Women in Technology Leadership | Organizational Culture

Schermerhorn, Hunt, and Osborn (2000) defined organizational culture as “the system of shared actions, values, organizational myths, and beliefs that develops within an organization and guides the behavior of its members” (p. 264). Much literature attention concentrated on organizational culture and its intangible properties (Bolman & Deal, 1997; Rutledge, 2007; Zuckerman & Kim, 2003). However, organizational culture also has tangible components of methods and approaches to external adaptation and internal integration (Hsu & Hannan, 2005; Zuckerman & Kim, 2003). According to Green (2007), organizational culture provides organizational participants with a blueprint of the values, beliefs, language and actions of the organization. Bresnen and Marshall (1999) stated that organizational culture can be redefined when the boundaries of an organization extend to contractors and other external partners.

According to Hsu and Hannan (2005), the culture of an organization is as important as its form. Using the form as guide for managing boundaries, the leaders of an organization effectively create a culture of expectations for behavior for its members (Hsu & Hannan, 2005). Schermerhorn, et al. (2000) argued that each organization has a dominant culture, subcultures and countercultures. These subcultures may be different from “the rest of the organization in terms of culture or accepted behaviors” (Young & Hurlic, 2007, p. 174), as the groups have a unique set of beliefs and values that are not consistent with the dominant culture (Schermerhorn, et al., 2000). Countercultures also exist within organizations as resistance to the “surrounding culture” (Schermerhorn, et al., 2000, p. 267), and any organization that grows by importing talent also runs the risk of importing subcultures (Schermerhorn, et al., 2000).

Rutherford (2001) explored organizational culture and found that cultures can be both inclusive and exclusive. While organizations profess externally their value of diversity and a multicultural workforce, organizations systematically work “to block the transfer of societally based subcultures into the fabric of the organization” (Schermerhorn, et al., 2000, p. 268). Rutherford (2001) stated that “while people are working they are not just producing goods and services, pay packets and careers, they are also producing culture” (p. 372).

Organizational Culture and Gender

Gender plays a role in organizational sub-cultures from the standpoint of gender-related behavior and collective gender orientation of the organization (Young & Hurlic, 2007). Miller and Karakowsky (2005) suggested that organizations and groups within organizations with great gender diversity are more open to nontraditional gender behavior versus those that had a predominant gender. Young and Hurlic (2007) investigated gender in organizations and found that both men and women in job positions held by a predominant opposite sex can have different outcomes on productivity. Bate (1990) argued that organizational culture also drives language-based gender expectations. Bate (1990) investigated the three types of languages prevalent in organizations: military, sports and sexual language. In each case, the languages had masculine contexts that more often than not excluded women from the base language of the organization, thus resulting in exclusion (Bate, 1990). Crompton (1987) extended the male orientation of language and confirmed that the male culture and language preferences dominate most organizations.

James (1998) also explored the gender and organizational culture and found that organizational cultures present symmetry for males and dissonance for females as a result of the organizational structure being developed in the image of a male. James (1998) explored the profiles of 50 successful women and found that the most successful women were “politically seasoned” (p. 67) and able to navigate both masculine and feminine expectations of performance and behavior within the organization. Mainiero (1994) argued that “the difference between those who make it to the top of their firms and those who do not is political skill” (p. 6). In organizations with an ingrained political culture, women generally face resistance from men when women attempt to develop political relationships in the organization (James, 1998). James (1998) concluded that the organizational structure and process must provide women with opportunities for the development of the skills necessary for collaboration and diverse networks (James, 1998).

Rutherford (2001) explored the strong male influence of organizational cultures and its impact on gender equality and found that, in many cases, gender had been embedded as part of its culture. In the most extreme cases, Rutherford (2001) found that women had “to do ceremonial work to redress the gender imbalance that is caused by their moving into the public male world” (p. 371). Rutherford (2001) argued that although each organization is different, the undervaluing and underrating of women appear to be common themes across organizational cultures.

