FEATURE ARTICLE

Can Female Middle Managers Break the Glass Ceiling?

A revealing study of how women in middle management view their career advancement opportunities

BY DR. KIMBERLY J. SHINEW AND DR. MARGARET L. ARNOLD

Frequently reported obstacles for females include "The good old boy network makes it difficult to get ahead," and "I'm not taken seriously because I am a woman."

For the last two decades, women have been well represented at the middle management level in the parks and recreation field. In the early 1970s women occupied 33 percent of all middle management positions in public recreation (Dunn, 1977). A few years later, the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) conducted a study and found that 44 percent of the middle management positions were occupied by female employees (Godbey and Henkel, 1976). In 1984, Bialeschki and Henderson suggested that the visibility of women in the leisure profession was increasing despite reported barriers.

More recently, Arnold and Shinew conducted an informal inventory to assess female representation in middle and top management positions in Illinois park districts. In support of previous findings, 54 percent of all middle management positions were occupied by females; however, women represented less than 10 percent of the executive director positions.

In the past when asked to explain the lack of female representation among top management personnel, claims have been made that women have not been in the field long enough to ascend to top positions or that their lack of educational preparation has been a deterrent. However, Leigh (1982) argued that more females than males were obtaining degrees in the recreation and park programs. More specifically, Stein (1984) reported that the majority of majors in undergraduate programs in 1978 were females.

This trend was mirrored at the master's degree level when the number of women was equal to men in 1980 and women graduate students surpassed men in 1982. More recent evidence indicates that females continue to outnumber male students at the associate, bachelor's, and master's level in recreation and park curricula (Bialeschki, 1992).

The purpose of this article is to share some findings from a study that examined perceptions of success, obstacles encountered during career advancement, and aspirations and preparedness for promotion among middle managersómen and womenówithin Illinois park districts.

Method

A six-page questionnaire was mailed to male and female middle managers of Illinois park districts. The sample was derived from a listing of employees and their addresses in the IAPD/IPRA Membership Directory and Buyers' Guide. When needed, telephone calls were made to agencies to verify names, job titles, and addresses. Further, a database provided by the Illinois Association of Park Districts was used to verify the listing of middle managers. To be eligible for this study, park districts were required to employ at least two full-time employees (i.e., one middle manager and one executive manager). Further, one male and one female middle manager was selected from each agency in the event there was more than one middle manager.

Using this criteria, there was an available sample of 215 middle managers (113 females, 102 males) in the

November/December 1997 / 15


FEATURE ARTICLE

state. Cover letters accompanied questionnaires asking potential respondents to participate in the study.

Middle managers were denned as recreation supervisors, managers, and coordinators as noted in the cover letter. As an incentive, they were also informed that returned surveys would instantly qualify them for a $50 cash drawing. Self-addressed, stamped envelopes were included and two weeks later a postcard was sent to serve as a reminder. A total of 148 completed and usable questionnaires were returned, representing a response rate of 69 percent (76 females, 72 males).

Results

Respondents were asked to indicate how important nine factors were to their definition of success. A Likert-type scale was used (Very Important, Somewhat Important, Not Important) to measure responses.

Defining success as "satisfying work" was rated as "very important" by over 80 percent of the respondents. Other factors rated as "very important" by the majority of the responses were "obtaining a balance between professional and personal life," "opportunity for professional growth," and "opportunity for personal growth."

The factors rated as least important for defining success were "title/ rank" and "recognition by family and friends."

In terms of gender differences, males were more likely to report "income" and women were more likely to report "satisfying work" as important factors in defining success.

Next, respondents were asked to "Please list the three most important obstacles or problems facing you at this point in your career." Females were much more likely to report "gender issues" as obstacles.

Some frequently reported obstacles for females included "The good old boy network makes it difficult to get ahead," and "I'm not taken seriously because I am a woman."

The rank order of the most cited responses among all middle managers include the following:

1. Lack of promotion opportunities

2. Lack of family and leisure balance

3. Low salary

4. Lack of education and maintaining current on issues

5. Job satisfaction and burnout

6. Gender related issues (e.g., being female in a predominately male system)

In relation to aspirations for executive status, approximately 61 percent of the respondents indicated "yes" to the question, "Do you aspire to reach executive status within the field of recreation and parks?" and 18 percent indicated "no." Approximately 21 percent of the respondents were undecided.

Men were more likely to indicate "yes" than were women. Further analyses revealed that women who had no children in their families were more likely to aspire to reach executive status than women who had children.

Respondents were asked, "Do you currently feel prepared for a top management position in recreation and parks?"

Approximately 55 percent of the respondents felt prepared for top management positions; however, women were more likely to feel unprepared than were men. Additional analyses were conducted with those men and women who felt unprepared for top management positions. Comparisons were made between the men and women in this group with regard to their aspirations to executive status. Despite feeling unprepared for top management positions, men were more likely than women to aspire to executive status.

