Kay Lynn Kalkowski, Susan M. Fritz 10.12806/V3/I2/TF2
From the vantage point of the early 21st century, we see that women have entered the workforce in recent decades in large numbers. Although women have begun to attain leadership positions in government and middle management levels in business, those who reach top positions represent a very small portion of the population. Why is this so?
Does this phenomenon exist because society expected women to stay at home to bear and rear children for so long that they have not yet “caught up” with men in the work place? Is it because there are innate differences in ability between men and women that preclude women from attaining high leadership positions? Or do women lack the desire, the ambition, the motivation to reach the top in their chosen fields?
Initially scholars studied women’s entry and progress into the workforce predominately from the perspective of perceived gender differences in organizational settings. In the last 30 years feminist scholars have argued that this research was flawed because it was based upon the application of male-dominated motivation theory and testing. Feminist psychologists developed new theories and new methods of measuring motivation. They also directed attention to gender similarities as well as differences and urged researchers to examine the effect of situation and context, race and ethnicity, social class, and disability, as well as gender, on motivation (Hyde & Kling, 2001).
The purpose of this paper is to present a brief overview of motivational theory and then discuss the subject of gender differences related to motivation. The paper will explore the research that has evolved through the 1950s and 1960s as more and more women entered the work force to the present. The studies will be limited to those whose subjects are part of hierarchical organizational settings and will include discussions of subordinate status, roles, and stereotyping. The importance of this paper in the field of leadership stems from its chronological approach to the unfolding of perceptions about gender as they relate specifically to motivation.
Needs as Motivation
Maslow’s (1943) theory of the hierarchy of basic human needs marks the beginning of modern day motivation study. According to Maslow, the “integrated wholeness of the organism” (p. 159) is the foundation of motivation theory, and any motivated behavior is a conduit through which basic needs are desired and satisfied. All “organismic states” are both “motivated and motivating” (p. 159).
Usually an act has more than one motivation. Every need is related to the satisfaction or dissatisfaction of other needs. Needs assume a hierarchical order. A new human need usually appears as soon as a prior, more urgent, need is satisfied. The basic human needs, in order of their prepotency, are physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization.
Alderfer (1969) revisited Maslow’s basic hierarchy of human needs with an empirical test of a new theory of human needs, the ERG (existence, relatedness, growth) needs theory of motivation. He developed the theory as an alternative to Maslow’s original theory, asserting that it eliminated the overlapping of Maslow’s needs.
The need for existence in Alderfer’s (1969) theory covered hunger, thirst, pay, benefits, and working conditions, thus covering much of what Maslow referred to in his physiological and safety needs. Alderfer chose the term “relatedness” to include all the relationships with friends, family, employers, co-workers, and the spectrum of emotions that a person might experience in those relationships. Much of what Maslow considered in his love and esteem needs would be part of Alderfer’s relatedness needs. Finally, Alderfer used the term “growth” to explain a human’s needs to engage problems and activities that led to personal growth while Maslow discussed these needs under the headings of esteem and self- actualization.
Alderfer’s (1969) theory of motivation differed significantly from Maslow’s in his belief that a satisfied need may remain a motivator. Alderfer also maintained that lower-level need satisfaction is not a prerequisite to higher order needs. Although Alderfer believed that fulfillment of one need does not create a need for the next, he did believe that when a person is not satisfied, the individual regresses to more concrete needs, a term he labeled “frustration regression.” He also added that as a person fulfills certain needs, he or she has more energy to deal with less concrete, more personal needs.
Another needs-based motivation theory developed in the 1960s was McClelland’s (1966) assertion that there are three needs that motivate humans: the need for power, the need to achieve, and the need to affiliate with others. Familiarly known as “nAch,” the theory suggested that people could be taught to achieve if someone could change the way they were motivated. McClelland pointed out that because psychologists could detect nAch in people and in nations it should be possible to develop and sustain nAch in low-income economies.
McClelland (1966) believed that there was a psychological dichotomy in the world consisting of a minority of people who were willing to achieve and were challenged by problems and opposition as well as a majority of people who just did not care very much. He spoke of the minority as “Motive A” people who preferred to work at a problem rather than leaving it to chance or to someone else, who habitually spent time thinking about doing things better, and who calculated situations where they could obtain a sense of mastery.