Bagguley (1991) examined the exclusion of women from the higher levels of employment and found both informal and formal barriers existed. The authors suggested that the finding confirms the Rutherford (1991) claim that organizational culture can be exclusive. As cited in Rutherford (2001), Murphy (1998) argued that certain groups “monopolize advantages by closing opportunities to inferior or ineligible” (p. 372) groups. Lewis (2005) argued that the gender role perspectives of both men and women directly impact their life experiences. As each group creates preferences and expectations of gender in life, men and women take their perceptions and attitudes into the workforce, contributing to a subculture (Lewis, 2005). Structurally, Lewis (2005) argued that as women enter the job market, women generally concentrate in “jobs associated with low levels of prestige or pay” (p. 4). As women develop aspirations for leadership, women find that the perception of their traditional role in the workplace supersedes their qualifications and reduces their promotional opportunities into top management positions (Lewis, 2005; Ryan & Haslem, 2005). This phenomenon, known as the glass ceiling, presents an invisible barrier for women to achieve leadership roles (Ryan & Haslem, 2005; Wellington, Kropf, & Gerkovich, 2003).

Olsson (2001) offered an interesting perspective on the glass ceiling by adding that the greater proportion of women in the workplace is the result of generally objective comparative standards upon organizational entry. However, the author suggested that gender bias in organizations frequently begins in the interview process and extends to post-employment performance reviews, where males tend to obtain more favorable reviews than women (Olsson, 2001). Although women are beginning to break the barriers to leadership roles in some industries, evidence exists that the scrutiny of their performance by their managers is much greater than that of their male counterparts (Ryan & Haslem, 2005; Lewis, 2005). Lewis (2005) argued that women are rewarded for showing masculine leadership and influence behaviors, but men are “criticized for acting in a feminine manner” (p. 6). Lewis (2005) concluded that the ambiguity associated with the expectations of women within the workplace results “in the development of egalitarian gender role attitudes” (p. 6).

Ryan and Haslem (2005) posited that progress being made by women relative to the glass ceiling may be misleading. Women are being offered leadership roles in areas that “may be more precarious than those occupied by men” (p. 83), leading to premature involuntary or voluntary separation from the company (Ryan & Haslem, 2005). Ryan and Haslem (2005) offered the following example:

There is considerable anecdotal evidence for this phenomenon. For example, recently, within the UK, W.H. Smith has received considerable coverage in the business news both for its ‘tumbling share prices,’ profit falls and proposed job cuts, and for its appointing of a woman, Kate Swann, as its CEO. In her new role, Swann’s first, unenviable, task was to turn the company around and restore the retailer’s fortunes. (p. 83)

According to Ryan and Haslem (2005), the above example demonstrates that as some women discover ways to overcome possible performance review bias, they find that the opportunity to lead is generally in situations where their male counterparts have no interest in the role. Additionally, the persistent processes of scrutiny women endure on individual performance evaluations when they achieve leadership roles leads to another phenomenon – the glass cliff (Ryan & Haslem, 2005). The glass cliff represents the phenomenon where women are promoted into roles that carry high risk and high visibility but leave under involuntary circumstances as a result of the unattainable expectations of success in their leadership role. The authors argued that while women are under-represented in attractive leadership positions, they are over-represented in those that could be labeled as precarious (Ryan & Haslem, 2005).

McFarlane (1990) suggested that women are frequently denied training and promotion opportunities due to the perception that the family needs of women will take priority over the time requirements and requests of the organization. As women begin to hear these messages repeated, McFarlane (1990) concluded “this destroys the confidence in all but the strongest, or most militant, so they stop competing against their male counter parts” (p. 17). McCartney and Campbell (2005) explored this phenomenon and identified it as derailment, which occurs when individuals either do not reach their potential or leave the company prematurely or involuntarily as a result of “having moderate skills in one area, either leadership or management, with low skills in the other area” (p. 192).

