Whether by choice or by pink slip, women managers leave top executive positions at a faster rate than their male counterparts.
New research from Oregon State University found that 7.2% of female execs at S&P 1500 companies left or were let go from managerial positions, compared to 3.8% of male execs in similar roles from 1996 to 2004. The study was conducted using a database of executives compiled over that period.
Almost 3% of these women were dismissed from their jobs, the study found, while less than 1% of their male counterparts suffered the same fate. The researchers that conducted the study found the reasons to go beyond simple discrimination.
"We are reluctant to state definitively that women departing at twice the rate of men is evidence of discrimination [because] this assumes women want to be executives at the same rate as do men," said the study's co-author John Becker-Blease. "It assumes that women measure 'success' the same way that men measure success."
Women in the study also left their posts voluntarily 50% more often than men did, a fact the researchers attributed in part to many women's "domestic and social responsibilities."
A new study by Booz Allen Hamilton also shows that women CEOs averaged 4.8 years in the corner office while men stuck it out for 8.2 years.
Experts on women in the workplace have an explanation.
Women who leave their jobs may not be leaving the workforce entirely, but instead may be seeking an opportunity with a different firm, said Joan Shapiro Green, executive director with the National Council of Jewish Women, and the former President of the Financial Women's Association.
"Given the number of issues women are balancing," she said, "they might make other choices. They're not necessarily opting out, but opting different."
Woman may be fired more than men because of a "last in, first out" philosophy, Green said. "Women are newer to senior ranks than men," she said, "and when there is a decision to cut staff, it's often the more recently promoted or hired. That's frequently women."
Becker-Blease also pointed out that women tend to face greater scrutiny when in upper-level roles. One of his past research projects concluded that the media frenzy over female executive departures is greater than the coverage of those of men and that the attention might deter women from ever wanting to pursue roles in upper management. "I believe the greater departure rate of women executives and the greater scrutiny these departures receive is quite likely to have some impact on women aspiring to the executive ranks," says Becker-Blease.
Meanwhile, women are more likely now than they were in 2004 to reach the the levels of upper management at major U.S. banks. According to a recent study from Women at the Top, 17.4% of executive roles at 50 U.S. banks were held by women in 2010, nearly a five percentage point increase over 2004.
Write to Kelly Eggers