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Women executives and their success

For the record
Omer Manya
Science & Technology
Solar heartbeat
Internet cellphones
Redesigning business processes
Women executives and their success

Senior Faculty Member Karachi
Ph. D. Student SZABIST, Karachi

Apr 10 - 16, 2000

This article titled "Women Executives and the Variables Contributing to their Success" probes into areas that are of concern to all the professional people in the industry. The percentage of women workers may not be very significant for the time being, when it comes to the executive positions today, however, one cannot forget the changing needs and demands of the new millennium.

With the growing demand of flexible and mobile business setups all over the world, the required style of leadership is that of a "transactional" nature, which is more commonly found in women than men. This style believes in asking, interacting, creating an open culture and understanding human behaviour. Contrary to this is the "transformational" style of leadership, which has been proved to be successful so far in the huge and mechanistic structures of the organization. This style prefers exercising strict control, display power and is more work or result oriented.

The results of the study, as you will read, clearly depict that after the core requirement of competence and expertise, the most helpful variables have been that of the transactional style. The surprising part in this study was that after the transactional traits most of the women executives thought, understanding and playing organizational politics was most important, and after that was apple-polishing and chance factor ranked very highly. And the transformational traits were given least priority.

Does this mean that in our environment women are supposed to play politics and develop contact in order to proceed in their careers? Despite being competent, are they not expected to display power and authority, as men do?

Problem statement / Topic of study:

The topic under study is " Women executives and the variables contributing to their success". Initially, it would highlight the activities and skills possessed by the successful executives, taking help from the secondary data.

Secondly, it would probe into the practices of successful women executives in a Pakistani work environment.

Research objective:

The objective of this research was to highlight:

Generally required skills to becoming an effective executive.

Women and their role in management.

The opportunities that the corporate environment provides to these female executives and the changes that they might have witnessed over time.

The presence or absence of the required motivational tools and equitable culture, that facilitates/ hinders the growth of women to the executive positions.

The variables that have proved to be most successful for the women executives working in the Pakistani corporate culture.

Research Methodology:

The research was divided into two distinct phases.

Secondary research:

In the preliminary stage, an extensive literature survey was conducted to find what effective executives really do. This library research constitutes a very important section of the report. It has also helped determine a direction and provided a base to work out variables for the primary research.

Primary research:

The next step was collection of primary data through a survey. A tailored made questionnaire was provided to the respondents by fax/ email. The questionnaire had 3 parts. First part consisted of 5 closed-ended questions probing into the organization culture, the issue of upward mobility and fairness.

The second part of the questionnaire was that of the possible variables that could have proved to be helpful in their success. The executives were asked to rank these variables on a l-5 rating scale, according to the importance they attached to each in their respective opinion.

The third part of the questionnaire design was that of open-ended questions. The questions were aimed to collect views of successful women executives that they would like to highlight in order to give the research more depth. And there could also be some unique factors that they have experienced according to our local environment.

Sample Size:

Initially, we were very optimist about the sample size, but when actually tried to find the target audience for our research, it came to light that this alone served as an eye opener. The number of female executives in small, medium and large scale industry, including the local and multinational companies is extraordinarily low.

In certain big companies like Gillette Pakistan, it was surprising to find NO female executives work at the top levels of management. Thus an idealistic figure had to be brought down to 30 women executives. It needs to be mentioned here that most of the respondents were very keen to help and were also interested in knowing the findings of the research.

The women executives surveyed belonged to varied fields like, oil and gas, banking and financial intermediaries, education and textiles, research and consultancy firms. The varied areas were selected so that the results are not biased to a particular sector.

Women Executives, and their role in management:

Organizations need talented women in their core jobs, therefore, not only for reasons of social fairness, important though that is, but because many of those women will have the kind of attitudes and attributes that the new flat flexible organizations need. If they screen out the women they will handicap their future- Charles Handy.

l948 was the first year that women were permitted to attend Oxford University. But such progress — late in coming in the academic world as it was — has not been matched in the management world. Women were not allowed into the Stock Exchange, for example, until as late at the 1970s. Too rough, my friend', explained one man, interviewed at the time, saying that there was too much shoving and pushing on the floor of the Stock Exchange and that the 'fair and fragile sex would be trampled underfoot'.

The obstacles to women taking their rightful places in the running of business and industry are still formidable and, some would argue, growing more intractable. The realignment of power needed to change the position of women in the working world is only gradually beginning to inch forward and may not make appreciable gains before the millennium.

If the radical re-engineering of companies continues to reshape them into small teams more responsive to customers, more sensitive to people and more in touch with their global markets, the need for women managers should grow exponentially. Already, management experts on both sides of the Atlantic are claiming that the management style of women better fits the demands of new organizations than their male counterparts.

Management guru Charles Handy puts it forcefully:

For these jobs the organizations want quality people, well educated, well skilled and adaptable. They also want people who can juggle with several tasks and assignments at one time, who are more interested in making things happen, than in what title or office they hold, more concerned with power and influence than status. They want people who value instinct and intuition, as well as analysis and rationality, who can be tough but also tender, focused but friendly, people who can cope with these necessary contradictions. They want, therefore, as many women as they can get.

If the above statements are to be taken as the gist of strong secondary research, then why are there so few women in senior management positions? Why, despite a significant increase in women's employment in management in Europe and the United States over the last 20 years, and notwithstanding equal opportunities and affirmative action legislation, has little or nothing changed? Is it because women are less ambitious, less committed, less educated or less willing to pay the costs that go with senior posts, or is it because those who hold the gate-keeping positions are determined to ward off any possible breeches in the barriers to the top? Whether conscious or not, considered or coincidental, women in management are experiencing more discrimination and, far from the ceiling being constructed of glass, it is increasingly more like reinforced concrete.

