Women's managerial career progression : an attributional analysis in three organisations.
The aim of the research is to test whether an attribution approach from social/organisational
psychology can illuminate the problem of women's unequal status in managemenL It has been
suggested that within organisations, the process of causal attribution devalues women's performance in
two ways. First, women managers compared to men may interpret their own performance less
favourably, attributing its cause in ways likely to sustain lower self-confidence and expectations of
success. Second, gender may affect superiors' perceptions of the reasons subordinates perform well or
badly, tending to be more favourable when the subordinate is male. These perceptions would then
negatively affect judgements about women's suitability for promotion. However, the support for the
hypothesised gender differences and gender bias in performance attribution is based almost entirely on
laboratory studies and student samples. There are numerous reasons to question its generalisability to
real-world organisations. The purpose of the thesis is to move research on these issues into applied
The research sample was comprised of 180 managers in three diverse organisations: a local health
authority, a civil engineering finn and a financial services company. Data was collected via semistructured
interviews. A number of relevant hypotheses were tested, concerning 1) the existence of
gender differences ancVor bias in attributions for successful and unsuccessful managerial performance and
2) whether the strength of any attributional gender effects differs across organisational settings.
The results indicated support for the hypothesis that compared to men, women managers attribute their
own successful performance less favourably. There were no gender differences in managers'
explanations for their own unsuccessful performance. No support was found for the predicted gender
bias in attribution for the performance of subordinates. Nor was there clear support for the hypothesis
that the strength of attributional gender effects would be mediated by the sex-typing of organisations.
The research findings and their implications for theory, research method and practice am discussed.