WOMEN’S LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT
STRATEGIC PRACTICES FOR WOMEN
Margaret M. Hopkins
University of Toledo
Deborah A. O’Neil
Bowling Green State University
Angela Passarelli and Diana Bilimoria
Case Western Reserve University
This article presents a comprehensive perspective of leadership development
that addresses the unique needs of women in organizations. The authors pro-
pose 7 categories of leadership development practice and examine the oppor-
tunities and obstacles in each of these practices for women. The authors offer
recommendations for consulting psychologists and human resources profession-
als targeted to female clients and to organizational practices in order to advance
women’s leadership development. Finally, the authors discuss the overarching
themes emanating from their research and implications for women and leader-
Keywords: women, leadership development, career development
The ongoing development of individuals to effectively lead in the global economy is
a competitive advantage that contributes to organizational success. Organizations must
focus on developing both male and female employees to compete in this rapidly changing,
turbulent new world order. Women joined the workforce in record numbers beginning in
the 1970s, and today women make up more than half of the managerial workforce, rising
from 18% in 1972. Among Fortune 500 companies, women are 15.4% of the top ofﬁcers
and 2.4% of the chief executive ofﬁcers (U.S. Women in Business, 2008). Along with the
rise of women into the ranks of leadership come some unique opportunities as well as
challenges, both overt and subtle, for women to realize their full potential. The purpose of
this article is twofold: to examine leadership development practices with a particular focus
on the needs of women, and to provide recommendations for consulting psychologists and
Margaret M. Hopkins, Department of Management, University of Toledo; Deborah A. O’Neil,
Department of Management, Bowling Green State University; Angela Passarelli and Diana Bili-
moria, Department of Organizational Behavior, Case Western Reserve University.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Margaret M. Hopkins, Depart-
ment of Management, College of Business Administration, University of Toledo, Mail Stop 103,
Toledo, OH 43606. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research Copyright 2008 by the American Psychological Association
2008, Vol. 60, No. 4, 348–365 1065-9293/08/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0014093
human resources professionals working with individual women and with organizations to
advance women’s leadership development.
Although we recognize that men and women are more similar than different, differ-
ences do exist along biological, neurological, and psychological dimensions. For example,
diverse gender approaches to information processing, responses to stress, and motivation
have been highlighted (Ruderman & Ohlott, 2005). It has been suggested that women and
men also have divergent conceptions of career success. One study found that women tend
to deﬁne career success as an interest in intrinsically rewarding roles, personal achieve-
ments, self-development, and work–life balance, whereas men tend to view success as
high salaries, moving up the corporate ladder, and achieving status (Sturges, 1999). In
addition to differences in deﬁnitions of success, women also experience competing
priorities for their time and attention across life and career stages that are different for men
(Mainiero & Sullivan, 2006; O’Neil & Bilimoria, 2005). Vinnicombe and Singh (2003)
concluded that women and men have different value orientations, thereby requiring
different approaches to leadership development.
In this article, we build the case for why leadership development needs to be unique
and different for women, tailored to meet their speciﬁc developmental needs. Based on our
account of leadership development for women, we propose recommendations for con-
sulting psychologists and human resources professionals targeted to female clients and to
organizational practices. We offer a comprehensive viewpoint that addresses the individ-
ual and structural challenges of leadership development for women, the development
strategies that are effective for women, and the support structures and encouragements that
organizations can undertake to create sustainable leadership development contexts for
First, we discuss women’s leadership development in the context of known differences
between women and men in leadership. Next, we investigate the presence of existing
research on women and leadership development. Third, we deﬁne effective leadership
development and discuss best practices in leadership development focusing on both
individual change and organizational transformation. Fourth, we propose seven categories
of leadership development practice and examine their relationship to the unique needs of
women. We explore the opportunities and obstacles in these seven practices for women,
and present recommendations for consultants working at both the individual and organi-
zational levels. Finally, we discuss the overarching themes emanating from our research
and implications for women and leadership development.
Gender Differences in Leadership
The systematic development of women’s leadership must take into account three
aspects of sex-related differences demonstrated by previous empirical research. First,
women and men differ in leadership styles. A meta-analysis of more than 160 studies of
sex-related differences found that women use a more participative or democratic (com-
munal) style and a less autocratic or directive (agentic) style than men do, although this
tendency declines in highly male-dominated settings (Eagly & Johnson, 1990). Other
research on performance, leadership, and inﬂuence in teams has similarly shown that men
display a more self-assertive and dominant style and less deference and warmth with team
members than do women (Carli & Eagly, 1999). Female managers more than male
managers tend to adopt a transformational leadership style, especially in mentoring
followers and attending to them as individuals (Eagly, Johannesen-Schmidt, & van Engen,
Second, women and men differ on the behaviors of leadership. Several studies using
360 degree feedback processes indicate that women managers and executives consistently
score higher on behavioral competencies such as teamwork, empowerment, sharing
information, and care for employees (“As leaders,” 2000). Other studies of leadership
competencies reveal that women, on average, are more aware of their emotions, show
more empathy, and are more adept interpersonally, whereas men, on average, are more
self-conﬁdent, optimistic, adaptable, and able to manage stress (Goleman, 1998).
Third, sex-related differences emerge in the evaluation of leadership. Although a
meta-analysis of 82 studies measuring leadership effectiveness (Eagly, Karau, & Makhi-
jani, 1995) found that male and female leaders do not differ overall in effectiveness,
comparisons of leader effectiveness favor men when the setting is male-dominated, when
a high percentage of subordinates are male, or when the role is seen as more congenial to
men (in terms of self-assessed competence, interest, and low requirements for cooperation
or high requirements for control). Comparisons favor women when the above conditions
are reversed (Eagly et al., 1995).
In addition to sex differences related to leadership, organizational environments are
themselves gendered, also affecting leadership development efforts. Organizations, par-
ticularly those that are male-dominated, are not gender-neutral—they reﬂect environments
where women’s presence, performance, and success are scrutinized, measured, and
evaluated differently from men’s (O’Neil, Hopkins, & Bilimoria, 2008). As Ruderman
and Ohlott (2005) noted, “even the most progressive modern organizations have been
created by and for men, and thus tend to have systems, policies, norms, and structures that
favor the male life experience” (p. 4). Thus, efforts to systematically develop women’s
leadership must be cognizant of this important contextual element and appropriately tailor
a learning agenda that takes this factor into consideration.
