Feminists and equal opportunity campaigners will be disappointed to read the latest research which suggests that the more gender equality there is in a country, the more people revert to gender stereotypes and think differently.
A survey of 130,000 people from 22 countries by scientists from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden found that the more women there are in the workforce, parliament and education, the more they differ and diverge on psychological traits.
This counter-intuitive finding has been has been replicated so it’s worth considering – even if no-one really understands why!
Other research published by Plos One found that in countries ranked less equal in gender by the World Economic Forum, women were more likely to choose traditional male courses such as sciences.
Erik Mac Giolla, the lead researcher at Gothenburg, said if anything the research found bigger differences than previously. Measuring personality using the well-established “Big 5″ model OCEAN i.e. Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism, women typically scored higher on all of them although there is always an overlap with men’s scores on those factors.
For example in China, which scores low on gender parity, the personality overlap between the sexes is as high as 84%. In the Netherlands on the other hand, one of the world’s most gender-equal societies, it is 61%.
“It seems that as gender equality increases, as countries become more progressive, men and women gravitate towards traditional gender norms. Why? I don’t really know” said Giolla.
Steve Stewart-Williams at the University of Nottingham says this effect is also seen in other ways, not just personality. “The same counter-intuitive patterns have been found in many other areas, including attachment styles, choice of academic speciality, choice of occupation, crying frequency, depression, happiness, and interest in casual sex”
“It’s definitely a challenge to one prominent stream of feminist theory, according to which all differences between the sexes come from cultural training and social roles”.
He thinks that those living in wealthier and more gender-equal societies have more freedom to pursue their own interest and behave more individually, which would magnify natural differences.
He also believes we should stop thinking of sex differences in society as being automatically a product of oppression. They could actually be a sign of the living in a fair and free society.
To sum up you might think it’s reasonable for people brought up in cultures where men and women are treated differently and have different opportunities that they will end up a lot more different than they would in cultures where they are treated more equally.
However the opposite seems to be true. Treating mean and women differently makes them more the same and treating them the same makes them more different.
So perhaps once women have achieved parity with men in their chosen careers etc they then relax and revert to type?
That would explain the Queen Bee phenomenon.
Hardly surprising really. Researchers at UWE in Bristol analysed the experiences of 26,000 workers and found that an extra 20 minutes commuting each day was as bad as taking a 19% pay cut!
The average commuting time per day has risen from 48 to 60 minutes each way over the past 20 years and 1 in 7 workers send 2 hours a day commuting.
Every extra minute taken travelling reduced job satisfaction, worsened mental health and increased the chance of people giving up their job.
Workers travelling by bus seemed to suffer the worst compared to other means of transport.
Those who could walk or cycle to work were more satisfied, perhaps because they was it as a healthy activity and as part of a “health-enhancing lifestyle”. And perhaps because the journeys were shorter?
Longer train journeys were, perhaps unsurprisingly, less stressful than short ones as people can use the time more productively and shorter train journeys tended to be on more crowded trains.
Women were affected more by committing than men which the researchers out down to their having “greater household and family responsibilities“. That sounds a bit sexist in this day and age!
I don’t know if they looked at the number of stages in the journey to work but when I was carrying out research into absenteeism some years ago that was one of the factors. Not how far people travelled but how many changes they had to make and worrying about connections.
As a free-lancer I was always conscious of travel times and would book overnight stays to avoid getting stuck on motorways so at least I could be fresh on arrival. Nothing worse than turning up to present something on stress or resilience and being stressed out yourself!
They are better than men at using people skills, the ability to take others with you, to compromise with good grace and to make employees feel valued.
They also outperform men in getting things done, can set ambitious goals and follow them through methodically.
They are even better at entrepreneurial skills such as innovation and have the courage to seize the initiative and communicate a vision clearly.
So what’s the catch? Well when the going gets tough it’s men that get going apparently.
After examining personality traits among Norway’s managerial elite it seems women are more likely to lack the emotional stability required in leadership so they wilt under pressure.
The authors said ” The survey suggests that female leaders may falter through their stronger tendency to worry – or lower emotional stability. However this does not negate that they are decidedly more suited to management positions than male counterparts. If decision-makers ignore this truth they could be employing less qualified leaders and impairing productivity”.
