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A gender split in the executive suite

Men in management are self-focused, while women are most concerned about their co-workers and customers, according to a new survey of U.S. executives.

Men in management are self-focused, while women are most concerned about their co-workers and customers, according to a new survey of U.S. executives.

The results, from a four-year study by employee research firm ISR, are so clearly divided along gender lines that they risk comparison to some well-worn expectations — but also shed insight on women's still-tricky climb up the corporate ladder.

Among senior executives, the job commitment of women climbing that ladder is most influenced by what ISR called "communal" aspects of their positions: They place value on their working relationships and want to please their customers.

The male execs were primarily concerned with their own careers and personal rewards. When men were interviewed, nearly 20 percent of what ISR calls "key drivers" of an employee's motivation to remain at his or her job were based on career development: moving up the ladder, or into a better position.

It almost feels like an inverse of that 1950s, fedora-wearing stereotype. Is this the era of the "company woman"?

"They're thinking, 'I've got to think about the company,'" says ISR project director Kim Morris. "There is less of a personal attachment to the company when you look at the senior executives that are males. ... It's about, 'What can I bring to the table, wherever I am, whatever table I'm sitting at.'"

That's no huge surprise in our modern CEO-hopping culture — though there seem to be few women functioning as hired-gun CEOs.

Looking up the ladderMale middle managers, meanwhile, seem to be gazing up the ladder with admiration. Nearly 30 percent of their motivators were centered on companies' leadership. After that, they were influenced by rewards for their work and their take on the company's image. Male execs were also concerned with corporate image — getting hired by companies whose names hold weight on a résumé.

Women in middle management were primarily swayed by empowerment: their ability to make decisions and influence corporate policies. And they placed great stock in having good supervisors who helped them develop their skills.

"Middle management is actually one of the areas where women have made the most strides in the workplace," says Linda Meric of 9to5, the National Association of Working Women.

However, while female middle managers were concerned with stress and work-life balance, male senior executives seemed far more concerned about those issues than women in similar jobs. Morris believes age may be an issue. In their 30s, female managers are often thinking about starting or managing families. They may have settled those issues — often deciding whether to put job or family first — by the time they're in their 40s and rising into senior positions.

By contrast, men who've risen through the ranks have often asked their wives to sacrifice, Morris says: "By the time they're senior executives, their wife is thinking, "OK, I've sacrificed enough. You need to find a way to spend more time at home."

The survey group interviewed 2,888 senior executives and 31,945 middle managers between 2000 and 2003.  As for a glass ceiling? The percentage of women in each sample reveals where most women remain within the corporate structure. One-quarter of senior executives surveyed were women, versus 45 percent of middle managers.

Search for 'direction'Men and women in management don't necessarily share different goals. A study released in June by Catalyst, a nonprofit group that works to advance women's' corporate roles, shows that male and female senior executives at Fortune 1000 companies were equally likely to vie for the CEO slot.

But the female executives found corporate culture far less hospitable to their advancement, which may be why many female executives are focused on building relationships with their peers.

In a related survey of managers at global companies, ISR found that women less frequently felt they were given adequate details about their company's strategic goals, and while 82 percent of men felt management made fair decisions, only 68 percent of women shared that view.

Three-quarters of the male managers felt their company's leadership "provides a clear sense of direction," but only 62 percent of women felt that way.