British Psychological Society occupational conference: Women in top jobs

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The Independent Online
WOMEN at the top are often of higher calibre than men, but risk impairing their mental health to get there, the British Psychological Society's occupational psychology conference in Birmingham was told yesterday.

The skills and determination that enable women to penetrate the 'glass ceiling' to secure senior jobs are of a higher quality those those of a typical male manager, Tuvia Melamed, of the University of Central Lancashire, said.

Many women, however, were under extreme pressure and became 'anxious introverted and neurotic' because of their struggle to win promotion and keep their jobs. Men in top posts were more extrovert, dominant, tough, poised and confident.

Mr Melamed said that women in senior positions had to show many characteristics regarded as masculine, such as toughness and self-assertion, but also had to ensure they did not 'make too many waves'.

Women had to show they were able to discipline subordinates and dismiss people when necessary, while being aware of the sensibilities of their male colleagues.

'They have to 'outmen' the men, but they also have to maintain certain female characteristics without being too feminine.' He said the inner conflicts suffered by women and the demands of family responsibilities, led to 'introversion and anxiety'. Whereas successful men could often rely on the support of their families, successful women faced resentment from that quarter.

Mr Melamed - who interviewed 136 men and women in the Government's Employment Service, and 240 in organisations in north-west England - said that females in senior positions often 'walked on eggshells'. They earned less than men in equivalent jobs and were disadvantaged in terms of hierarchical position. However, once they broke through the glass ceiling, they tended to progress quicker.

The barriers to women's progress included disproportionate family responsibilities and a lack of adequate child care.

Criteria for selection and promotion were based on models of appropriate male behaviour, and cultural values associated with masculinity were the favoured characteristics in most organisations.

In a separate paper due to be presented today, Barbara White of Liverpool University and Cary Cooper of the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, say that most highly successful women fit their domestic responsibilites around their work, rather than the other way round. Their jobs tend to be at the centre of their considerations and they work continuously and full time.

While many women were forced to work part-time in order to cope with domestic duties, the researchers found that full-time employment was a prerequisite for success.

Professor Cooper says the findings suggest that in order to achieve genuine equality, the stereotype of a successful career needs to change. 'Careers should be accommodated around the reality of women's lives, allowing them to make a meaningful investment in both occupational and family roles.'

Professor Cooper says there is some evidence to suggest that women in top posts apply themselves with such great vigour to their jobs to compensate for emotional problems in childhood.