The researchers looked at the correlation between leaders and emotional stability, an outgoing personality, openness to new experiences, agreeableness and a methodical nature (these are all traits in the Big 5 personality model).
They also compared managers in the public and private sectors. They found that public sector leaders showed higher degrees of innovation, stronger people skills and more meticulous attention to detail. This applied more to senior rather than middle managers.
The most effective managers were those motivated by a genuine interest in their work and a sense of its value.
After the recession there were lots of anecdotal stories of female CEOs being preferred to mop up the mess left behind by former (male) CEOs and research that showed that female CEOs were trusted more. And there is evidence that having females in your team can make it more effective.
Marissa Meyer seemed to have lost the plot at Yahoo after banning working from home and building a creche next to her office so she didn’t have to.
Here in the UK there have been some embarrassing examples of senior women managers in the NHS who have had to leave their posts in disgrace. Perhaps only proving that there is equality and that women can be just as bad leaders as men
Dame Athene Donald who is a master of Churchill College (isn’t that a bit sexist?) and a professor of experimental physics says references are often unintentionally written in a “gendered way” with academics more likely to describe women applying for research posts or fellowships as “hard-working” or “team players“.
She thinks this fails to communicate just how good female applicants are unlike when using words like “excellent“, “driven” or “outstanding” which apparently are often reserved for males.
She said “If letter writers just sit down and write the first adjectives that come into their heads to describe men and women, the words may be poles apart even if the subjects of the letters are indistinguishable in ability”.
“Do you really mean that your star PhD student is hard-working and conscientious or was the message you wanted to convey that she was outstanding, goes the extra mile, and always exceeds your expectations about what is possible, demonstrating great originality en route? There is an enormous difference in the impact of the two descriptions“.
She believes that this clearly can lead to a significant detriment to the woman’s progression, even if without a sexist intent.
Stanford University analysed performance reviews in technology firms and found that women’s evaluations contained almost twice as much language about their communal or nurturing style using words such as “helpful” or “dedicated”.
Men’s reviews on the other hand contained twice as many references to their technical expertise and vision.
Why is this surprising? Do people like Dame Donald think men and women actually behave the same at work? Of course there is an overlap but there is enough research which shows that women respond to stress differently, are often better at soft skills than men, can improve teams, and may be more emotionally intelligent to boot.
Professor Donald suggested that people writing references should use a gender bias calculator website that highlights words in texts that may be received as gendered. She also calls for training for selection panels – something most organisations have been doing for decades (my colleague and I introduced this into an NHS Trust back in the 1990s). I think she means well if a little too PC but maybe a bit out of touch with the real world.
Professor Alan Smithers, director of the centre for education at Buckingham University disagrees with her. He is quoted as saying “How do we know that academics using these words have unconscious bias? being a team player and hard worker are very important. It is perfectly possible that candidates do have these strengths and it is important that a referee is able to say so”
Common sense from one academic at least. And read what happened when a journalist investigated this issue for himself.
According to the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) – which looked at 170 employers and 22,000 graduates last year – women usually perform better on such programmes but men dominate those run by major employers and in the highest paying sectors.
Banking, Accountancy, construction, professional services and consultancy businesses all hired more men than women last year. The exception being law.
The association wants employers to work to combat negative stereotypes in some sectors which may put off female graduates.
Most employers still insist on a 2.1 degree but some have relaxed entry requirements completely (considering grade inflation probably a good idea. Who knows what a degree is actually worthy these days?).
Capgemini has rewritten job descriptions in the light of research which suggests women will only apply for jobs when they think they meet all the criteria, unlike men who will bullshit their way through even if they only match 60% of them. (From my experience as a career management consultant this is very true).
The Chief Executive of the AGR said “Despite investment to develop a more diverse graduate workforce there remains considerable barriers. Improving gender diversity is less about changing selection processes and is largely an attraction challenge. many female students don’t apply“.
As graduates, especially women, increasingly seek safe places and avoid micro-aggressions I wonder if they are simply put off by the thought of having to enter the real world and face a possibly challenging working environment?
There are phrases that women use (allegedly) that are holding them back in the workplace and this app is meant to prompt them to evaluate what they are saying and come up with a better i.e. more assertive, phrase to replace it.
