Are there differences between senior male and female managers? Hardly any, according to new research from Cranfield School of Management. 'Gender is far less influential to the performance of a senior manager than age, education, ethnic background, or length of time in an organisation,' says Professor Andrew Kakabadse, co-author of the survey, which was carried out across 12 countries.
'Amen to that,' says Ann Chant, director of Opportunity 2000, the national campaign launched in 1991 to increase the quality and quantity of women's participation in the workforce. 'It's good to see another piece of research to back up what we have been saying: managers should be judged purely on the basis of ability and merit.'
The revelation that the similarities between male and female managers in their attitudes towards professional and personal values far outweigh the differences, previously appeared in A Question of Balance? a report released last year by The Institute of Management (IoM). British Telecom reached a similar conclusion in its own research earlier this year. And soon to join the fray is a new report by NatWest Retail Banking Services, which plans to ensure women make up one-third of the bank's management team by the year 2000.
So if the emerging consensus is that gender in management doesn't count, why does a new report from Cranfield matter anyway? The perception that women may not be suitable to fill top level jobs still persists, explains Opportunity 2000's Chant. Sue Langmead, spokeswoman for lobby group Women in Management, agrees. 'Women still encounter prejudices to some degree, especially in areas regarded as "male" professions such as engineering, manufacturing and science.' Nine out of 10 production managers in manufacturing, for instance, are male, according to the Review of Economy and Employment. Even in professions traditionally considered 'female', such as teaching, the majority of top managers are male. And, while the number of women reaching the boards of UK organisations has doubled in the past four years, the overall percentage is still a paltry 5%, according to Opportunity 2000.
There is a clash between the way in which individuals and large corporations perceive the gender issue. 'Organisations are out-of-step with managers and teams must work harder at finding the right balance between individual and company needs,' says Mary Chapman, director general of the Institute of Management.
This view is backed by a survey by Ashbridge Management College on managers of three companies: BUPA Healthcare, Glaxo Wellcome and Unilever. Nearly 90% of respondents believed corporations should do more to improve career development. This is of particular importance to women, who worry about feeling isolated and losing touch with their peers if they take a senior appointment, says the survey. Women also believe the traditional male 'all hours' culture could impede promotions to senior positions.
Small to medium-sized firms are the most reluctant to adapt traditional male-oriented structures, says Chant. 'They haven't realised yet that the best (management) team is the one with the widest range of experience and mix. You can't achieve this if you exclude women.'
Yet a growing number of companies are beginning to see the light, says Langmead, including British Telecom, Shell, BBC, NatWest and Barclays.
They are each introducing more flexible practices and career break developments, which favour women.
'The only way forward, if we are to bridge the gulf between managers' aspirations and corporate culture, is to lead by example,' says Hilary Cooper, chief executive of FI Group. 'Enlightened companies will rise to the call and provide choice, challenge, and flexibility. Only then will we achieve balance in the workplace,' she says.