Finally, when asked "Do you desire another promotion during your career in the recreation and parks field?" approximately 74 percent replied "yes" and 26 percent indicated "no."

In terms of gender comparisons, approximately 66 percent of the females compared to 82 percent of the males indicated that they desired another promotion during their career in the recreation and parks field. Those who indicated that they did not desire another promotion were asked to react to nine factors to help explain their response.

Respondents were encouraged to list any other reasons that applied. In terms of gender comparisons, "too much family stress," "too much of a time commitment," "too much work stress," and "satisfied with current position" were more common reasons for women than for men.

Sample Demographics by Percentage

Gender

Female

51.3

Male

48.7


Marital Status

Female

Male

Single

29.7

40.8

18.3

Married

63.5

51.3

76.1

Divorced

6.1

6.6

5.6

Other

0.7

1.3

0.0


Race

African American

2.7

1.3

4.2

White (non-Hispanic)

95.3

96.1

94.4

Hispanic

0.7

1.3

0.0

Asian

0 0

0.0

0.0

Native American

0.6

1.3

0.0

Mixed Race

0.7

0.0

1.4


Annual Income

$10,000 - 19,999

5.4

7.9

2.8

$20,000 - 29,999

27.7

26.3

29.6

$30,000-39,999

23.6

27.6

18.3

$40,000 - 49,999

18.9

19.7

18.3

$50,000 - 59,999

10.8

13.2

8.5

$60,000-69,999

7.4

2.6

12.7

$70,000 and above

6.2

2.7

9.8


Highest Education Level

High School

1.4

2.6

0.0

Junior College/Associate Degree

1.4

2.6

0.0

Some College or Technical School

5.4

6.6

4.2

Completed Bachelor's Degree

47.3

5.6

40.8

Graduate Work

16.2

15.8

16.9

Completed Graduate Work

28.3

19.8

38.1


16 / Illinois Paks and Recreation


CAN MIDDLE MANAGERS BREAK THE GLASS CEILING?

Summary of Findings

The results of the study indicate that female middle managers in Illinois park districts view their definition of success differently than their male counterparts. Women reported it was more important to be satisfied in their work whereas males reported income was the most important factor.

In terms of obstacles faced in one's career, female middle managers were much more likely to report that gender related issues were a barrier. Many women indicated the difficulties of being female in a predominantly male profession and further, the difficulties in networking and socializing on a professional basis.

It is clear that some women aspire to reach executive status in Illinois park districts. However, it is also clear that many female middle managers (more so than males) do not have this aspiration.

Further, more women reported not feeling prepared for top management positions, which perhaps helps explain why more female middle managers (than male managers) do not desire to achieve executive status level.

Although women reported a lack of time and the stresses of family as reasons for not desiring a promotion, more than half of the female middle managers reported a desire to be promoted.

Implications of the Findings

Illinois park district professionals need to recognize that there are different perceptions among male and female middle managers and work to abate obstacles for women given their lack of representation among senior management positions. Park district managers need to implement practices and policies that will help to alleviate these injustices and better prepare women for senior management positions.

Some organizations have been proactive in addressing these concerns, and certain ractices have been more successful than other. Nonetheless, it is unfortunate that many women in this study did not feel adequately prepared for top management positions.

In essence, park district managers must take steps to help female professionals feel better prepared for career advancement and thus, have a greater opportunity for moving into senior management positions. Following are several suggestions to assist park district managers with this process.

1. Review the park district's recruitment and selection procedures to determine their impact on employees, particularly for women. As we know, appropriate affirmative action policies and recruitment strategies help to ensure diversity at various levels of the organization, including senior management positions.

2. Benchmark the actions of other park districts that have encouraged and facilitated the promotion and career advancement of women to senior management positions.

3. Examine park district's management training programs to ensure that women are progressing within the system. Effective in-service training and development programs can be useful in helping women feel better prepared for senior management positions.

4. Mentoring programs should be instituted in all park districts. Female mentors can be important role models in the career advancement of their female proteges.

5. Some park districts have instituted alternative work schedules for their employees. Interestingly, these flexible work schedules were commonly initiated by female employees. In one example, a group of women professionals created a "flexible work option" package which detailed how to institute alternative work schedules within their respective agencies. They presented their plan to their supervisors and ultimately, it was accepted by the organization. As a result, many employees have taken advantage of flexible work schedules in order to meet the increasing demands placed on work and family.

DR. KIMBERLY J. SHINEW
is a professor in the Department of leisuie Studies al the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.

DR. MARGARET L. ARNOLD
is professor in the Department of Recreation and leisure Studies at the State University of New York at Cortland.

The authors thank the Illinois Association of Park Districts for its support of this study. Portions of this article were previously published in Management Strategies (1996, 20(3) pp 1,8).

November/December 1997 / 17


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