Patterson McGrath & Associates

Where Are All the Women Leaders?

Patterson McGrath & Associates Research Team shares some eye-opening data about how women leaders emerge by choice, chance or not at all.


Barrie, Ontario -- (ReleaseWire) -- 08/25/2009 -- Do women choose to be leaders, or does it just happen by chance? How come women are so grossly underrepresented at the corporate and CEO level of organizations? Women aspire to higher-level positions…don’t they?

The 2009 Women in Leadership Research Project asked women leaders across North America about their stories of leadership success and setbacks with the purpose of revealing how and why women become leaders. The research concludes that women are emerging as leaders by both chance and choice, and some decide to turn down leadership opportunities. Researchers found that 90% of the women respondents are satisfied or very satisfied with their current level of achievement and the majority “are not willing” or only “somewhat willing” to sacrifice more to get ahead. Certainly many of the women who Kelly Patterson-McGrath (President and CEO, Patterson-McGrath & Associates) spoke with echoed that sentiment: "If they are at the top, they know what they have to give up, the sacrifices are many. Some of the women indicated that they were not willing to do that."

Patterson-McGrath’s Women in Leadership Research Project surveyed 150 women leaders on-line and interviewed 47 women. The data collected is being summarized in a series of white papers. Research Paper #1, Women Leaders: By Choice or Chance? is now available and major findings highlighted in this paper include:

Women Have a Desire to Lead
21 of the 47 women leaders interviewed actively sought higher-level leadership positions during their careers. Some planned on climbing the ladder from the beginning of their career while others increasingly sought higher-level positions over time as they gained experience and confidence.

Women Take Advantage of Opportunities
Over half of the women took advantage when opportunity knocked. They may not have intended to climb the corporate ladder, but were offered progressive leadership roles due to their competence. “Over half (58.8%) of strategic executives in our sample indicated that others saw them as leaders and nominated them.” They took advantage of interesting and unique opportunities that directly advanced their careers.

Passion and Connection is Important
The vast majority of women who participated in the study have found work that has personal meaning for them. More than 68% of women strongly agree that work has personal meaning for them. Over 64% are highly engaged in the work they do. However, a woman's motivation for interesting and rewarding work does not necessarily translate to promotion. One respondent says, “I did not necessarily aspire to higher levels, just higher challenges.” In fact, some women choose to move laterally or downward, rather than upward, in pursuit of interesting experiences that enriches and advances their careers.

Desire to be Promoted Varies Greatly
When women were asked to what degree they aspire to be promoted into a more senior-level leadership position, their responses show great variation:

N/A - 22.9%
Not at all - 20.6%
Slightly - 15.3%
Moderately - 23.7%
Very much - 17.6%

Leader Emergence
Analysis of the survey data tells us that women leaders create their own opportunities for advancement and they take advantage of chances that come along. Some women choose to pass on leadership opportunities. Leader emergence depends on the combination of both active (internally driven) and passive (externally driven) forces. While both forces play a role in determining who becomes a leader, both are independently sufficient, but not necessary, for leader emergence. Key steps in leader emergence were identified as a result of the findings.

The study raises questions about the perceptions of males and females in leadership roles. Dr. Paul Bernthal, a member of the research team, says “women can attempt to fit into the male defined leadership model and try to make that work, or they can redefine leadership on their own terms, leveraging their stereotype into a strength.” This idea and others will be explored in Research Paper #2, Being A Woman - What Difference Does it Make?

Report authors & available for interviews:
Kelly Patterson-McGrath, President and CEO, Patterson-McGrath & Associates
Paul Bernthal, Ph.D,
Rebekka Gordon, Ph.D., SPHR

To receive a copy of the full report (Research Paper #1 Women Leaders: By Choice or Chance) or schedule an interview, contact: Kelly Patterson-McGrath, 705-721-8130,

About Patterson-McGrath & Associates
Patterson McGrath & Associates brings over 18 years of experience in corporate training and development. We offer corporate training and a series of public workshops for women called The Power of Women™ Learning Series. We also sell the award winning StressMap®, the most widely used stress assessment tool in North America and the popular journal – The Power of Women Daily Journal.