The article explores the issue of whether women's under-representation in senior management positions can be explained in part by the messages they are given about the promotion process and the requirements of senior jobs. Through interviews with over 50 male and female junior and senior managers in a UK high street bank, issues relating to the required personality and behaviour characteristics seen to be associated with success and with the long hours culture emerged as important. In many cases men and women identified the same issues but the significance of them for their own decision-making and the way others interpreted their behaviour varied — particularly in relation to the perceived incompatibility between active parenting and senior roles. The findings provide an account of the context in which women make career choices which highlights the limitations of analyses which see women's absence as the result either of procedural discrimination or women's primary orientation towards home and family. The findings also highlight the problems of treating commitments towards gender equality as an isolated issue and stress the importance of understanding responses to policies and ways of achieving change within the broader context of an analysis of the organization's culture.