McClelland’s (1966) publication, That Urge to Achieve, represented 20 years of work on the idea of nAch. It resulted in a Harvard class that tried to develop nAch through four goals: teaching people to think, talk, and act like a person with high nAch; setting higher work goals; learning about themselves; and, developing group bonding through learning from each other’s aspirations and successes.
Equity Sensitivity Construct
Two decades after Alderfer (1969) and McClelland (1966) introduced their adaptations of Maslow’s needs-based theory of motivation, Huseman, Hatfield, and Miles (1987) introduced a new motivational theory based on equity theory. They called it the “Equity Sensitive Construct.” In it they designated three types of people: benevolents, equity sensitives, and entitleds.
According to Huseman’s et al. (1987) theory, people react differently, but consistently to equity and inequity because they have specific sensitivities or preferences regarding equity. The designated benevolents of the construct think “more of giving than receiving” (p. 223). Thus, they will find their motivation in always doing more. Equity sensitives want their “income” to match their “output.” In other words, they prefer to give and receive equally and they become distressed when they are either under-rewarded or over-rewarded. The entitleds prefer to be over-rewarded and are distressed when they are not. They are the “getters” who always want more.
Huseman et al. (1987) maintained that people compare themselves to others and decide whether the situation is equitable or not. The authors wrote that equity is a trait that is both individual and cultural. Motivation is, however, very personal as one decides to do more or less to accomplish the balance of equity as the individual perceives it.
Motivation Sources Inventory: An Integrative Taxonomy
In the late 1990s, Barbuto and Scholl (1998) brought together all the theories of motivation to examine, integrate, and measure them via the Motivation Sources Inventory (MSI). Integrating the work of such theorists as Maslow, Alderfer, and McClelland, Barbuto and Scholl listed five sources of motivation: intrinsic process, instrumental, external self-concept-based, internal self-concept-based, and goal internalization.
According to Barbuto and Scholl (1998), intrinsic process motivation draws on Alderfer’s existence need and Maslow’s physiological need theories to suggest that work can be a motivating force because the worker enjoys doing it, because it is fun. Their designation of instrumental motivation draws on Maslow’s safety needs and McClelland’s power needs to show that some people are motivated by extrinsic rewards or the belief that their behavior will result in outcomes like higher pay, bonuses, or promotions.
External self-concept-based motivation means that an individual may be motivated by a desire to be accepted by a particular group or recognized for what he or she does or what he or she believes in. Based on Maslow’s love need, Alderfer’s relatedness need, and McClelland’s affiliation need, Barbuto and Scholl’s (1998) theory of motivation is other-directed; it depends on recognition or acceptance by others. It involves establishing one’s reputation and status with those important to the individual.
Internal self-concept-based motivation stems from Maslow’s esteem need, Alderfer’s growth need, and McClelland’s need for achievement. Unlike external self-concept, the individual who is motivated by internal self-concept is inner- directed and has a desire to meet personal standards rather than the standards prescribed by others.
The final source of motivation as integrated in this theory is goal internalization. Closely related to Maslow’s need for self-actualization, this concept suggests that the person who is motivated has a desire to reach goals that are consistent with internalized values. Self-interest is removed from this form of motivation.
Although a person’s behavior is based on the one’s personal value system, this is not about him or her personally. In a sense, it is a real belief in the cause, not oneself (Barbuto & Scholl, 1998). Leonard, Beauvais, and Scholl’s paper (1999) also dealt with self-concept-based process and the integrative five sources of motivation. It explained a concept inherent in both of these papers. The structure of self-concept includes three sets of attributes: traits (“repeated behavioral patterns”), competencies (“skills, abilities, talents, knowledge”), and values (“beliefs about desirable outcomes”) (pp. 974-975). Important to an individual is how one perceives his or her own traits, competencies, and values and how they measure against a person’s perceptions of the ideal. Also contributing to the development of self, according to the authors, is interaction with the environment, attitude development, and task and social feedback. Self-concept is both a deliberate process (as in the choices one makes and the goals that one sets) and a reactive process (when dissonance occurs). As it develops self-concept becomes a source of motivation.
Leonard et al. (1999) formed several conclusions. First, each individual has a dominant source of motivation. When two or more sources conflict, the dominant will prevail. Second, individuals have different motivational sources in different situations or identities. Third, individuals will exhibit behaviors consistent with whichever of the five integrative sources of motivation that inspires the person. Thus, an individual who is dominated by intrinsic process motivation will choose tasks that are enjoyable, and the individual who is dominated by goal- internalization motivation will take part in the task that has the greatest potential for achieving the goal of the group.