For women of color, opportunities to advance in the ranks of organizational leadership
are even more difﬁcult than for White women (Bell & Nkomo, 2001; Catalyst, 1999). In
a comprehensive study on women of color in organizations, Catalyst (1999) found that
study participants reported less access to mentors and sponsors, and those women who
intended to leave their organizations said that ineffective organizational diversity initia-
tives had failed to address subtle gender and racial biases. Bell (1990) found that African
American women live “bicultural life experiences,” resulting in increased stress and
pressure that occur from having to navigate two worlds—their predominantly White
professional work world and their predominantly Black community world.
Research on Women and Leadership Development
We conducted an illustrative overview of the literature to provide an understanding of
the extent to which women’s leadership development is emphasized. Academic research
relevant to leadership development for women is scattered across a variety of ﬁelds,
including management, business, and psychology. This diffusion of literature dilutes
cumulative knowledge, making it difﬁcult to derive an overarching framework.
A literature search of the PsychInfo and Business Source Complete databases using
the search terms women and leadership development,management development, and
executive development was conducted. Abstracts of each article were reviewed for
evidence of leadership, management, and executive development processes, practices, and
350 HOPKINS, O’NEIL, PASSARELLI, AND BILIMORIA
frameworks relative to women in organizations. Business Source Complete yielded the
most references: women and leadership development, 83; women and management
development, 340; women and executive development, 1. However, examination of the
abstracts yielded very few relevant articles; just 26 of 424 or 6% of the total articles
discussed leadership or management development practices and processes for women. The
PsychInfo database search yielded 19 references for women and leadership develop-
ment, 14 for women and management development, and 1 for women and executive
development. Applying the same search criteria to the abstracts of these articles, 29% (10
of 34) were found relevant to the topic of women’s leadership development. This
overview of the literature suggests that the topic of women’s leadership development is
underrepresented in the business and psychology literature.
Before we examine leadership development for women, it is instructive to describe the
features of leadership development in general. Leadership development has been deﬁned
as “expanding the collective capacity of organizational members to engage effectively in
leadership roles and processes” (Day, 2001, p. 582). Leadership development is a large
and growing business, with $50 billion spent in the year 2000 alone (Ready & Conger,
For leadership development to have maximum impact, programs must focus on two
levels of learning simultaneously—the individual level and the organizational level
(Conger & Benjamin, 1999). Individual leadership development has moved increasingly
toward an emphasis on development through experience in the context of the work itself
(McCall, 2004). The intent is to work with individual members to improve their skills and
knowledge in service of building the overall capacity and effectiveness of the organization
(Cummings & Worley, 2005). The best leadership development programs do not stand
alone but are closely aligned and integrated with the strategic objectives of the organi-
zation (Cohn, Khurana, & Reeves, 2005). Ultimately, leadership development offers
opportunities for organizational transformation (Leonard & Goff, 2003). Effective metrics
for the appraisal of leadership development programs measure individual learning and
performance as well as organizational impact (Holton, 1996).
In their review of best practices in leadership development, Fulmer and Bleak (2008)
identiﬁed ﬁve essential standards: start with the top, connect leadership development to
the business itself, construct an integrated leadership strategy, be consistent in the
execution of leadership programs, and hold leaders and the organization accountable.
Although top leadership must champion leadership development, it is the responsibility of
leaders at all levels, line managers as well as human resource managers, to develop
organizational leaders (Cohn et al., 2005). Ready and Conger (2003) propose that
individuals take responsibility for their own leadership development and that organiza-
tions provide a menu of development opportunities for employees.
Leadership Development Framework for Women
Given that women face unique challenges in leadership, oftentimes unrecognized by
others, it is imperative that leadership development strategies are advanced to meet their
speciﬁc needs. Kanter’s (1977) theory of tokenism holds that underrepresented individuals
at the senior ranks of an organization require unique strategies for success and achieve-
ment because they often must respond to different expectations and have different
resources than their mainstream peers. This is true of women who may have achieved
parity with their male counterparts in position and compensation but have had very
different experiences along the way (Lyness & Thompson, 1997).
The most effective developmental experiences incorporate a variety of assessments,
challenges, and support mechanisms (McCauley & Van Velsor, 2004). We propose an
organizing framework for the multiple methods of leadership development that consists of
the following seven categories of formal and informal developmental practices: assess-
ment, training and education, coaching, mentoring, networking, experiential learning (i.e.,
developmental job assignments and action learning projects), and career planning. We
believe our framework of seven developmental practices features aspects of assessments,
challenges, and supports. In the following sections, we explore women’s leadership
development within each of these seven categories of developmental practice and offer
recommendations for consultants and human resources professionals working to maxi-
mize women’s individual and organizational leadership contributions.
The value of leadership competency assessment has been well established for the
contemporary development of leadership in organizations, especially through 360 degree
competency instruments and assessment centers (e.g., Bartholomew & Hannum, 2006;
Toegel & Conger, 2003). Using leadership assessment tools for women, however, should
be undertaken thoughtfully for the following reasons. First, previous research has noted
the prevalence of an “insidious” gender bias in the assessment of leadership in organiza-
tions (Alimo-Metcalfe, 1995, p. 3). Given that conceptions of leadership have been found
to be associated preponderantly with men (Brenner, Tomkiewicz, & Schein, 1989;
Heilman, Block, & Martell, 1995; Metcalfe & Altman, 2001; Schein, 1976) and standards
of success are generally measured in male terms (Hopkins & Bilimoria, 2008), assess-
ments of leadership inherently reﬂect gender stereotypes and prejudices.
