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Gender influences on mental models of firm strategies

Yang Xu (Penn State University, New Kensington, Pennsylvania, USA)

Gender in Management

ISSN: 1754-2413

Article publication date: 4 October 2011




The purpose of this paper is to investigate gender differences in the formation of mental models of firm strategies.


The specific research question is how gender, social interaction, team psychological safety and synergistic knowledge development influence certain characteristics – complexity and centrality – of an individual's mental model of firm strategies. A survey was conducted on a sample of US business students enrolled in strategic management courses. Social interaction, team psychological safety and synergistic knowledge development were measured by use of multiple‐item seven‐point Likert scales. Mental models were constructed by the causal mapping method. Hierarchical regression analyses were used to test the hypotheses.


The regression analyses of the survey data support most of the hypotheses. Gender directly influences complexity and centrality in mental models of firm strategies and moderates the predictive influence of social interaction on synergistic knowledge development.

Research limitations/implications

Possible limitations are the use of a student sample and of respondents as the sole data source. Future research could use managers as research subjects and multiple data sources and explore other determinants of the mental model of firm strategies.

Practical implications

The findings alert university educators about the importance of helping women develop high‐order knowledge and problem‐solving skills by understanding various business functions and synthesizing diverse perspectives. Corporate managers need to design and implement special mentoring and training programs for women with the aim of enriching their specific management knowledge. This study also suggests that women may increase their chance of developing strategic knowledge by proactively networking with senior managers.


This study on gender differences in accumulating management knowledge and skills helps us better understand the roots of and solutions to the gender gap in management and leadership positions. The most intriguing result is the demonstration of gender differences in the development of specific management knowledge. Biases against women not only contribute directly to the “glass ceiling”; more disturbingly, they negatively influence women's internal development of knowledge structures.



Xu, Y. (2011), "Gender influences on mental models of firm strategies", Gender in Management, Vol. 26 No. 7, pp. 513-528.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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