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Advancing women's careers through leadership development programs

Marilyn Clarke (Business School, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia)

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Article publication date: 16 August 2011




Women continue to be under‐represented at higher levels of management in organisations and on boards throughout Western industrialised countries despite more than 30 years of government policies and organisational practices designed to redress this imbalance. The problem is how to ensure that more women make it to senior positions. This paper seeks to explore one approach to advancing women's careers through a women‐only development program designed for those identified as high‐potential leaders.


Telephone interviews were conducted with participants from two intakes of the development program. Qualitative data analysis methods were used to identify common words and themes as well as divergent opinions.


Women‐only development programs provide a safe and supportive environment for improving self‐confidence, learning new skills, and learning from the experiences of successful role models. They are a useful addition to other strategies designed to increase the number of women in senior positions but factors such as organisational culture and career choices also impact on career progress.

Research limitations/implications

The sample size is small and may not be representative of overall program participants. The data rely on self‐reports. Only limited demographic detail was obtained.

Practical implications

Future programs should focus more on helping women identify and tap into existing networks, develop more instrumental networks and access suitable mentors.


The paper identifies social capital as an important element in career advancement and one area where women still lag behind men due to a lack of career enhancing networks and high‐status mentors.



Clarke, M. (2011), "Advancing women's careers through leadership development programs", Employee Relations, Vol. 33 No. 5, pp. 498-515.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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