High-flying females win the battle of the sexes men

Management: research shows top women beat system
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The Independent Online
Women who reach the top of their professions are likely to be younger and move on more quickly than men, according to research published this week.

Recruitment consultants NB Selection are conducting a series of research exercises to establish why there are fewer women than men in senior positions. But their initial findings, published last August, reached the surprising conclusion that women who apply for top jobs are actually more likely to be appointed than are men. One in four women applicants are successful, compared with one in six men.

This seemed to imply that women might be reluctant to apply for jobs unless they knew they suited the job specification. But the latest research suggests something quite different. Job applications from women and men are similar in both style and qualifications, but the women applicants tended to be much younger and had progressed through the system faster.

Senior women stay in a job for three years on average, compared with four years for a man, and the women are usually promoted six months earlier.

The average age of the women applying for management positions is 35, whereas for men it is 40. Dr Elisabeth Marx, who heads the research team, said: "The results show that we have a group of female managers applying for the same executive positions as men but at a significantly younger age. Moreover, it seems that women may be more change-oriented and mobile in their career planning. This could imply that women climb the career ladder faster than men."

The study examined the appointment of 776 managers, with salaries from £33,000 to £80,000, across several sectors, ranging from banking to the public services. The trends were similar across the range of jobs.

Dr Marx stressed that it would be premature to draw conclusions about discrimination against women. "What we find is that all our results have been extremely positive as far as women are concerned. I think we are looking at a particular group of women high-fliers. The women who apply are very well qualified, have done an amazing number and variety of jobs, and seem to be doing extremely well.

"We have not put in psychological questions of expectations of success. What we could conclude is that these women seem to be confident, otherwise they would not apply.

"Being five years younger and applying for relatively high-powered jobs is clearly not a question of lack of confidence."

At first glance, Dr Marx's research appears to conflict with that completed last November by Mori on behalf of Hays Personnel. This suggested that professional women still lacked confidence compared with male counterparts.

Only 37 per cent of career women surveyed by Mori expected to reach the top of their field, compared with 50 per cent of men. And while 62 per cent of men wanted to reach the top, just 37 per cent of women did. This appeared to reflect a shortage of self-confidence, especially as only 16 per cent of professional women believed they should halt their careers to have children.

But the results of the two research programmes may not be contradictory. The women surveyed by NB Selection, those applying for very senior posts, are likely to be the most dynamic and self- confident, and unrepresentative of career women as a whole. As Dr Marx pointed out: "We realise this is a special group we are looking at here."