When words like “sorry” or “just” are typed into a Gmail they are underlined for correction with a warning such as “Using ‘sorry’ frequently undermines your gravitas and makes you appear unfit for leadership” or ” ‘Just’ demeans what you have to say“.
So far so good you might think. let’s discourage the use of “undermining words“. But no, it’s attracted the wrath of feminists and journalists such as New York business editor Alexandra Frean (writing in The Times).
“Sorry, but women don’t need to be told how to write” she says. This is just part of the trend offering spurious advice on women’s speech patterns which are supposed to empower women but risk doing the opposite – in her opinion.
Now Frean is an American and from her on-line presence seems a familiar sight at conventions and the like and probably one of the “lean in” brigade. But is she right?
She refers to women using “upspeak“, which makes every sentence sound like a question, or “vocal fry” when their voice descends to a croak instead.
And then she asks where is the evidence that women do these things more often than men?
Well I remember a speaker from a British university presenting on this very subject at an international leadership conference in Germany a couple of years ago where she presented such evidence.
And from my experience as an executive coach working with senior women this is not uncommon. Maybe it’s that we Brits are a bit less forward than our American cousins.
She then argues that woman might be using these qualifiers, not to display weakness but as persuaders and conciliators.
She also refers to research at Rutgers university that found that women who spoke confidently about their strengths were seen as less attractive and less employable.
She’s not the only critic of the app. Professor of linguistics at the University of California in Berkeley Robin Lakoff says that telling women how to talk discourages them from speaking. “I know the developers of the app would say, in all sincerity, that they are trying to help women by telling us how to talk, but these hints never make anyone a better speaker; their effect is to make women less articulate because they suppress our spontaneity and make us embarrassed about whatever we do”
She says whether a word is used correctly depends on the context and there are times when saying sorry is OK and other times when it is inappropriate. These kinds of words (or discourse markers) have the ability to soften what a speaker is saying or make difficult conversations more comfortable. They also make people feel better and able to get along, something she says women are better at than men.
So arguments on both sides – and all from women, including the person who designed the app is Tami Reiss who describes how it came about here.
In short she was inspired by a number of women coaches and leaders including Tara Mohr, a leadership coach and author of “Playing Big” a book that exhorts every working women to “find your voice, your mission, your message“. (seen here on YouTube
- It’s an unconscious habit that women have picked up from other women
- Women who use these phrases want to appear likeable and worry about coming over as aggressive or arrogant. (I posted about women’s dilemma some time ago in “Too nice or too bossy” in regard to leadership).
- The third reason is the inner critic we all have which creates self-doubt (and gives rise to imposter syndrome, something else I posted about earlier)
Mohr says the feedback she has had from people following her recommendations has been positive and her clients report getting faster replies to their e-mails and having their requests taken more seriously.
Mohr also takes a strong view about women coming out of 2,000 years of oppression! According to her women have a lot of work to do, both unlearning and learning, to be able to fully embrace the freedoms that women now have.
Well according to Herminia Ibarra and her colleagues, writing in the September 2013 HBR, persistent gender bias disrupts the learning process of becoming a leader.
They are talking about what they call “second generation gender bias“. Not direct discrimination but things like the paucity of role models for women, career paths and jobs that have become entrenched with a gender bias, and women’s lack of access to sponsors and networks.
They also talk about the double binds facing women. In most cultures leadership is associated with masculinity. The ideal leader, like the ideal man, is decisive, assertive, and independent. Women, on the other hand, are expected to be nice, caretaking, and unselfish.
Research shows that female leaders who excel in traditional male domains are viewed as competent but less likeable than their male counterparts. Yet research shows that female CEOs are trusted more than male ones and can add real value to teams.
Behaviours that suggest self-confidence or assertiveness in men often appear arrogant or abrasive in women. Female leaders who adopt a feminine approach to their work may be liked but not respected. They are seen as too emotional to make tough decisions and too soft to be strong leaders.
Yet research carried out by Zenger and Folkman in 2011 on over 7,000 executives using 360 degree feedback, showed that women were rated higher than men at every managerial level. However the higher in the hierarchy you went the more men there were. So were companies promoting the right people?