In their study of male and female MBA students, Pratch and Jacobowitz (1996) found
that women with strong agentic orientations were negatively evaluated as leaders by their
peers, whereas men demonstrating communal tendencies suffered no negative perceptions
of their leadership abilities. They noted that both men and women in their sample expected
women to demonstrate relational, other-oriented behaviors, but that there were negative
consequences when women displayed more traditionally masculine behaviors associated
with leadership effectiveness.
Thus, the interpretation of the results of leadership assessment tools should be
undertaken with a special understanding of the gender roles and norms prevalent in the
workplace (cf. Ruderman & Ohlott, 2005). These biases are particularly likely for those
women who are at higher organizational ranks generally associated with male executives;
the anomaly of a woman executive in a male-dominated organization may itself affect
ratings of her leadership behaviors.
Second, it is possible that women may not seek 360 degree assessment and feedback
in part because of their own lack of conﬁdence about the nature of the results likely to be
obtained and in part because of their unwillingness to impose on others’ time (cf.
Boatwright & Egidio, 2003). This dearth of developmental feedback about leadership
strengths and gaps can be detrimental in the long run.
Third, the gendered context of organizations must be recognized in any assessment
process. In her study of library leadership, Turock (2001) noted that whereas the library
352 HOPKINS, O’NEIL, PASSARELLI, AND BILIMORIA
workforce is largely populated by women, the parent organizations of those libraries are
most decidedly not. She suggested that women’s unique skill sets and the new vision of
leadership that calls for emotional intelligence, inclusiveness, and connectedness should
work to women’s advantage, although the bureaucratic, male-dominated hierarchy still
Recommendations for Consultants Working With
•Encourage women to obtain 360 degree feedback that is crucial for development
and assist in interpreting the results in the context of the work environment.
•Facilitate the client’s understanding of the impact of leadership behaviors, and help
her develop a broad repertoire of behaviors and styles, for example, instrumental
Recommendations for Consultants Working With
•Ensure that leadership-relevant competencies and behavioral indicators are in-
cluded in 360 degree and other leadership assessment tools, especially in male-
dominated workplaces; help the organization become aware of bias in merit-based
decisions using assessment tools; provide training to reduce possible evaluation
bias; and work to deconstruct gender stereotypes around leadership so that women
and men can more fully employ a variety of leadership styles.
•Assist the organization in providing opportunities for assessing development
distinct from performance, engaging in developmental discussions regarding lead-
ership assessments, integrating leadership development assessments within a com-
prehensive leadership development and succession planning process for women,
and creating a culture of assessment and development targeted to women.
Training and Education Programs
In general, effective training programs report 7%–18% improvement in leader-related
outcomes (Hand, Richards, & Slocum, 1973; Latham & Saari, 1979; Noe & Schmitt,
1986), with motivation to learn being a key to transferability (Baldwin & Ford, 1988;
Boyatzis & McKee, 2005). One meta-analysis of managerial training indicated that it is
moderately effective in increasing knowledge and performance for both men and women
(Burke & Day, 1986). A more recent meta-analysis indicated that training is highly
effective for increasing knowledge, highly/moderately effective for objectively measured
behavioral outcomes, and moderately effective for subjective behavioral and system-level
outcomes (Collins & Holton, 2004).
In their study of women in health care, Hopkins, O’Neil, and Bilimoria (2006) found
that increasing knowledge, skills, and education through access to training courses was
one of the most frequently cited strategies for building leadership skills. Leadership
training programs have had encouraging results for women. For instance, Feldman (1989)
reported that in US West, a Colorado-based telecommunications company, the ratio of
women of color having opportunities to advance to midlevel management and above
was 1 in 289 versus 1 in 21 for White males. This stark ﬁnding led to the creation of the
Women of Color Project, which provides leadership training opportunities for women in
the organization. The outcomes of the program were impressive, with 46% of the ﬁrst
group of attendees having been promoted at least once.
Adler, Brody, and Osland (2001) described the experience of one organization’s
creation of a global women’s leadership forum designed to identify and develop high-
potential women from across the organization. The program was initiated and championed
by the CEO and was viewed as an organizational change process, signaling senior-level
commitment to a new way of doing business that would include ongoing training and
development of talented women in the organization. Vinnicombe and Singh (2003)
believe that women-only leadership training, in concert with other leadership development
initiatives, is essential for women to develop a stronger sense of self and stronger
relationships to other women.
Recommendations for Consultants Working With
•Advise women to seek formal educational opportunities that open up access to
•Encourage women to inquire about and complete organizational training programs
to enhance leadership knowledge and practice.
Recommendations for Consultants Working With
•Advise organizational support and sponsorship for women to obtain advanced
degrees and continuing education, such as executive education and certiﬁcation
•Create “women-only” as well as mixed-sex leadership development programs,
both championed by senior leadership and focused on knowledge and behavioral
A common strategy used to reinforce leadership training and development is the use
of executive coaches. Kilburg (1996) deﬁnes executive coaching as
a helping relationship formed between a client who has managerial authority in an organiza-
tion and a consultant who uses a wide variety of behavioral techniques and methods to help
the client achieve a mutually identiﬁed set of goals to improve his or her professional
performance and personal satisfaction and, consequently, to improve the effectiveness of the
client’s organization within a formally deﬁned coaching agreement. (p. 142)
Many organizations today are choosing to employ coaching as a developmental
intervention for their senior and high-potential executives in order to bring about orga-
nization-wide transformation. The process of coaching typically includes one-on-one
meetings between the coach and the individual being coached, 360 degree and other
feedback methods on the individual’s strengths and weaknesses, and development of an
action plan for change (Goldsmith, Lyons, & Frees, 2000). An article devoted entirely to
the topic of executive coaching appears elsewhere in this special issue.
Coaching may be of particular value to women for several reasons. Women’s unique
developmental concerns include connection, wholeness, authenticity, agency, and self-
clarity, which will manifest over the course of a woman’s professional life (Ruderman &
Ohlott, 2005). Coaching, focused on balancing these developmental concerns with orga-
nizational cultures that may not recognize the value of women’s desires to be collabora-
354 HOPKINS, O’NEIL, PASSARELLI, AND BILIMORIA
tive, lead integrated lives, act authentically, and seek accurate feedback, may be partic-
ularly crucial for women (Ruderman & Ohlott, 2005).
