Growing up in British Columbia in the 1990s, Ekaterina Netchaeva found it perplexing that, though her mother received glowing performance reviews as a quality control engineer for a software company, she never tried to reach the top leadership track. “She was ambitious and doing well in her job, but she was simply not interested in going for the next promotion,” Netchaeva says. Several of her mother’s female colleagues felt the same, and when a teenage Netchaeva queried them about it, they cited family obligations, problematic gender dynamics at the office, and a lack of interest.
Years later, Netchaeva saw the same pattern among her own friends. But as an organizational behaviorist—she’s an assistant professor of management and human resources at HEC Paris—she was better placed to understand the issue. She joined forces with gender researcher Leah Sheppard, an associate professor of management at Washington State University’s Carson College of Business, who’d long been puzzled by the failure of corporate diversity and inclusion efforts to close the gender leadership gap. “The conversation around women and leadership was really dominated by bias and discrimination,” Sheppard says. “We thought that there was a place to talk about women’s agency: Are women actually intending to pursue these positions as much as men?”