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Becoming a leader: the challenge of modesty for women

Marie‐Hélène Budworth (School of Administrative Studies, York University, Toronto, Canada)
Sara L. Mann (Department of Business, University of Guelph, Guelph, Canada)

Journal of Management Development

ISSN: 0262-1711

Article publication date: 9 February 2010




While the number of women in managerial positions has been increasing, the gender composition of top management teams is skewed. There are barriers and obstacles in place that limit the movement of women into leadership roles. The purpose of this paper is to examine the relationship between modesty and access to leadership. Specifically, tendencies toward modesty and lack of self‐promotion are hypothesized to perpetuate the lack of female involvement in top management positions.


The literature on modesty and self‐promotion is reviewed. The findings are discussed in terms of the persistent challenges faced by women with regard to their ability to enter senior levels of management.


The overall message of the paper is that behaviours that are successful for males in the workplace are not successful for females. The good news is that women do not need to adopt male ways of being in order to succeed. A limitation is that the paper is largely “uni‐cultural”, as the research referenced is primarily that undertaken in a North American context. Self‐promotion and modesty may be conceptualized differently in other contexts.


The paper is one of the first to focus on modesty, an important gendered individual difference, to explain persistent workplace inequalities.



Budworth, M. and Mann, S.L. (2010), "Becoming a leader: the challenge of modesty for women", Journal of Management Development, Vol. 29 No. 2, pp. 177-186.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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