Women also face a distinct set of career decision factors. For example, Mainiero and
Sullivan (2005) propose that women take into account multiple life roles, and that an
emphasis on challenge, balance, and authenticity will alternate in importance for women
during the early, middle, and later stages of their careers. Similarly, O’Neil and Bilimoria
(2005) found that the careers of women tend to fall within three age-related phases: the
idealistic achievement phase, the pragmatic endurance phase, and the reinventive contri-
bution phase. At each of these phases, women will require a differential coaching focus
on issues of achievement and conﬁdence, work–life balance, and sustaining a develop-
mental perspective toward personal and professional contributions.
At different points throughout their careers, many women seek to balance their careers
with their family responsibilities (Powell & Mainiero, 1992). A priority on family life may
force women to temporarily suspend their work life, a decision that often derails their
leadership attainment (Eagly & Carli, 2007; Hewlett & Luce, 2005). Given the unique
circumstances that women face, the counsel of a coach who can assist the individual in her
own developmental journey and who focuses on the holistic nature of women’s develop-
ment would be beneﬁcial.
Recommendations for Consultants Working With
•Practice a holistic approach to leadership development for women by using
work–life integration and career–phase-speciﬁc insights.
•Interpret 360 degree and other feedback in light of the individual’s developmental
goals as well as life and organizational contexts.
•Develop an understanding and sensitivity to issues women may face in particular
organizations or industries.
Recommendations for Consultants Working With
•Advocate for professional executive coaching for women leaders as an ongoing
•Help foster a developmental coaching culture across the organization that focuses
on leadership development as a separate process from performance evaluation.
Diverse mentoring relationships enhance career development (Higgins & Kram, 2001;
Ragins & Kram, 2007), clarity of professional purpose (Kram, 1985), and promote
personal development and learning (Van Velsor & Hughes, 1990). Individuals who have
mentors are often more satisﬁed, more highly paid, and have more interpersonal compe-
tence (de Janasz, Sullivan, & Whiting, 2003).
Ragins and Cotton (1991) reported that women receive less mentoring than their male
peers. Mentoring has been found to be more strongly related to men’s career success than
women’s; more successful women have indicated that mentoring was less important to
their career advancement than did less successful women (Lyness & Thompson, 2000). A
variety of explanations have been offered to make sense of these ﬁndings. First, women
are underrepresented at top leadership levels in organizations, creating a paucity of
same-sex mentors (Rothstein, Burke, & Bristor, 2001). Second, mixed-sex mentoring
relationships are often complicated by traditional gender styles and roles. In addition,
women at senior ranks are often reluctant to mentor because they feel overburdened, that
it is too risky for their careers, or that they are not qualiﬁed (Ragins & Cotton, 1991).
Given the dearth of women at higher levels in organizations, women are more likely
to ﬁnd themselves in cross-gender mentoring relationships than men. Although mentoring
relationships with men provide valuable career beneﬁts, such as access to information and
resources, these relationships can be complicated by traditional gender roles and external
perceptions. For example, Ragins and Cotton (1993) assert that traditional gender stereo-
types lead to women being more passive and submissive with a male mentor than with a
female. In addition, concerns about sexual harassment and fear that the relationship might
be perceived as sexual by others can hinder the mentoring relationship. Cross-gender
mentoring relationships must be effectively managed, which means paying attention to the
internal implications of the relationship, such as monitoring behaviors and feelings, and
the external implications of the relationship to avoid loss of credibility in the eyes of
others or charges of prote´ge´ favoritism (Clawson & Kram, 1984). Women engaged in
mentoring relationships must manage the internal dynamics of mentor and prote´ge´ as well
as the external dynamics between the mentoring dyad and the rest of the organization,
particularly the prote´ge´’s manager (Blake-Beard, 2001).
Expectations of female mentors differ from those of male mentors in terms of the
amount of nurturing and support they are expected to offer, resulting from traditional
female family roles of mothering and nurturing being applied to work settings (Parker &
Kram, 1993). Woman-to-woman mentoring relationships are also more visible than
traditional mentoring relationships because of token dynamics in organizations. This
increased visibility creates additional pressure for senior women who see prote´ge´ failure
as reﬂecting poorly on them (Ragins & Cotton, 1993).
Parker and Kram (1993) suggest several strategies for removing barriers that prevent
women from mentoring women in organizations. First, women should increase their own
self-awareness and challenge assumptions that undermine connection. Second, the respon-
sibility of increasing the level of intimacy of the relationship falls on senior women given
that junior women are more vulnerable. A byproduct of strengthening these linkages is a
mentoring network of women that enhances the power and inﬂuence of women at all ranks
Recommendations for Consultants Working With
•Assist clients in cultivating both female and male mentors, in actively managing
their mentoring relationships, and in deﬁning strategic learning objectives for the
•Support women in developing the skills needed to play the role of both mentee and
Recommendations for Consultants Working With
•Structure mentoring programs that match high-potential women with people in
high-proﬁle executive roles who have decision-making authority and can provide
access to opportunities.
•Construct opportunities for women to mentor other women and men in the
356 HOPKINS, O’NEIL, PASSARELLI, AND BILIMORIA
•Support mentoring relationships at all levels in the organization, and design
programs that assist women in structuring and managing their mentoring relationships.
Outcomes of interpersonal networks include increased inﬂuence and power; access to
job opportunities, information, and expertise; and job performance (Brass, Galaskiewicz,
Greve, & Tsai, 2004). Similar to other leadership development methods discussed earlier,
traditional structures and gender roles diminish networking opportunities for women. A
recent Catalyst (2004) survey reported that 46% of women managers cited exclusion from
informal networks as barriers to career advancement, compared with only 18% of men. In
one study investigating the problems of career advancement for women, different per-
spectives of women and CEOs emerged (Ragins, Townsend, & Mattis, 1998). When asked
to identify those factors that prevent women from advancing, women believed that male
stereotyping, exclusion from informal networks, lack of experience, and an inhospitable
culture were the primary reasons. On the other hand, CEOs cited a lack of experience and
women not being in the pipeline long enough.
