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Businesswomen Want to Be Leaders at Work, Says Simmons School of Management/HP Survey

BUT: Having Influence and Making a Difference Trump Being "the Boss"

BOSTON (March 16, 2004) — Shattering the myth that most businesswomen shun top-level leadership positions at work, a newly released survey finds that the majority of businesswomen want to be influential leaders in their workplace. Nearly half of them aspire to the highest level of leadership in their organization.

But, in what may be a newly emerging definition of "leadership" in business, the majority of the women say that the traditional meaning of a leader as being "in charge of others" is not what motivates them. Having influence and making a difference does.

And while most of the women surveyed say that opportunities for workplace advancement for women are better than they were a decade ago, a significant majority of them think women still don't have an equal chance with men for advancing to the highest levels of their organizations. The vast majority also believes that women still have to adjust their styles to build successful careers in their organizations.

The findings are from a computer survey of 571 of the 2,000 businesswomen from around the country who attended the 2003 Simmons College School of Management Leadership Conference in Boston. Conducted by the School of Management--the only business school in the world designed specifically for women--and HP, a conference sponsor, the survey looked for generational differences or similarities in values, goals and expectations among women in the workplace.

Key findings include:

--Seventy-five percent of women across the generations cited being an "influential leader" as important in their choice of jobs. One-third of all women, and 40% of those under 34, said being an influential leader was "very important."

--More than half (56 percent) of women 34 and younger said it was important to them to achieve the highest level of leadership in their organization. Among all age groups, 45 percent of the women aspired to the highest leadership position.

--While the women want to be influential leaders, few accorded importance to being "in charge of others;" only 27 percent said that was important.

--Instead, having a job where they can "help others," "make the world a better place," and "give back to their communities" was important to more than two-thirds of the businesswomen surveyed, across the generations. Only 51 percent said making a lot of money was important. Both those findings mirror similar findings of a national survey last year of teen-age girls and their attitudes towards business, conducted by the Simmons School of Management and The Committee of 200, a national organization of preeminent businesswomen.

"This survey of successful businesswomen points to a different model of workplace leadership that demands serious attention," said Deborah Merrill-Sands, associate dean of the Simmons School of Management. "These women want to have influence at the highest levels in setting the agenda, the direction, and the priorities of a company."

"Making a difference-often through a collaborative approach-is more important to them than expanding turf and supervising large numbers of employees."

--One of the most provocative findings is that half the women said they want to be their own boss in their next career move.

--Despite their aim for workplace leadership, 89 percent of the women believe they still have to make adjustments to their work style to advance in the workplace. Seventy percent of them think women still don't have an equal chance with men for making it to the highest levels of their organization.

--Women across the generations said that "enjoying what I do" is important in choosing their next job. Eighty-seven percent cited having enough time to spend time with family or friends as important, and eighty-five percent cited workplace flexibility as important, again mirroring the findings of the national survey of teen girls' attitudes towards business careers.

The majority of survey respondents were middle and senior levels managers, with average work experience of 21 years. Forty-two percent were in companies of more than 20,000 employees, 18 percent in companies with fewer than 99 employees. A third of the women had personal incomes more than $100,000; 45 percent had incomes between $50,000 and $100,000. Eighty-seven percent of respondents were white and 13 percent were women of color.

Each year at the Simmons School of Management Leadership Conference in Boston, HP and Simmons jointly administer a computer-based survey examining leadership and management issues relevant to women. HP provides technology support, including HP notebook PCs, survey software, and initial data analysis to determine trends and patterns.

Information about the Simmons School of Management is at For more information about the study, contact SOM Associate Dean Deborah Merrill-Sands at or