A Biopsychosocial Theory of Human Motivation
In a 1994 address to the Southern Sociological Society, Walter R. Gove, Vanderbilt University, outlined a theory of human motivation that is rooted in biological, psychological, and social processes. One of the issues that he discussed concerned the causes and consequences of gender differences in instrumental and nurturant behavior. Referring to literature and data that addressed the stereotypes that men are competitive and goal directed while women are affiliative and sensitive, Gove noted that social scientists attribute these perceptions to socialization and roles that men and women have played throughout time. He then pointed out that there is a growing field of evidence being presented by biologists that gender differences in nurturant and instrumental behavior reflect not just socialization, but a complicated mix of social and biological processes.
According to Gove (1994), the dilemma of women’s roles as nurturers is that although their affiliative nature is embedded in both their personalities and the processes of society, women are disadvantaged by both lower pay if they work and the roles they are expected to perform in their homes. The nurturing behaviors that are so critical to the well being of individuals and society are in themselves undervalued. Nurturant behavior gives women an inferior status when they interact with men. The result is a subordinate status for women.
Subordinate Status, Roles, and Stereotyping Mid-Century
Women’s subordinate status in society tends to reinforce internalization of the idea that women are not of equal worth. Eagly and Steffen (1984) explained gender stereotypes as a reflection of what people observe in daily life and then perceive to be true. They used the example that if women are constantly seen caring for children they will be perceived as having nurturing qualities which in turn will lead to the perception that nurturing is a typical trait of women. Thus the social role of woman as nurturing mother becomes a stereotype. Eagly and Steffen maintained that as more observations are made of the social roles that males and females play, people begin to perceive that males are agentic (assertive, masterly) and women are communal (selfless, compassionate). To reinforce this perception, the authors noted that women are more likely to be homemakers and, if they do work away from the home, more likely to hold positions of lower status and authority. In turn, the lower the status that the woman holds, the more likely she is to yield to the influence of those in positions above her. To bring this full circle, those who are higher in status have been noted to act more selfishly while those in lower status positions are more concerned for others, thus reinforcing the idea that men are more agentic and women are more communal.
Research in the 1950s and 1960s appeared to be consistent with the prevalent attitude of the day. It was generally thought that women should be homemakers and not enter the workplace. Therefore, this showed that women had lower achievement motivation than men (Hyde & Kling, 2001).
Motivation to Manage: Studies of the 1960s and 1970s
In the 1970s, leadership studies began to emerge related to John B. Miner’s “motivation to manage” theory and the term has come to be synonymous with looking at motivation in the workplace. By 1974, Miner had spent 15 years studying the concept of motivation to manage in structured organizations with most of the tests using the Miner Sentence Completion Scale (MSCS). Based on the differences in child-rearing practices between men and women, Miner expected to find that women had less motivation to manage than men. His 1974 study of business managers (44 females and 26 males) and educational administrators (25 females and 194 men) found that managerial motivation was “significantly related to the success of female managers” (p. 197), but there were no consistent differences between men and women in managerial motivation.
Miner concluded that “it implies only that those women who become managers have the motivational capacity to do as well as males who become managers…Whether the female population can provide a major source of managerial talent in the future, consonant with the rising labor force participation of women, poses a major and as yet unanswered research question” (Miner, 1974a, p. 207).
In a second study that spanned the years between 1960 and 1973, Miner (1974b) tested motivation to manage among women who were college students with data from five different groups of students taking education, business, and psychology courses at four different universities. Comparisons between students tested in the early and mid-1960s with students in the early 1970s showed no differences in motivation to manage between males and females in education. However, females in business administration (difference between mean MSCS total scores: N=270 males: 3.44; N=43 females: 1.65) and the liberal arts had lower motivation scores than their male counterparts. Although 270 males and only 43 females were tested, Miner noted at this point that “the data provide no indication that factors such as women’s liberation have had a meaningful impact on motivation to manage” (p. 245), adding that the relative positions of men and women were still as relevant in 1974 as when they were obtained in 1960 and 1961.
