Between a rock and a hard place: Exploring women’s experience of participation and progress in managerial careers

Priola, Vincenza and Brannan, Matthew J. (2009). Between a rock and a hard place: Exploring women’s experience of participation and progress in managerial careers. Equal Opportunities International, 28(5) pp. 378–397.



Purpose – The growth of women in management has been argued to offer a route to reduce organizational and social inequality. The purpose of this paper is to explore the careers and experiences of female managers from a variety of organizations operating in the West Midlands region of the UK.

Design/methodology/approach – This study is based on 56 interviews conducted with women managers within various sectors. The interviewees also completed pictorial careers maps, which along with interview recordings were analyzed.

Findings – The key themes to emerge from this research centre upon the factors that draw women into management (which we term seductive elements) as well as some of the hindering practices that prevent women from progressing. Significantly, we find that managerial careers are associated with gendered assumptions and practices (e.g. facilitating and developing people) which contribute to construct management (done by women) as bounded-up characteristically with ‘‘feminized’’ behaviours.

Research limitations/implications – The research is based upon a relatively small sample that is multi-sectorial. Wider studies that increase population size, together with deeper studies that hold sectorial variables constant would further add weight to the findings presented here.

Practical implications – The paper draws attention to the ‘‘lived reality’’ of doing management, which, we argue often, for women in particular involves the reconciliation of contradictions and conflicting pressures. We draw attention to the lack of ‘‘alternative models’’ of organization and highlight the potential for gender-focus mentoring and management education.

Originality/value – The paper is of value in giving voice to a selection of women managers by allowing them to reflect upon and explore their experience of management. The paper also documents the day-to-day reality of women’s managerial careers that require the re-enactment and reproduction of stereotypical gender norms.

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