Career stories of 50 female executives from major corporations and high-growth entrepreneurial ventures suggest two alternative accounts of how women legitimize their claims to top leadership positions: navigating and pioneering. In navigating accounts, the women legitimized their claims to top authority positions by following well institutionalized paths of career advancement (e.g., high performance in line jobs) and self-advocating with the gatekeepers of the social hierarchy (e.g., bosses, investors). In pioneering accounts, the women articulated a strategic vision and cultivated a community of support and followership around their strategic ideas and leadership. The career stories suggested that, when the women’s authority claims were not validated, they engaged in narrative identity work to revise their aspirations and legitimization strategies. Sometimes narrative identity work motivated women to shift from one type of account to another, particularly from navigating to pioneering. Based on inductive analyses of these 50 career stories, I propose a process model of how women legitimize their claims to top leadership positions by recursively resetting career accounts as authority claims succeed or fail.
Bias in the evaluation of workplace misbehavior is hotly debated in courts and corporations, but it has received little empirical attention. Classic sociological literature suggests that deviance by lower-status actors will be evaluated more harshly than deviance by higher-status actors. However, more recent psychological literature suggests that discrimination in the evaluation of misbehavior may be moderated by the relative status of the evaluator because status influences both rule observance and attitudes toward social hierarchy. In Study 1, the psychological experience of higher status decreased rule observance and increased preferences for social hierarchy, as we theorized. In three subsequent experiments, we tested the hypothesis that higher-status evaluators would be more discriminating in their evaluations of workplace misbehavior, evaluating fellow higher-status deviants more leniently than lower-status deviants. Results supported the hypothesized interactive effect of evaluator status and target status on the evaluation of workplace deviance, when both achieved status characteristics (Studies 2a and 2b) and ascribed status characteristics (i.e., race and gender in Study 3) were manipulated.