They used 16 competencies in their research, which they had identified as being the most important in terms of overall leadership effectiveness.
- Takes initiative
- Practices self-development
- Drives for results
- Develops others
- Inspires and motivates others
- Builds relationships
- Establishes stretch goals
- Champions change
- Solves problems and analyses issues
- Communicates powerfully and prolifically
- Connects the group to the outside world
- Technical or professional expertise
- Develops strategic perspective
Comparing mean scores for men and women the women scored significantly (statistically) higher than the men on 12 of the 16 traits – and not just the ones that women are known to be better at. They scored the same as men on connecting to the outside world, innovating, and technical or professional expertise.
The only trait where men scored higher was on developing a strategic perspective.
So what’s to be done? Ibarra and her colleagues don’t suggest anything dramatically new or innovative.
Progressing to leadership positions means leaving behind your old professional identity and learning new skills (have a look at Charan’s pipeline model).
That can be scary so having supportive mechanisms in place such as providing leadership programmes, mentoring and coaching (and I find in my coaching that women are less defensive and often respond better than men), and providing a support group or a safe space – perhaps an action learning group – can make a real difference.
It appears that working dads are held to lower performance and punctuality standards and yet more likely to be promoted than childless men with identical qualifications.
Potential clients were asked to rate their impressions of fictitious male and female McKinsey consultants some of whom were parents. The father was the only one rated as warm and competent and the mother the only one considered warm but less competent than her childless peers.
I wrote about European research on the warm v competent dimensions a few posts ago and this has similar results. So not just an American phenomenon.
However the picture changes dramatically when the American dads take time off for child care. A number of studies show that men are penalised through lower performance ratings and fewer recommendations for rewards even after taking only a short break.
Being a father doesn’t hinder career prospects until you want to play a more active role in being a dad when your career may suffer.
Men are subject to a range of sanctions such as being passed over for promotion, having people doubt their competence behind their backs, and openly being mocked about taking time off.
And those stats on working mothers: chance of being hired in first place falls by 79%, and they are 50% less likely to be promoted than a childless woman.
It seem the image of the male breadwinner is alive and well.
Source: HBR September 2012
- Being happily married helps women resist work-place stress whilst men dissatisfied with their jobs are more likely to flirt.
- If you’re a working mum stop worrying about it having negative effects on your kids but try not to work more than 30 hours a week.
- If you’re a stay-at-home dad then you’re probably more satisfied with your life than dads who go out to work but, like many women, miss adult conversation.
- If you are an independent women rejecting help may make people believe you are competent but cold, and vice versa. Not so for men.
- In a mixed group women cooperate more than men but men are more cooperative than women when working in a single sex group.
But men and women do have one thing in common: taking work home – whether mentally or physically – can depress you and make you feel tired.
A study at UCLA, published in 2008 in Health Psychology, showed that happily married working women rebounded quicker from daily stress than women in less happy relationships.
Men showed lower stress levels as the day progressed – as measured by levels of cortisol in their saliva – whether happily married or not. So while marriage is often seen as good for men’s health it may come at a price for women in unhappy relationships.
But there is good news for working mums. Research at the University of Bath, published this year, shows that working mothers are significantly less likely to suffer from depression whether part-time or full-time and regardless of salary level: single mums 15% less likely and mums in a partnership 6% less likely.
The researchers said there seems to be little evidence to link stress at work to depression. Women going back to work showed a 26% drop in mental health problems compared to an increase of 25% for women giving up work. And the same results have been found in a 10-year study in America where working mums also report fewer symptoms of depression than mums who don’t work. Working part-time was the healthiest option of all.
We have known for decades that unemployment was bad for men and now the same applies to women. Work gives you a sense of identity and boosts your self-esteem which impacts on your well-being.
And there’s no evidence that babies suffer when their mums work. Past research found that returning to work early resulted in children who are slower learners and UNICEF recommended in 2008 that women stay at home for the first 12 months rather than put their children at risk.
But the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Study of Early Child Care followed 1,000 children over 7 years tracking their families and their development. The research published by the Society for Research in Child Development in 2010 showed that overall the net impact was neutral: the advantages of more income and better child care offset any downsides of the mums returning to work. Again part-time working of up to 30 hours a week offered better outcomes than full-time working.