Miner’s (1974b) conclusion included the remarks that “there is nothing to indicate that women cannot possess the motivation needed for managerial success” (p.249) and that “the data suggest that a sizable reservoir of potential managerial talent does exist among young females, although at the present time not to the same degree as young men” (p. 249). The last two statements of this study give a 1970s assessment of beliefs about women’s leadership motivation: “complete closing of the gap, so that women are represented in management in the same proportion as in the labor force, seems unlikely and unwarranted as long as motivational differences continue to exist. Not all the male-female difference in representation in management can be attributed to direct discrimination; differential motivation appears to be present” (p. 249).
Motivational Studies and Feminist Reactions of the 1980s
Looking back nearly 30 years to the early Miner studies (1974a; 1974b), Thornton, Hollenshead, and Larsh (1997) noted that contrasting reports have resulted from using the MSCS to measure the motivation to manage. From the rather large gender difference reported in Miner’s business administration student study, tests through the 1970s continued to show women scoring lower than men on desire to compete, assertiveness, exercising power, and standing out from the group. Miner and Smith (1982) found no gender differences in motivation to manage. They wrote “Previously existing differences between male and female business students, which showed that females obtained considerably lower scores on the MSCS, have now disappeared” (p. 297). Bartol, Anderson, and Schneier (1981) found gender differences that supported Miner’s study involving college business students, but concluded that the sex “differences in motivation to manage are not likely to be crucial from a practical point of view” (p. 44). As researchers analyzed study results, they considered the language of the MSCS. Thornton, et al. (1997) mentioned that Bartol et al. (1981) “argued that the gender differences in motivation to manage found over the years may be due to the wording of sentence stems contained in the MSCS” as in such phrases as “shooting a rifle” and “wearing a necktie” (p. 244).
In addition to testing motivation to manage with the MSCS, researchers were also using another test to examine achievement motivation. Inherent in the topic of motivation to “reach the top” is what is known as achievement motivation, the “desire to accomplish something of value or importance through one’s own efforts and to meet standards of excellence in what one does” (Hyde & Kling, 2001, p. 364). According to Hyde and Kling, the usual test to measure achievement motivation since the 1950s is one in which subjects are given picture cues and then asked to write stories. In the early 1980s, feminist researchers questioned the validity of the tests that McClelland and Atkinson were using, claiming that they were manipulated in such a way that male achievement scores went up and female achievement scores went down. Hyde and Kling asserted that McClelland responded by announcing, “Clearly we need a differential psychology of motivation for men and women” (p. 365), and, when women’s behavior did not coincide with predictions, McClelland and Atkinson excluded women from the study.
Later in the decade, Eccles (1987) contributed to the field of gender, motivation, and achievement by introducing the Expectancy x Value theory. The model, as its title suggests, involves the subject’s expectation for success at some designated goal and then the amount of value that the subject places on attaining that goal. Eccles based the model on “choice,” claiming that such a view “legitimizes females’ choices as valuable on their own terms rather than as a reflection…of…male values” (p. 166). Eccles argued that “sex differences in educational and vocational choices result from both differential expectations for success and differential values” (p. 165) and suggested that “sex differences on both of these psychological constructs result from gender-role socialization” (p. 165).
In a series of five experiments involving 839 females and 850 males, Eagly and Steffen (1984) concluded that “social structure accounts for the content of stereotypes” (p. 749). In other words, gender stereotypes spring from observations of men and women in the “differing statuses within work hierarchies and in differing occupational roles” (p. 749) and these roles underlie the perception of women as communal and men as agentic.
Motivation to Manage: 1994 Meta-Analysis
Nearly three decades after the term was coined, “motivation to manage” was still being used to discuss leadership in the workplace, and gender remained an issue as increasingly more women were aspiring to and attaining management positions. Feminists and other interested people were still noting that only a very disproportionately small number of women reaching the goal of top management.
Motivation continued to be considered a key to attaining management levels, and researchers were still studying whether there were gender differences in motivation. Eagly, Karau, Miner, and Johnson (1994) conducted a meta-analysis of the motivation to manage issue that spanned 30 years. Their study compared male and female motivation to manage research that used the Miner Sentence Completion Scale as it related to gender in hierarchic organizations. The study emphasized that it is critical to understand the hierarchy of traditional business organization and the power that administrators have over subordinates. Since the top administrative positions are predominately male, managerial roles have traditionally been defined from a masculine viewpoint. Eagly et al. (1994) pointed out that a masculine-oriented managerial role description was a barrier to females wanting to assume such a role. He alluded to several other theorists, including Bass (as cited in Eagly et al., 1994), who expressed concern that women would encounter role conflicts. Heilman (as cited in Eagly et al., 1994) stated that a “lack of fit would be perceived to exist between women’s attributes and the requirements of the managerial role” (p. 137).