To begin with let us understand what are the skills, behaviours and qualities of effective managers? The first stage is to draw up a list of the knowledge, skills, qualities, and experience required for the job. Clearly you need to know exactly what you want to measure, before measuring it. If we were to focus on the skills and qualities of a senior manager, one source of information might be articles and books on management.

The problem here is that almost all research on management and leadership has been conducted on totally male or predominantly male groups of managers. This would not be a matter for concern if there were no evidence that women and men, on average, behave similarly in a managerial role. However, there have been several important research studies over the last few years investigating the nature of leadership, which have found that this not to be the case.

The need for constant adaptability means that managers must see that their major responsibility should be the encouragement and support of growth. Managers are, or at least should be, in the development business. If the latest research is to be believed, this is less likely to happen if men dominate senior management.

In a United States study of male and female leaders, Rosener found that men's preferred style of management, described as 'transactional leadership', is concerned with exchanging rewards and punishments for performance. Men were also more likely to use power that comes from their organizational position. Women behaved very differently. They preferred to use a 'transformational' or 'interactive leadership' style that encourages participation, the sharing of power and information and the creation of situations that contribute to people feeling good about themselves. Unlike the men, who wanted to guard their information, women shared it and preferred to seek solutions from staff rather than behaving as though they were 'experts'. Women were also much more likely to admit that they did not have all the answers and to seek criticism, both of which appear, generally speaking, to be unusual behaviours for men.

These findings are particularly important since, in research conducted in a wide variety of organizations, including industry, the military, education, and health care, the use of a transformation style has resulted in staff who show the highest effort, performance and job satisfaction. 'Transformation style' has also been found to relate strongly to organizational morale, team cohesion, commitment, and team and organizational measures of success.

These findings indicate a potential gender bias in the first stage of assessment, because they imply that one is more likely to come up with descriptions of 'transactional leadership' if one refers to past descriptions of leadership behaviour in textbooks since they were based on studies of men as leaders. Furthermore, given that the commonly adopted method of identifying 'What it is that you are looking for in a manager?', is to ask the opinions of senior managers, 95 per cent of whom are men, it is not surprising that the criteria given describe the male model of transactional leadership.

Thus, there appears to be ample support for concern regarding the gender bias in the first stage of assessment and, then trying to find as to what qualities or variables have led to the success of Pakistani executives and how can this gender bias be minimized.

Closed ended questions:

In this section, there were 5 questions relating to the working environment and work behaviour in the corporate setting. Following is the statistical analysis of the questions we asked.

Q.1 The corporate environment and your present position.

A. The environment has not been a major factor 47%

B. Facilitating and helpful 37%

C. Hindering and Damaging 16%

Q.2 The opportunities towards upward mobility and growth in your area were:

A. Numerous, difficult to select from 3%

B. Few good ones present 67%

C. None were available, had to create 30%

Q.3 Decisions for promotability to an executive position

In your industry is:

A. Always gender biased 0

B. Most of the time gender biased 54%

C. Sometimes gender biased 46%

D. Never gender biased 0

Q.4 How often decisions about hiring and promotions in your organization are based on merit?

A. All the time 20%

B. Most of the time 43%

C. Sometimes 30%

D. Never 7%

Q.5 The trend about hiring and promoting women executive positions in Pakistan over the years:

A. Drastically improved 20%

B. Been slow, but steadily improving 54%

C. Insignificant growth 20%

D. Been discouraged 6%

Variables evaluation on the rating scale:

This section consisted of 20 variables that were selected after studying the secondary data, pertaining to different sources. The variables were then grouped into 5 areas for analysis, namely:

1) Expertise

2) Transactional traits

3) Transformational traits

4) Organizational politics

5) Apple-polishing.

This was done to compare the Management styles of the women executives as transformational or transactional, and then to further analyze that which one in our industry has been proved to be more successful.

The other areas like organizational politics covered the variables of understanding and playing organizational politics. Last but not the least, variables like, developing contacts with the higher authorities, apple-polishing, and chance were grouped into the title of apple-polishing.

It was indeed interesting to find that after taking out the weighted average mean of the ranking of the responses, it could easily be concluded that after Expertise, the Transformational traits in the women executives have proved to be most successful. The third important area was understanding and playing organizational politics. Fourth position in importance was given to apple polishing collectively, and the least important factor was the transactional traits.

This proves that abilities like, power, aggression; result oriented behaviour were not helpful variables when it came to women executives and their mobility.

The open ended questions:

The replies to the questions asking for the strengths of the women executives were interesting. It was revealed that the following qualities are considered as strengths:

• Ethical behaviour

• Dedication

• Commitment

• Better emotional stability

• More flexibility

• Generally more organized and planned

• More hardworking

Weighted average mean of ranking


Banking / no of

Weighted average
mean of the ranking




Transactional traits













Apple polishing



The weaknesses were pointed out to be:

• Difficult to pursue long working hours

• Imbalance between family and work life

• Lack of mobility to any other part of the country

• History of women not taking work as first priority

• The sense of insecurity in men, that creates unnecessary barriers

• Difficulty to handle gender bias


The study suggests that there are certain activities that are to be taken up by all executives, irrespective of their gender, however, the styles of performance in each case differ drastically. Females tend to be more successful with the transactional style and male seem to be more fond of the transformational style.

However, keeping in mind the responses of the successful respondents and studying the working styles of the male executives, it can be stated that although they belong to different genders, but in a professional environment what is required as most important is the Expertise in their given area.