Authority, Power and Influence

According to Rusaw (2001), authority, power and influence exist as part of the culture of an organization. Rusaw (2001) stated that “power, which is based on authority, is the ability to require or to get followers to act to achieve a goal or purpose” (para. 3). Authority is a phenomenon that refers to “the right to do, to create, or to activate movement in others toward a particular aim or purpose” (Rusaw, 2001, para. 2). Influence “is how followers view the appropriateness and effectiveness of leader attempts to motivate action” (Rusaw, 2001, para. 5). Rusaw (2001) argued that authority can be set in socially-constructed principles, legal documents or through legal delegation. According to Adelman (1976), power and authority are complementary concepts.

While power is seemingly evident and tangible, influence is a loosely defined ideal that is based on “rhetoric, on appearances, on images, whereas authority is based on a preexistent knowledge” that is shared by all (Adelman, 1976, p. 336). Power appears as a force, but authority without power is “empty and meaningless” (Adelman, 1976, p. 337). Power involves having the authority to produce an action in someone else and influence involves the less direct means of achieving the same outcome (Adelman, 1976). Rusaw (2001) listed the bases of power as expertise, referent, reward, coercive, normative, positional, connection, and political power. Influence is a “derivative of authority rather than power” (Adelman, 1976, p. 339), as power does not require influence, but authority does.

According to Child and Rodrigues (2003), authority, power and influence are delegated to organizational participants in the form of decentralized teams and individuals that make up the knowledgeable, professional or multi-skilled staff” (p. 344). Gender also has an impact on power, authority and influence within an organization (Rutherford, 2001). According to Alvesson and Due Billing (2009), power and authority within organizations generally favor a gender group as a whole or a group of individuals within a gender group. Anderson, Spataro, and Flynn (2008) explored influence and power and found that although two individuals could have the same positional power within an organization, their success could be limited by their scope of influence. Anderson, et al. (2008) argued that power is a derivative of influence in social networks and identifies a relationship between gender and influence in that gender is generally used to assess competence when determining influence.

Organization Fit and Gender

The extent to which individuals’ perceptions of their fit into an organization can create negative emotions related to stress, job performance, self-efficacy and their aspiration for management (Westerman & Cyr, 2004). According to Young and Hurlic (2007), organizational fit is generally measured based on the compatibility between the goals of the person and the goals of the organization (Young & Hurlic, 2007). Organizations can be perceived as having a gender orientation (Young & Hurlic, 2007). Acker (1990) stated that gender, organizational structure and processes are related. Women in these organizations find themselves overcoming several barriers to obtaining equal status with their male counterparts (Acker, 1990).

In a study of gender and organizational fit, Simpson (2000) found three distinct groups of gender imbalance within organizations. The three included organizations where women were outnumbered by males at both the upper and lower level of the organization; where women were in abundance at the lower levels but represented sparsely at the higher levels of the organization; and, where women were represented at all levels of management within the organization. Based on the outcome of the research, Simpson (2000) argued that a gender imbalance within an organization creates a culture that is hostile to women. In addition, the author stated that a gender imbalance within the organization resulted in women being frequently marginalized and excluded from social networks predominated by men (Simpson, 2000). Simpson (2000) concluded that gender mix is an important factor concerning the progression of women into leadership roles as well as their perception of organizational fit.

According to Ahuja (2002), women find that domestic responsibility may be a barrier to leadership attainment within an organization. Rutherford (2001) argued that leadership aspiration has gender implications by stating that far fewer women in management positions had children when compared to their male counterparts. Aydin (2003) argued that many women do not progress or have interruptions in their careers as a result of family management responsibilities. Ibarra (1995) investigated the impact of social circles on career advancement, finding the best networks provide “access to peers, superiors, and an organization’s ‘dominant coalition’” (Ibarra, 1995, p. 675). Ibarra (1995) also argued that any organizational structure that does not provide for “social contacts, organizational demography, intergroup relationship and the distribution of valued resources” (p. 675) can impede a group from obtaining the relationships necessary for advancement. Bernardi and Guptill (2008) followed up the Ibarra (1995) study and found that the nature of social structures within an organization depends on the ethical and moral position of the organizational leaders. The author stated that social desirability is more important to women than men. Rutherford (2001) suggested that because both “belief and behavior” (p. 372) make up an organization’s culture, the process of preventing access to career growth opportunities to a specific group is both an issue of gender and organizational anthropology.