All’interno Della Scatola Nera. Uno Studio Sulle Carriere di Donne e Uomini ai Vertici Delle Aziende (Inside the Black Box. A Study of the Careers of Women and Men at the Top of Corporations)

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

August 4, 2003


The paper aims to clarify the social mechanisms which prevent Italian women from reaching the highest positions inside corporations. We argue that the causes of vertical segregation can hardly be ascribed to differences in the characteristics of labour supply of female executives, as mainly claimed by economic theory. We rather hypothesise that the reasons for the low female presence at the top of organisations are to be found inside corporations, in the relational dynamics and, in particular, in the relation of power between men and women executives (Frank Parkin's strategies of social clusure). Using data from the first two waves of the Italian Household Longitudinal Survey and from the Fendac database we describe the main characteristics associated with the labour supply of men and women executives. We show that women executives come from a higher social background, have higher educational levels and have adopted social behaviours in relation to family formation and fertility (being single and without children) which are compatible with a typical 'male' career. We then used qualitative data on fourty-five men and women executives to identify the strategies of 'social exclusion' by (male) management and of 'social usurpation' by women executives. The analysis shows that the social actions of men at the top of the corporations basically seem to have reinforced a women-unfriendly cultural environment and to have promoted gender-neutral working arrangements. For their part, women executives seem to have adopted and interiorized the 'male model', without seriously challenging it.

Published in


Volume and page numbers

Volume: 7 , p.285 -314




Not held in library or ASL.



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