Culture Matters: Career and Life Expectations and Outcomes among Business School Alumni
Women have made great strides in narrowing the gender gap in professional fields. However, women are still significantly underrepresented and face substantial challenges in reaching top professional positions in business. Recently, in its Life and Leadership After HBS study, the Harvard Business School surveyed its graduate school alumni to better understand "gendered dimensions of life and career that [are] crucial to advancing women leaders" (Harvard Business School 2013). This groundbreaking
... study found that both men and women have similar career aspirations and expectations upon graduating from HBS, yet men are more likely than women to achieve their career goals. My research extends the HBS study by asking whether or not cultural context shapes career aspirations of men and women, and if so, how? As a result, this study seeks to fill an important gap in the literature regarding the role that culture plays in influencing men's and women's career trajectories. By replicating the Life and Leadership after HBS survey at a large university in a state with strong traditional gender cultural norms, we can better understand the effect cultural context has on men and women's professional careers. This study found that high-achieving men and women from a traditionalist culture have similar career and life expectations as the Harvard sample. However, the career and life outcomes for the traditionalist men and women are more traditional than they expected and more traditional in comparison to the Harvard sample. Findings show that early family formation encouraged within a traditionalist culture influences high-achieving men and women's career aspirations. The high-achieving alumni from the traditionalist culture also appear to participate in early family formation that results in women's paying an early motherhood penalty.