DS0803 -

What kind of manager before age 40? Facts and words in four European countries – WOMAN

WOMAN – WOman in MANagement - What kind of managers before age 40? Facts and narratives in four European countries

The purpose of this project is to study the mechanisms at work in the access, the exercise and the advancement of women in management positions during the first part of their career in four societal contexts (France, United Kingdom, Switzerland and Sweden). The objective is to explore simultaneously several interrelated levels of analysis – the individual, the organizational and the one of public policies – considering each level to impact on the gendered composition of management professions.

What individual and organizational factors contribute to breaking the glass ceiling in different societal contexts?

Relying on statistical surveys and the qualitative analysis of lived experiences, this project aims to progress in the comparison of countries with different sets of regulations regarding the gendered division of labour as well as different levers of support in their social and family policies.<br /><br />The general ambition is to identify levers, specific to a given societal configuration, that encourages the implementation of effective equality policies in companies, particularly with regard to the possibility of pursuing a career and to reach management positions. <br /><br />The purpose is to demonstrate how business practices, along with social and employment policies at work in each country, can act or not as an impetus for promoting professional equality with regard to the legislative and cultural settings in which they are operating.

The research methodology includes both quantitative and qualitative analysis, mobilizing economics and sociology.

The use of mixed methods of analysis will enable the understanding of the complex processes that link different levels of resources, such as quantitative macroeconomic or individual data and qualitative data.

Regarding statistical data, the EU Labor Force Survey (LFS) is the main source, providing a comparable interrogation framework in the four countries to identify the affiliation to managerial positions, all while giving more precise information in order to characterize these positions and to identify individual and biographical factors that may affect the access to them. Data from the Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) are also used for the analysis of wage inequalities as well as the International Social Survey Program (ISSP) in order to statistically distinguish country-specific representations - particularly the 2012 survey on family and gender roles and the 2015 survey on preferences in work activity.

The qualitative analysis proposed is innovative in itself because conducted within a single European banking and insurance company, located in the four selected countries. This allows to question how one common corporate culture can generate different female careers from one country to another. It involves to gain knowledge and understanding through interviews on the individual experiences of women in managerial positions and of some of their male counterparts, but also on the representations of HR managers (women and men) with regard to the recruitment, the practices and the advancement of women in these positions.

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From a theoretical point of view, this project will shed light on how the intentions and «strategies« of women in accessing to and advancing in these occupations rely, in varying degrees and with different importance, on the interactions of identified resources and constraints.

This project will enable to classify, and plausibly hierarchize, the importance of the multiple levels of constraints women are exposed to, whether these are located in their own representations stemmed from cultural injunctions and social norms, in their educational choices which are also producing educational and occupational segregation, or in the persisting stereotypes dominating those regulating their recruitment and promotion to managerial positions.

di Paola V., Dupray A., Epiphane D. et Moullet S. » Accès des femmes et des hommes aux positions de cadres en début de vie active : une convergence en marche ? », Femmes et hommes, l’égalité en question Insee Références – Édition 2017.

di Paola V., Dupray A., Epiphane D. et Moullet S. » Accès des jeunes femmes et des jeunes hommes aux emplois cadres. Une égalité trompeuse », Céreq Bref , n° 359, octobre 2017.

di Paola V., Dupray A., Epiphane D. et Moullet S. « Access to management jobs for young men and women: apparent equality misleading », Training and Employment, n° 132, December 2017.

This project aims to explain mechanisms affecting women’s access to managerial positions, their career paths as managers and the types of management positions they occupy, in four societal contexts (France, United-Kingdom, Switzerland and Sweden).

The project focuses on the first part of careers, particularly strategic for women: as managers, they are expected to exhibit a high level of organizational commitment, at a time where career prospects are enhanced but, as women, they may face high family demands. The objective is to combine various macro- and micro-level factors: individual and family-related factors, organizational conditions and HR policies, and eventually, institutional contexts and public policies. Comparisons between different societal contexts provide new insights into the complex interplay of educational, family and institutional dimensions impacting on the gendered composition of management positions.

Methodology uses both qualitative and quantitative data, with sociology and economics theoretical background. Econometric analysis and interviews on individual trajectories seek to clarify factors that hinder or foster women’s access to managerial positions on the one hand, and on the other hand, the types of management positions they reach. In addition to the individual trajectories, the qualitative strand of the project investigates discourses of justification used by supervisors or HR managers to explain why they support, or not, the feminization of management positions. As such, these discourses may contribute to the statu quo by reproducing stereotypical beliefs of “feminine” and “masculine” traits and skills.

A first original feature of this research is that it uses mixed empirical methods to explore associations between quantitative macroeconomic or individual data and qualitative data. Second, even though the glass ceiling has been thoroughly studied, a comparative research is expected to identify which specific levers of action are needed to foster gender equality in different institutional and societal contexts. Third, qualitative research opts for an innovative strategy for data design: data are collected from a unique transnational French company, doing business in the four countries. This strategy is expected to uncover how a unique corporate culture, developed in various HR policies across the four countries, could give rise to more or less standardized career paths, potentially conflicting with individual strategies, depending on cross-national cultures of gender roles as well as institutional and societal contexts.

Project coordination

VANESSA DI PAOLA (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique délégation Provence et Corse - Laboratoire d'économie et sociologie du travail)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


CEREQ Centre d'études et recherches sur les qualifications
CNRS DR12 - LEST Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique délégation Provence et Corse - Laboratoire d'économie et sociologie du travail
CLERSE Centre lillois d'études et de recherches sociologiques et économiques

Help of the ANR 357,806 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: September 2016 - 48 Months

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