Gender differences in managers' causal explanations for their work performance: A study in two organizations


Industrial Relations Department, London School of Economics, Houghton Street, London WC2 2AE, UK


There is laboratory evidence of gender differences in causal attribution for performance, the nature of which may have deleterious consequences for women's career progression in management. There are, however, reasons to question whether these laboratory results generalize to organizational settings. The present study investigated the effect of gender on 87 managers' causal explanations for incidents of their successful and unsuccessful performance. Subjects occupied either junior or middle levels of management in two organizations, a hospital unit of a local health authority and a financial services firm. Based on the proportion of the managerial population who were women, the financial services firm was a more atypical environment for women managers than the health organization. Two null hypotheses were tested: one, that male and female managers would not differ in their attributional perceptions; and two, that the gender pattern of attribution would not vary by organizational setting. Results indicate that controlling for organization and level, women managers attribute their success significantly less strongly to ability. The organizational setting (or managerial level) did not significantly affect this tendency. There were no significant effects on explanations for unsuccessful performance. Research and practical implications of the results are discussed.