Knowing the masculine definition of the managerial role in hierarchical organizations, Eagly et al. (1994) expected to find a higher level of motivation among men. They also anticipated that as more women entered the high ranks of business leadership they might bring modifications to the masculine-oriented role. They also agreed that even though all women would not necessarily want to pursue a leadership role that was defined in masculine terms, individual differences would result in at least some women being willing to pursue top managerial positions. The researchers also considered the fact that when data was collected might influence study results. For example, studies from the 1980s might reflect limited numbers of women in top managerial spots. On the other hand, women might have been more highly motivated to seek top managerial positions when barriers were more firmly in place than they are today.
The meta-analysis encompassed 51 data sets in a quantitative integration. Eagly et al. (1994) used Form H (for hierarchic) of the Miner Sentence Completion Scale. They asserted that the majority of the subscales of the MSCS are “defined in terms of stereotypically masculine qualities, as would be expected from the greater similarity that people, especially men, perceive between managers and men than between managers and women” (p. 140). Two of the subscales, however, emphasize what could be considered “stereotypically feminine” (p. 140) aspects of the managerial role.
Results of the meta-analysis demonstrated that men scored higher on five of the seven subscales (competitive games, competitive situations, assertive role, imposing wishes, standing out from the group) and women scored higher on two subscales (authority figures and routine administrative functions). The subscale result that men’s motivation tends to be greater than women’s motivation on assertive leadership style seemed compatible with the Eagly and Johnson (1990) meta-analysis. It indicated that male managers were “somewhat more autocratic and directive in their leadership styles than women” (as cited in Eagly et al., 1994, p. 149). Nevertheless, as the researchers pointed out, in spite of the masculine managerial role definition, women are more strongly motivated to manage in some areas of the role as suggested by the results of this analysis (Eagly et al., 1994).
Motivation to Manage into the 21st Century
Since the Eagly et al. (1994) meta-analysis, other researchers have continued to study the motivation to manage issue as it relates to gender. Researchers acknowledge that there has been a steady growth of women in management, but there are still a disproportionately small number of women in top management positions around the world. This phenomenon of women locked into middle management positions without much hope of moving into higher positions has come to be known as the “glass ceiling.” Research through the end of the 1990s and into the early 2000s continues to focus on the same male-oriented managerial role definitions as explored in the Eagly et al. study.
One of the studies to follow the Eagly et al. (1994) analysis that continued to look at gender issues in the motivation to manage theory and also used the MSCS was Thornton, et al in 1997. Overall, women (n = 143) scored lower than men (n = 145). Specifically, men scored higher than women on “competitive games” and “assertive role,” but there were no significant differences in “competitive situations” or “standing out in a group.” The researchers concluded that their findings corroborated prior research using the MSCS that there are gender differences in motivation to manage, but they believe those differences might exist because of the measurement method. They believe that behaviorally-based tests might show fewer gender differences than have been thought to exist (Thornton et al., 1997).
Hyde and Kling (2001) asserted that studies by Beyer and Bowden (1997), Eccles, Wigfield and Schiefele (1998), and the U.S. Department of Education (2000) (as cited in Hyde & Kling, 2001) indicate that women have less confidence in their abilities than do men. This is especially true in areas stereotypically thought of as being dominated by males. Hyde and Kling added that girls are not born with the idea that they are not of equal worth as boys, but learn this through constant reinforcement in school and society.
Hyde and Kling (2001) asserted that there is strong empirical support for the concept of stereotype threat. A woman would not even have to believe that a negative stereotype concept is true to be influenced by it. A reluctance to confirm a negative stereotype concept can lead to behavior that actually confirms the stereotype, and thus becomes a reinforcement tool.
One of the studies that addressed the stereotype threat is that of Spencer, Steel, and Quinn (1999). In this study 24 men and 30 women who were University of Michigan students and who had each completed one semester or one year of calculus were given a difficult advanced Graduate Record Examination math test. The test was divided into two halves. Half of the participants were told that previous research on the first half of the test had produced gender differences, but the second half had not. The other participants were told the opposite. Results “provided compelling evidence that stereotype threat can depress women’s performance on a difficult math test and that eliminating this threat can eliminate their depressed performance” (p.14).
