Gender Differences in Leadership Role Occupancy: The Mediating Role of Power Motivation

Journal of Business Ethics 120 (3):363-379 (2014)
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Abstract

Although the proportion of women in leadership positions has grown over the past decades, women are still underrepresented in leadership roles, which poses an ethical challenge to society at large but business in particular. Accordingly, a growing body of research has attempted to unravel the reasons for this inequality. Besides theoretical progress, a central goal of these studies is to inform measures targeted at increasing the share of women in leadership positions. Striving to contribute to these efforts and drawing on several theoretical approaches, the present study provides a contemporary examination of whether women and men differ in their levels of power motivation and whether potential gender differences in this motivation contribute to the unequal distribution of women and men in leadership positions. Results from four studies provide converging support for these assumptions. Specifically, we found that women consistently reported lower power motivation than men. This in turn mediated the link between gender and leadership role occupancy. These results were robust to several methodological variations including samples from different populations, diverse operationalizations of power motivation and leadership role occupancy, and study design. Implications for theory and practice, including ways to contribute to a more equal gender distribution in leadership positions, are discussed.

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