Why most people at the top of major companies are men: Dr Catherine Hakim’s ‘Preference Theory’ (2000)

I recently met with an eminent Business Studies professor who agreed with my general analysis about ‘women in the boardroom’, but believed that because of demographic changes in recent years – namely the flood of women into business-related courses, such as accounting – the ‘problem’ of board gender ‘imbalance’ would disappear within 10-20 years. I disagreed, citing Dr Catherine Hakim’s Preference Theory, which shows that while four in seven British men are ‘work-centred’, only one in seven British women is.

Dr Hakim first published her theory in an Oxford University Press book in 2000 when she was a Senior Research Fellow at London School of Economics. The professor was intrigued by the theory, but suggested the % of work-centred women would have risen dramatically since 2000. I doubted this was true, but said I’d contact Dr Hakim on the matter. She kindly sent the PDF at the end of this piece, and commented as follows:

Regarding your anonymous professor, you can give him the attached three-page synopsis of preference theory. The ‘trends’ and ‘critical mass’ arguments do not apply in medicine, where women are already over half of all entrants to medical schools. The BMA recently expressed concern about this, saying that because women choose part-time work etc., and do not put in the same time and effort into bargaining and trade union activities, so the relative pay and standing of doctors would decline slowly but surely. In Russia, where the majority of physicians are female, the pay and status of doctors is far lower than in the west. So I do not see these female accountants breaking the ‘glass ceiling’ to push their way into the boardroom. Even in Sweden, where ‘gender equality’ has ruled for decades, only one-third of women work full-time continuously in the same way as men – see Table 3 in the attached file summarising preference theory. Most men assume that once women start professional and managerial careers, they will behave exactly like men. In reality, research shows that even the most highly educated and qualified women divide into three groups, with careerist women a minority in all countries, even in Sweden.

Dr Hakim’s synopsis is here.

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