest pay rate, to mid-level officers, to executives at the highest pay rate. It was found that women held most of the lower-end teller positions and earned just 83% of what the well-represented men at the upper end earned.

This study showed a disproportionate number of women in the lower-level positions as compared with the high-level positions. Women held 82% of the teller positions and 83% of the bank representative positions. Those numbers plummet to 38% when looking at the number of women executives and 44% for relationship managers.

It was noted that whether the branch manager was a female or a male seemed to have little to no effect on these disproportionate numbers. Abraham did not question the women in the study as to why women managers don’t seem to be helping the gender inequality issue by supporting their female employees.

Career Coaching Tip: This study means different things depending on whether you’re looking up or down. When it comes to advancing, know that your champions may just easily be a man as a woman and cultivate mentors and sponsors based on both personal chemistry and functional expertise. When looking down, recognize that – as a woman – you may have integrated the cultural biases of your organization against women and work to be as fair and open-minded as you can be. Make an effort to be fair to all your subordinates and candidates as you can be, regardless of gender. In all cases, be aware of the culture around you and its impact on gender participation. If your team or company isn’t roughly balanced, then it’s losing the talents of the underrepresented half of the population. Whether that’s women or men, you can work to help achieve balance by being championing the interests of balance in your own area of influence. In all cases, know that the balance of skills and talents in your organization is not skin deep and reflects more about the quality of the individuals than their demographics.

Category: Impact

Keywords: gender balance, women in leadership, gender equality, gender inequality

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Photo Credit: Vibin JK

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