Even when men and women hold equivalent positions, they are considered to be
operating in different social circles that necessitate distinct methods of network formation
and composition (Ibarra, 1997). In effect, two largely segregated networks, one predom-
inantly male and the other predominantly female, exist in organizations (Brass, 1985).
Research suggests that women navigate between two different networks, one providing
instrumental beneﬁts and the other offering expressive beneﬁts, and that this balancing act
is both time consuming and stressful (Ibarra, 1993). Whereas men rely on one another for
both emotional support and career assistance, women rely on other women for emotional
support and friendship and look to men to provide instrumental career assistance.
All-women’s networks now exist in numerous organizations (Brady & McGregor,
2007). These networks have been described as women’s attempts to create for themselves
the support generated by and for men through their same-sex grouping (Vinnicombe &
Colwill, 1996). Women tend to have a more social orientation to their networks and men
have a more utilitarian outlook (Singh, Vinnicombe, & Kumra, 2006). Although women
are apt to focus on the social support of their networks, they also realize their skill-
building and career development returns (Brady & McGregor, 2007). Speciﬁc beneﬁts of
network membership identiﬁed by women include conﬁdence building, career counseling,
coaching, and understanding organizational politics (Burke, Rothstein, & Bristor, 1995).
Recommendations for Consultants Working With
•Encourage women to include both women and men in their networks, to recognize
the instrumental beneﬁts of networks in addition to the social supports, and to
cultivate varied task, friendship, and advice networks.
•Suggest that women connect with formal and informal networks of female pro-
fessionals who share common experiences within organizations and industries.
Recommendations for Consultants Working With
•Advocate the support of women’s networks in the form of resources, top leadership
advocacy, and openness to learning to advance the leadership development of women.
•Create methods for organizations to increase women’s access to formal and
informal networking opportunities within organizations and professions.
According to Koopmans, Doornbos, and van Eekelen (2006), 60%– 80% of the
learning that occurs in organizations takes place through informal growth opportunities.
Examples of these opportunities associated with leadership development include chal-
lenging, high-proﬁle work assignments and diverse business experience marked by
transitions into new responsibilities. The breadth and diversity of job assignments are
positively related to progressive leadership attainment (Bray, Campbell, & Grant, 1974).
In a study of male and female executives, Lyness and Thompson (2000) reported that
challenging job assignments, transition to new job responsibilities, and job mobility were
speciﬁc developmental experiences that facilitated leadership development. Yet, access to
such opportunities and their relative value differ by gender. Women have less access to
challenging work assignments and are less likely to be given assignments that are high risk
to the company (Lyness & Thompson, 2000). High-risk job assignments generally carry
large amounts of visibility and provide recognition for success that translates to future
leadership opportunities. This visibility is important for women who report that a proven
track record of success (Lyness & Thompson, 2000) and consistently exceeding expec-
tations (Ragins et al., 1998) are critical factors for advancement.
Women are more likely to be siloed into staff positions such as human resources or
corporate communications as opposed to line positions with proﬁt and loss responsibility
that most frequently lead to organizational leadership positions (Bilimoria & Piderit,
1994). Ohlott, Ruderman, and McCauley (1994) propose that subtle forms of discrimi-
nation preclude women from obtaining positions that include high-stakes responsibility,
managing diverse businesses, and dealing with external pressure. Ryan and Haslam (2007)
note that women who break through the glass ceiling are more likely than men to ﬁnd
themselves in precarious leadership positions that they labeled “glass cliffs.”
International job assignments offer high visibility and build cross-cultural skills that
lead to success in senior leadership roles. Adler (1994) revealed that female and male
MBA graduates expressed equal interest in international assignments, yet only 3% of
North American managers sent abroad were women. In addition, 75% of companies
indicated that the prejudice of international businesses against women was so great that
they would be set up to fail, yet only 20% of expatriate women said that their gender put
them at a disadvantage. Adler suggested that these gaps would narrow if employers helped
women build credibility with overseas colleagues by providing them with full-term (rather
than temporary) overseas assignments.
An additional source of experiential learning particularly for women of color is that of
the leadership roles they play in their communities. Hewlett, Luce, and West (2005)
suggest that the leadership abilities of people of color that are ﬁnely honed in their roles
as mentors and stewards of educational and community organizations are largely invisible
to their work organizations.
Recommendations for Consultants Working With
•Assist women in exercising agency in striving for developmental opportunities,
particularly those involving high-visibility assignments and international
358 HOPKINS, O’NEIL, PASSARELLI, AND BILIMORIA
•Propose the conscious transfer of leadership skills and abilities developed in
volunteer and community roles into the workplace, as well as informing workplace
colleagues about extraorganizational leadership contributions.
Recommendations for Consultants Working With
•Design programs that provide access for women to developmental job assignments
strongly associated with career advancement, for example, higher risk, higher
return, visible, diverse, external, and international responsibilities.
•Have organizations examine the process of awarding developmental opportunities
and challenge inherent bias in existing practices.
•Support the recognition of women’s extraorganizational leadership capabilities and
support encouraging the transfer of knowledge into organizational responsibilities.
Research on women’s career histories reveals that women have less mobility within
and between organizations (Lyness & Judiesch, 1999) and are more dependent on formal
promotion procedures in the corporation than are men (Lyness & Thompson, 2000). For
these reasons, intentionally managing one’s own career plan has been demonstrated as a
facilitator of women’s advancement. All too often, however, women are not taught the
fundamentals of strategic career and succession planning in either their formal educational
programs or in their organizations. Haring-Hidore (1988) found that many women
educational administrators attending a professional networking program were focused on
their present performance to the exclusion of their future potential and were unable to cite
5- and 10-year goals. This is in line with ﬁndings that suggest that the number-one strategy
cited by women for career advancement was to “consistently exceed performance expec-
tations” (Catalyst, 1996; Ragins et al., 1998), necessitating a focus on present performance
to the detriment of strategic career planning.
