The glass pyramid hypothesis: Sex differences in preferences for organizational hierarchies

Sofia Schlamp, Richard Ronay, Janneke Oostrom, Mark van Vugt

Research output: Contribution to JournalMeeting AbstractAcademic


Worldwide there is an underrepresentation of women in top leadership roles in business and politics. Many explanations have been offered, including the glass ceiling and glass cliff hypotheses. Here we investigate an alternative explanation: The glass pyramid hypothesis, the idea that aspects of women’s versus men’s psychology may be less aligned with the hierarchical structures that are common to organizational contexts. We hypothesized that sex differences in overconfidence and risk-taking influence preferences for tall versus flat (egalitarian) hierarchical structures. In Study 1, participants (N=200) completed a survey assessing their preferences for flat versus tall hierarchical organizations. As expected, both sexes expressed a stronger preference for flat compared to tall hierarchies, yet women’s aversion to tall hierarchies was greater than that of men’s. In Study 2, participants (N=221) read job advertisements for a leader versus follower position in a tall versus flat organization and indicated their intention to apply. Compared to men, women were significantly less interested in applying for the leadership position in the tall hierarchical organization, and these differences were mediated by sex differences in overconfidence. Greater risk-taking among men relative to women, explained their stronger application intentions to leadership organizations in both flat and tall hierarchical organizations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number13601
JournalAcademy of Management Proceedings
Issue number1
Early online date1 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019
EventAcademy of Management Conference - Boston, United States
Duration: 8 Aug 201913 Aug 2019


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