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A lack of sisterhood among female executives is contributing to a scarcity of women CEOs among top companies, new research shows.
A study from researchers at Washington University in St. Louis revealed that women in leadership roles often do not support other qualified female candidates as potential peers.
Michelle Duguid, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Olin Business School and the study's author, proposes a concept called "value threat." She believes that being the sole woman on the leadership team can produce a perceived threat of not being seen as a valued group member, contributing to females’ negative responses to other women serving in higher-up roles.
Competitive and collective threats are the two forms of "value threat" that the research highlights.
“Competitive threat is the fear that a highly qualified female candidate might be more qualified, competent or accepted than you are,” Duguid said.
Collective threats are seen in women who might be concerned about bringing in another female with lower qualifications, who could reinforce negative stereotypes and affect others’ impressions of them, according to Duguid.
The research also examined the threat of favoritism.
"This is where female tokens in high-prestige work groups may be concerned about appearing biased toward other women and therefore will not advocate for them," Duguid said.
The research has strong implications for business and leadership in the United States, Duguid said.
"Organizational leaders really need to recognize these potential threats as they could have a significant impact on the interaction between female group members, which could ultimately affect performance," she said.
Duguid advises leaders to encourage those token in-charge females to identify with their own demographic to help them manage work relationships and develop alliances and mentoring relationships with other women.
That in turn can help an organization realize the benefits of diversity, she said.
That research, "Female Tokens in High-prestige Work Groups: Catalysts or Inhibitors of Group Diversification?", was published in the March-April issue of Organization Science.
Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance business and technology writer who has worked in public relations and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cbrooks76.