In another recent study, van Vianen and Fischer (2002) maintained that because so many top managers are male, management subcultures are apt to be ruled by masculine values and standards, helping keep the glass ceiling in place. They acknowledged that studies show women face exclusion mechanisms that include gender stereotypes and bias, and thus they regard motivation as an important factor as women view leadership in upper management.
According to van Vianen and Fischer (2002), women may consciously or unconsciously do “self-stereotyping.” That is they compare their own personal characteristics (which they see as feminine) to those of a male management group and conclude that they want (or do not want) to emulate and pursue the characteristics of that male management group, thus shaping the direction of their career pursuits. Consequently, the researchers pursued the research question of what men and women found attractive or not attractive about the workings of an organization that stimulated their motivation to manage.
According to van Vianen and Fischer (2002), two studies were conducted that investigated women’s motives in pursuing a career in top management with the main hypothesis that masculine culture preferences are predictors of motivation. Gender differences in cultural preferences did not show up in the managerial sample. They were only found in the non-managerial groups with women showing fewer masculine culture preferences than men did. Referring to Eagly and Johnson’s (1990) finding that managerial roles override gender roles, van Vianen and Fischer expected that gender cultural preference differences would be small or absent at the management level. The hypothesis that gender differences in the extent to which individuals adhered to masculine cultural norms and values were smaller if those individuals were managers was confirmed.
Overall van Vianen and Fischer’s (2002) first study showed that both men and women at the management level reported stronger preferences for masculine culture than those not at the management level. In other words, once women reach the management level, their preferences are more similar to men. This may be because women adjust their cultural preferences throughout their careers or perhaps the cultural preferences of women who enter management tracks are already different from those of women who do not. Their second study was conducted with 350 subjects. It “examined the effects of organizational culture preferences on the ambitions of staff employees and middle-level managers to pursue a career at a top management level in one governmental organization” (p. 315). The result was that culture preferences were predictors for non-managers, but not for middle management. Overall, women were found to be less ambitious than men, and even ambitious women perceived work-home conflict as an important barrier to career advancement. Specifically, the hypothesis that women would show less ambition than men to pursue a higher management position was confirmed. The reasoning that van Vianen and Fischer (2002) used to arrive at this hypothesis was that a first requirement for being promoted to higher positions is ambition. The possibility existed that the scarcity of women at top management levels could be attributed to their lack of ambition as compared to that of men who aspired for the top. The researchers then explored sources for top management aspirations of both men and women by asking about their cultural preferences and their motivations to accept or reject top positions. Their study resulted in the finding that both gender and masculine culture preferences accounted for the variance in ambition. Specific gender differences in motives to reject top management positions were workload and work-home conflict (women); motives to accept were status and salary (men). No gender differences were found for self-development, which was rated by both men and women as the most important motive. Men named status and salary as the second most important motive and women named work-home conflict as the second most important motive. Men ranked workload as the least important motive; women ranked status and salary as the least important.
In correlating ambition and motives, van Vianen and Fischer (2002) found that women cited work-home conflict as a motive for rejecting top management positions more often than men did. The researcher did not think concerns about work-home conflict differentiate women with strong motivation to manage from women with weaker motivation to manage. Finally, the study concluded that women have “weaker managerial ambitions than men” (p. 331) at all organizational levels.
In a recent related study, Schultheiss and Brunstein (2001) assessed implicit motives with a research-version of the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) that considered gender differences. One hundred eighty-eight women and 240 men responded to six picture cues of the TAT by writing stories about the pictures. The results were coded for n Power, n Achievement, and n Affiliation. Women were found to be higher in n Affiliation than men were, but women were comparable to men in n Power and n Achievement. The authors noted that this is consistent with studies by McAdams et al. (1988) and Stewart and Chester (1982), but differs from the Feingold (1994) study in which women scored lower on assertiveness and dominance than men (as cited in Schultheiss & Brunstein, 2001).
Summary and Conclusions
The whole question of differences between male and female motivation to aspire to high leadership positions arises from society’s perception of gender status.
Women have long held a subordinate status in society, which often gets interpreted as “women are not of equal worth.” Gender stereotypes arise because people make observations that lead them to generalize conclusions. Specifically, society has concluded that men are agentic and women are communal. Because stereotypes are so prevalent in our society, many women believe they have lower intelligence and lesser ability than men.