According to a global study conducted by Catalyst (Mattis, 2001), White male
managers were found to give feedback on job performance to both male and female direct
reports but spent time discussing career paths and future advancement opportunities only
with male employees, not female employees. The focus of the manager–female employee
conversations was on present performance, versus present performance and future poten-
tial in the manager–male employee conversations. Mattis (2001) provides a compelling
list of actions that individual managers can take, including ensuring that candidate lists for
vacant positions always include two or more women, assigning proportional representa-
tion of women to projects and committees, encouraging training for “plateaued” women,
and sending clear messages that he or she is committed to diversity in the organization.
Recommendations for Consultants Working With
•Assist women in thinking strategically about how to advance in organizations and
in careers and in being purposeful and proactive about enhancing their career and
•Propose that women share their career desires and career plans with those who can
Recommendations for Consultants Working With
•Advocate that organizations support and encourage the process of intentional
career planning and purposeful leadership development for women, and foster a
developmental versus an evaluative approach to strategic career planning and
•Promote the idea that organizations hold managers accountable for providing
strategic leadership and career development for their female staff.
In this article, we have provided insights into particular aspects of leadership
development for women and have offered speciﬁc recommendations for consulting
psychologists and human resources professionals working with individual women or
intervening at an organizational level. Below we propose three overarching implica-
tions that emerge from the gender-based leadership differences and seven best
practices that we have identiﬁed. These three metathemes reﬂect the notion that
effective leadership development must exist simultaneously at both individual and
First, leadership development increases women’s portfolios of human, social, and
political capital, resulting in beneﬁts at both the individual and organizational levels.
Each of the seven developmental practices provides opportunities for women to gain
experience and enhance their knowledge, skills, and abilities through their various
learning interactions. For example, human capital is developed through access to
education and training programs, executive coaches or mentors, and stretch job
assignments. Social and political capital increase as a result of an expansive personal
network, multiple mentors, challenging developmental experiences on the job, and
strategic career planning.
Responsibility for developing the human, social, and political capital of women rests
at the individual and the organizational levels. Women must take control of their own
careers and identify individual learning agendas for their own leadership development.
Organizations have a responsibility to provide leadership development offerings speciﬁ-
cally tailored to the learning and development needs of women. Although presenting
developmental opportunities for women is critical, sponsoring ways to share and practice
new learning are also vital for women’s development as well as for organizational
development. Finally, accountability at all organizational levels is essential to ensure effective
leadership development for women. This is especially important given the lack of access faced
by women in each leadership development practice. One effective method of accountability is
to have management assessments include metrics for the development of the human, social,
and political capital of women.
The second implication from our discussion considers the leadership development of
women employees as a strategic business advantage to organizations (Hopkins & O’Neil,
2008). For example, women can provide unique insights into the consumer behavior of
customers and can offer differentially beneﬁcial (female) perspectives on client relations
and overall business directions and practices than mainstream (male) thinking (Bilimoria,
2000). Maximally harnessing these advantages would mean promoting a leadership
development culture for women at all organizational levels. This viewpoint may require
a mindset shift at all levels in organizations; yet doing so has the capacity to offer
360 HOPKINS, O’NEIL, PASSARELLI, AND BILIMORIA
organizations a distinct competitive advantage as they recognize and tap into the unique
capacities of their female employees.
Third, the importance for women to feel connected to the goals and objectives of the
larger organization and to envision a holistic picture of themselves as integral organiza-
tional partners must be of primary emphasis. As organizations structure effective leader-
ship development systems for women and as women realize leadership development
practices in their organizations, they will likely experience stronger organizational con-
nections that may well lead to increased organizational commitment. These leadership
development investments on the part of organizations will pay dividends in increased
integration of women’s relational skills and their ability to continue to add unique value
to their organizations.
Consulting psychologists and human resources professionals can play an integral
role in helping women and organizations highlight these three themes: increasing
women’s portfolios of human, social, and political capital; recognizing women as a
strategic business advantage; and strengthening women’s connections to their orga-
nizations. As we have proposed, consultants can advocate for individual and organi-
zational changes that support these themes, and assist in designing leadership devel-
opment programs, policies, and procedures that effectively address the underlying
issues. The construction of leadership development that recognizes and addresses
women’s unique contributions will result in women realizing their individual potential
and in organizational transformation, the two primary objectives of effective, sustain-
able leadership development.
Adler, N. J. (1994). Competitive frontiers: Women managing across borders. In N. J. Adler & D. N.
Izraeli (Eds.), Competitive frontiers: Women managers in a global economy (pp. 22– 40).
Cambridge, England: Blackwell.
Adler, N. J., Brody, L. W., & Osland, J. S. (2001). Going behind twentieth century leadership: A
CEO develops his company’s global competitiveness. Cross-Cultural Management, 8, 11–34.
Alimo-Metcalfe, B. (1995). An investigation of female and male constructs of leadership and
empowerment. Women in Management Review, 10, 3– 8.
As leaders, women rule. (2000, November 20). Business Week. Retrieved December 10, 2000, from
Baldwin, T. T., & Ford, J. K. (1988). Transfer of training: A review and directions for future
research. Personnel Psychology, 41, 63–105.
Bartholomew, C. S., & Hannum, K. (2006). Research update: 360 degree performance assessment.
Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 58, 117–124.
Bell, E. L. (1990). The bicultural life experience of career oriented Black women. Journal of
Organizational Behavior, 11, 461– 464.
Bell, E. L., & Nkomo, S. M. (2001). Our separate ways: Black and White women and the struggle
for professional identity. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
Bilimoria, D. (2000). Building the business case for women corporate directors. In R. J. Burke &
M. C. Mattis (Eds.), Women on corporate boards of directors: International challenges and
opportunities (pp. 25– 40). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic.
Bilimoria, D., & Piderit, S. K. (1994). Board committee membership: Effects of sex-based bias.
Academy of Management Journal, 37, 1453–1478.
Blake-Beard, S. D. (2001). Taking a hard look at formal mentoring programs. Journal of Manage-
ment Development, 20, 331–345.
Boatwright, K. J., & Egidio, R. K. (2003). Psychological predictors of college women’s leadership
aspirations. Journal of College Student Development, 44, 653– 669.
