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Impossible selves: image strategies and identity threat in professional women's career transitions

Author: Ibarra, Herminia ; Petriglieri, JenniferINSEAD Area: Organisational Behaviour Series: Working Paper ; 2007/69/OB Publisher: Fontainebleau : INSEAD, 2007.Language: EnglishDescription: 34 p.Type of document: INSEAD Working Paper Online Access: Click here Abstract: This article uses the notion of identity threat to explain gender differences in responses to the image and identity gap created by professionals’ transition into client advisory roles. While both men and women experienced this gap, the strategies used to bridge it differed by gender, and so did their consequences. Women were less likely than men to report access to suitable role models, and accordingly were less likely than men to use imitation strategies in fashioning “provisional selves” to fill the gap. Lacking suitable models, women were also more likely than men to engage in “protective” self-presentation: behaviour geared toward avoiding disapproval. Men, by contrast, were more likely to engage in “acquisitive” self-presentation, defined as behaviour aimed at eliciting approval. We develop a conceptual framework in which relational and organizational demography moderate the relationship between identity threat and image strategies, which in turn reduce or augment the perceived threat. Conditions of threat combined with relatively impermeable group boundaries, we argue, transformorganizational models of success into “impossible selves” for professional women.
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This article uses the notion of identity threat to explain gender differences in responses to the image and identity gap created by professionals’ transition into client advisory roles. While both men and women experienced this gap, the strategies used to bridge it differed by gender, and so did their consequences. Women were less likely than men to report access to suitable role models, and accordingly were less likely than men to use imitation strategies in fashioning “provisional selves” to fill the gap. Lacking suitable models, women were also more likely than men to engage in “protective” self-presentation: behaviour geared toward avoiding disapproval. Men, by contrast, were more likely to engage in “acquisitive” self-presentation, defined as behaviour aimed at eliciting approval. We develop a conceptual framework in which relational and organizational demography moderate the relationship between identity threat and image strategies, which in turn reduce or augment the perceived threat. Conditions of threat combined with relatively impermeable group boundaries, we argue, transformorganizational models of success into “impossible selves” for professional women.

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