The question of whether there really are gender differences in motivation became more urgent when women began joining the work force in large numbers. Miner (1974) coined the phrase “motivation to manage” which has come to represent leadership in the workplace. Miner’s tests concluded that there were no consistent differences in male and female managerial motivation in some instances and found gender differences in others.
Responding to “gender differences” found in such studies as those of Miner (1974), feminists came forward in the 1980s to question tests that they felt were skewed toward male dominance and to assert some motivational theories of their own. To summarize all of the prior gender-related motivation-to-manage research using the Miner Sentence Completion Scale, Eagly et al. (1994) performed a meta-analysis. These researchers concluded that managerial styles are closely related to masculine styles. They also concluded that masculine managerial role descriptions are barriers to women who are aspiring to managerial positions. In general, the researchers found that men’s motivation tends to be greater than women’s on assertive leadership style.
Thornton et al. (1997) at the end of the 20th century and van Vianen and Fischer (2002) have reflected on differences between females achieving middle management positions and the very few who have reached top management. This phenomenon has been dubbed as “the glass ceiling.” Recently tests indicate there are gender differences and that women are less ambitious than men concerning motivation-to-manage (van Vianen & Fischer, 2002). Thornton, however, questioned the MSCS and prior tests that have used it, saying behaviorally based measures may show fewer gender differences than have been thought to exist.
The gender-related motivation literature also suggests that there are some women whose motivation-to-manage is thwarted by the work-home conflict. In addition, they may be hindered by society’s negative reaction to the woman who assumes the assertive, agentic masculine behavior to attempt to reach the top.
Implications for Practice and Research
A review of the literature on gender-related motivation indicates that there are few longitudinal studies. At least one pair of researchers, van Vianen and Fischer (2002) have called for a longitudinal design that would test motivation across the various stages of a subject’s career in hopes of establishing relationships between motivation and career choices and to test the stability of motivation.
Proposition #1: Longitudinal tests will reveal that men and women who attain top management levels will have equally high motivation scores at various points in their careers.
Proposition #2: There will be a direct relationship between high motivation scores of both men and women and motivation endurance over long periods of time.Women’s rise to top management and leadership positions needs to be documented over the course of years from entering the top management track through length of time actually in a top position. It would be insightful to know results of exit interviews to determine causes why women leave top management positions and to know what effect that has on subjects’ motivations.
Proposition #3: Longitudinal tests will reveal that women’s leaving top management positions will reflect reasons other than low motivation.It is obvious that there is much that could be done in the way of developing motivational testing that would eliminate all gender issues and satisfy both male and female researchers in arriving at study results that are fair and accurate.Researchers such as Bartol et al. (1981), Spence and Helmreich (1983), and Stewart and Chester (1982) (as cited in Hyde & Kling, 2001) have questioned motivational tests that have been used in the past. They have indicated that they feel there is gender bias in some tests that have been used. Schultheis and Brunstein (2001) specifically stated that the “motivation-eliciting properties” of picture and sentence cues in the TAT need re-examining.
Proposition #4: A gender bias-free motivation test will result in motivation scores between men and women being close to the same.In addition to calling for longitudinal studies and tests that eliminate gender bias, the literature warns that “less motivation” does not equal “less effectiveness.” Eagly et al. (1994) warned that study results showing women as having slightly less motivation than men to manage does not mean that women are less effective as managers. She called for two questions to be empirically addressed: “Is the managerial role truly evolving in the direction of the more feminine and participatory role requirements as Loden, Helgesen, Rosener and Miner have suggested?” and “Are women more motivated than men to undertake these variants of the traditional managerial role?” (p. 152)In response to Eagly’s et al. (1994) call for further empirical research about the direction of leadership, it would certainly be interesting to determine if we are, in fact, headed toward a more participative kind of leadership and to see how women’s motivation would test if that were indeed so.
Proposition #5: The managerial role is becoming more participatory and less agentic.
Proposition #6: Women will be more motivated to undertake participatory leadership roles than agentic leadership roles.
Finally, to return to Gove’s (1994) biopsychosocial theory of motivation, we need to remind ourselves that to understand any sort of human motivation, we must understand the biological, psychological, and sociological processes that motivate behavior. This paper has relied heavily on social forces in discussing subordinate status, roles, and stereotyping of women in society. But Gove reminds us that psychological and biological forces are also at work. He emphasized that scientists are rapidly uncovering new information about how biological processes shape behavior and warned us any study that relies on sociology alone will marginalize results.
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