Boyatzis, R., & McKee, A. (2005). Resonant leadership. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
Brady, D., & McGregor, J. (2007, June 18). What works in women’s networks. Business Week.
Retrieved December 4, 2007, from http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/ 07_25/
Brass, D. J. (1985). Men’s and women’s networks: A study of interaction patterns and inﬂuence in
an organization. Academy of Management Journal, 28, 327–343.
Brass, D. J., Galaskiewicz, J., Greve, H. R., & Tsai, W. (2004). Taking stock of networks and
organizations: A multilevel perspective. Academy of Management Journal, 47, 795– 817.
Bray, D. W., Campbell, R. J., & Grant, D. L. (1974). Formative years in business: A long-term
AT&T study of managerial lives. New York: Wiley.
Brenner, O. C., Tomkiewicz, J., & Schein, V. E. (1989). The relationship between sex role
stereotypes and requisite management characteristics revisited. Academy of Management Jour-
nal, 32, 662– 669.
Burke, M. J., & Day, R. R. (1986). A cumulative study of the effectiveness of managerial training.
Journal of Applied Psychology, 71, 232–245.
Burke, R. J., Rothstein, M. G., & Bristor, J. M. (1995). Interpersonal networks of managerial and
professional women and men: Descriptive characteristics. Women in Management Review, 10,
Carli, L. L., & Eagly, A. H. (1999). Gender effects on social inﬂuence and emergent leadership. In
G. N. Powell (Ed.), Handbook of gender and work (pp. 203–222). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Catalyst. (1996). Women in corporate leadership: Progress and prospects. New York: Author.
Catalyst. (1999). Women of color in corporate management: Opportunities and barriers. Executive
summary. New York: Author.
Catalyst. (2004). Women and men in U.S. corporate leadership: Same workplace, different realities?
New York: Author.
Clawson, J. G., & Kram, K. E. (1984). Managing cross-gender mentoring. Business Horizons, 27,
Cohn, J. M., Khurana, R., & Reeves, L. (2005, October). Growing talent as if your business
depended on it. Harvard Business Review, 62–70.
Collins, D. B., & Holton, E. F. (2004). The effectiveness of managerial leadership development
programs: A meta-analysis of studies from 1982–2001. Human Resource Development Quar-
terly, 15, 217–248.
Conger, J. A., & Benjamin, B. (1999). Building leaders: How successful companies develop the next
generation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Cummings, T. G., & Worley, C. G. (2005). Organization development and change (8
Florence, KY: Thomson South-Western.
Day, D. V. (2001). Leadership development: A review in context. Leadership Quarterly, 11,
de Janasz, S. C., Sullivan, S. E., & Whiting, V. (2003). Mentor networks and career success: Lessons
for turbulent times. Academy of Management Executive, 17, 78 –91.
Eagly, A. H., & Carli, L. L. (2007, September). Women and the labyrinth of leadership. Harvard
Business Review, 63–71.
Eagly, A. H., Johannesen-Schmidt, M. C., & van Engen, M. (2003). Transformational, transactional,
and laissez-faire leadership styles: A meta-analysis comparing women and men. Psychological
Bulletin, 129, 569 –591.
Eagly, A. H., & Johnson, B. T. (1990). Gender and leadership style: A meta-analysis. Psychological
Bulletin, 108, 233–256.
Eagly, A. H., Karau, S. J., & Makhijani, M. G. (1995). Gender and the effectiveness of leaders: A
meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 125–145.
Feldman, D. (1989, August). Women of color build a rainbow of opportunity. Management Review,
Fulmer, R. M., & Bleak, J. (2008). What have we learned about strategic leadership development?
362 HOPKINS, O’NEIL, PASSARELLI, AND BILIMORIA
In C. Wankel & R. DeFillippi (Eds.), University and corporate innovations in lifetime learning
(pp. 161–179). Charlotte, NC: Information Age.
Goldsmith, M., Lyons, L., & Freas, A. (Eds.). (2000). Coaching for leadership. San Francisco:
Goleman, D. (1998). Working with emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.
Hand, H. H., Richards, M. D., & Slocum, J. W. Jr. (1973). Organizational climate and the
effectiveness of a human relations training program. Academy of Management Journal, 16,
Haring-Hidore, M. (1988). A career advancement program for women administrators. Journal of
Career Development, 14, 279 –286.
Heilman, M., Block, C. J., & Martell, R. F. (1995). Sex stereotypes: Do they inﬂuence perceptions
of managers? Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 10, 237–252.
Hewlett, S. A., & Luce, C. B. (2005, March). Off-ramps and on-ramps: Keeping talented women on
the road to success. Harvard Business Review, 43–54.
Hewlett, S. A., Luce, C. B., & West, C. (2005, November). Leadership in your midst: Tapping the
hidden strengths of minority executives. Harvard Business Review, 74 – 82.
Higgins, M. C., & Kram, K. E. (2001). Reconceptualizing mentoring at work: A developmental
network perspective. Academy of Management Review, 26, 264 –288.
Holton, E. (1996). The ﬂawed four-level evaluation model. Human Resource Development Quar-
terly, 7, 5–21.
Hopkins, M. M., & Bilimoria, D. (2008, August). Social and emotional competencies predicting
success for male and female executives. Journal of Management Development, 27, 13–35.
Hopkins, M. M., & O’Neil, D. A. (2008, August). Women’s networks: Opportunities for individual
and organizational development. Paper presented at the Academy of Management Annual
Meeting, Anaheim, CA.
Hopkins, M. M., O’Neil, D. A., & Bilimoria, D. (2006). Effective leadership and successful career
advancement: Perspectives from women in healthcare. Equal Opportunities International, 25,
Ibarra, H. (1993). Personal networks of women and minorities in management: A conceptual
framework. Academy of Management Review, 18, 56 – 87.
Ibarra, H. (1997). Paving an alternative route: Gender differences in managerial networks. Social
Psychology Quarterly, 60, 91–102.
Kanter, R. M. (1977). Some effects of proportions on group life: Skewed sex ratios and responses
to token women. American Journal of Sociology, 82, 965–990.
Kilburg, R. R. (1996). Toward a conceptual understanding and deﬁnition of executive coaching.
Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 48, 134 –144.
Koopmans, H., Doornbos, A. J., & van Eekelen, I. M. (2006). Learning in interactive work
situations: It takes two to tango; why not invite both partners to dance? Human Resource
Development Quarterly, 17, 135–158.
Kram, K. E. (1985). Mentoring at work. Glenview, IL: Scott Foresman.
Latham, G. P., & Saari, L. M. (1979). Application of social-learning theory to training supervisors
through behavioral modeling. Journal of Applied Psychology, 64, 239 –246.
Leonard, H. S., & Goff, M. (2003). Leadership development as an intervention for organizational
transformation: A case study. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 55,
58 – 67.
Lyness, K. S., & Judiesch, M. K. (1999). Are women more likely to be hired or promoted into
management positions? Journal of Vocational Behavior, 54, 158 –173.
Lyness, K. S., & Thompson, D. E. (1997). Above the glass ceiling? A comparison of matched
samples of female and male executives. Journal of Applied Psychology, 82, 359 –375.
Lyness, K. S., & Thompson, D. E. (2000). Climbing the corporate ladder: Do female and male
executives follow the same route? Journal of Applied Psychology, 85, 86 –101.
Mainiero, L. A., & Sullivan, S. E. (2005). Kaleidoscope careers: An alternate explanation for the
“opt-out” revolution. Academy of Management Executive, 19, 106 –123.
Mainiero, L. A., & Sullivan, S. E. (2006). The opt-out revolt: Why people are leaving companies to
create kaleidoscope careers. Mountain View, CA: Davies-Black Publishing.
Mattis, M. C. (2001). Advancing women in business organizations: Key leadership roles and
behaviors of senior leaders and middle managers. Journal of Management Development, 20,
McCall, M. W. (2004). Leadership development through experience. Academy of Management
Executive, 18, 127–130.
McCauley, C. D., & Van Velsor, E. (Eds.). (2004). The Center for Creative Leadership handbook
of leadership development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Metcalfe, B., & Altman, Y. (2001). Leadership. In E. Wilson (Ed.), Organizational behaviour
reassessed: The impact of gender (pp. 104 –128). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Neil, D. A., Hopkins, M. M., & Bilimoria, D. (2008). Women’s careers at the start of the 21st
century: Patterns and paradoxes. Journal of Business Ethics, 80, 727–743.
Noe, R. A., & Schmitt, N. (1986). The inﬂuence of trainee attitudes on training effectiveness: Test
of a model. Personnel Psychology, 39, 497–523.
Ohlott, P. J., Ruderman, M. N., & McCauley, C. D. (1994). Gender differences in managers’
developmental job experiences. Academy of Management Journal, 37, 46 – 67.
O’Neil, D. A., & Bilimoria, D. (2005). Women’s career development phases: Idealism, endurance,
and reinvention. Career Development International, 10, 168 –189.
Parker, V. A., & Kram, K. E. (1993). Women mentoring women: Creating conditions for connec-
tion. Business Horizons, 36, 42–51.
Powell, G. N., & Mainiero, L. A. (1992). Cross-currents in the river of time: Conceptualizing the
complexities of women’s careers. Journal of Management, 18, 215–238.
Pratch, L., & Jacobowitz, J. (1996). Gender, motivation, and coping in the evaluation of leadership
effectiveness. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 48, 203–220.
Ragins, B. R., & Cotton, J. L. (1991). Easier said than done: Gender differences in perceived barriers
to gaining a mentor. Academy of Management Journal, 34, 939 –951.
Ragins, B. R., & Cotton, J. L. (1993). Gender and willingness to mentor in organizations. Journal
of Management, 19, 97–111.
Ragins, B. R., & Kram, K. (Eds.). (2007). The handbook of mentoring at work: Theory, research and
practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Ragins, B. R., Townsend, B., & Mattis, M. (1998). Gender gap in the executive suite: CEOs and
female executives report on breaking the glass ceiling. Academy of Management Executive, 12,
28 – 42.
Ready, D. A., & Conger, J. A. (2003, Spring). Why leadership development efforts fail. MIT Sloan
Management Review, 83– 88.
Rothstein, M. G., Burke, R. J., & Bristor, J. M. (2001). Structural characteristics and support beneﬁts
in the interpersonal networks of women and men in management. International Journal of
Organizational Analysis, 9, 4 –25.
Ruderman, M. N., & Ohlott, P. J. (2005). Leading roles: What coaches of women need to know.
Leadership in Action, 25, 3–9.
Ryan, M. K., & Haslam, S. A. (2007). The glass cliff: Exploring the dynamics surrounding the
appointment of women to precarious leadership positions. Academy of Management Review, 32,
Schein, V. E. (1976). Think manager, think male. Atlanta Economic Review, 26, 21–24.
Singh, V., Vinnicombe, S., & Kumra, S. (2006). Women in formal corporate networks: An
organisational citizenship perspective. Women in Management Review, 21, 458 – 482.
Sturges, J. (1999). What it means to succeed: Personal conceptions of career success held by male
and female managers at different ages. British Journal of Management, 10, 239 –252.
Toegel, G., & Conger, J. A. (2003). 360-degree assessment: Time for reinvention. Academy of
Management Learning & Education, 2, 297–311.
Turock, B. J. (2001). Women and leadership. Journal of Library Administration, 32.
364 HOPKINS, O’NEIL, PASSARELLI, AND BILIMORIA
U.S. Women in Business. (2008). Catalyst. Retrieved May 11, 2008, from http://www.catalyst.org/
Van Velsor, E., & Hughes, M. W. (1990). Gender differences in the development of managers: How
women managers learn from experience. Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative Leadership.
Vinnicombe, S., & Colwill, N. L. (1996). The essence of women in management. Englewood Cliffs,
NJ: Prentice Hall.
Vinnicombe, S., & Singh, V. (2003). Women-only management training: An essential part of
women’s leadership development. Journal of Change Management, 3, 294 –306.