But women don’t have it all their own way at work. When it comes to “benevolent sexism” a study reported in the European Journal of Social Psychology (2012) showed that women couldn’t win. If they accept someone’s offer of help, for example opening a door for them or helping with a computer problem, they are seen as warmer but less competent; if they reject help they are seen as competent but cold.
And the same researchers found that accepting help meant that women were judged less suitable for managerial jobs while rejecting help led to their being judged less suitable for care jobs that relied on emotional skills.
For men the results were different. Rejecting offers of help led to them being judged as competent but not less warm. And it seems men are judged both competent and warmer when they offer help which is accepted.
It seem that independent women are seen as competent but cold mainly by people who believe in benevolent sexism and who adopt paternalistic attitudes.
A review by Balliet of 50 years of research discovered that men are actually more cooperative than women. And they are more likely to help strangers and be cooperative in large groups, whereas women are seen as more supportive and agreeable.
Perhaps surprisingly men are more cooperative in single sex groups than women but in mixed sex groups women are more cooperative.
It seems that when men and women are working together they resort to stereotypical behaviours because of the presence of the opposite sex. Perhaps men like to show women how dominant they are which reduces cooperation.
And sexist men earn more, at least in the USA. Research at Florida University (published in the Journal of Applied Psychology) showed that men with traditional attitudes earned substantially more than their egalitarian colleagues whereas for women it was the other way round – although not such a big salary difference.
Over a 25-year period the traditionally-minded men earned an average of $8,459 more annually than egalitarian-minded men and $11,374 on average more than traditionally-minded women. The gap between egalitarian men and women was much less at $1,330.
The differences occurred regardless of education, type of job, family commitments or hours worked and the researchers aren’t really sure why. They surmise it might be unconscious bias.
Talking of egalitarian men, it seems that “stay at home” dads do better in terms of life, marital, and job satisfaction, than dads who work outside the home, according to research reported at the American Psychological Association‘s 2007 Annual Convention.
Men were staying at home for a number of reasons including deferring to their wives’ higher earnings potential and wanted to be more involved in bringing up their children. Being a full-time dad did have some stigmas attached and they also reported missing the adult work-place interactions (something often mentioned by women when they decide to return to work).
Finally one thing that applies to everybody: taking work home, whether mentally or physically, can make you feel depressed and tired.
Researchers at the University of Konstanz found that the greater people’s workload and work hours the harder it was to detach themselves from work. Workers experiencing high work demands need more recovery time but are less likely to get it because of their work habits and not having time to switch off.
Those workers with hobbies or who engaged in physical activity reported feeling less tired and more engaged. But the researchers also point out that thinking about work can be a mood booster as well if people are reflecting on their successes and accomplishments.
But let’s give the final words to women. There is evidence that while women can contribute a lot to teams they don’t always perform at their best in them. They are also more critical of organisations.
And there are people who believe that women are the winners at work anyway!
Then we had the research finding that said that to make a team more intelligent – simply add more women.
But the question is whether or not women like working in teams?
Two academic economists (and have you noticed how economists are trespassing on research topics more typically associated with psychologists) have published results of an experiment in the Economic Journal.
They found that in competitive tasks 80% of men chose to do it as individuals compared to just under 30% of women (they were equally able on the tasks). They called this the “gender competition gap” and found that it shrank by more than half when the only option was to compete in teams. Then 67% of men and 45% of women chose to compete.
Previous research has shown that men prefer to compete more than women even when they are equally able to do the task. The economists, Andrew Healey and Jennifer Pate, say that it is the environment which is important and changing that can narrow the gender competition gap.
They point out that there are few women CEOs of FTSE100 companies and think that if the emphasis was shifted away from “testosterone-fuelled gladiatorial-style competition” to an environment that focusses on their team-working ability, things could change in favour of women.
They also point out that men will apply for jobs for which they are under-qualified whilst women do the opposite and if selection or competition was based on teamwork more women and fewer men might apply.
I posted on this following the publication of a management survey which showed that people trusted female CEOs more than male ones to get their company out of recession and save jobs.
But women suffer more than men from “imposter syndrome” and are therefore less likely to apply for jobs unless they are highly confident they can do them, whereas men are more likely to overestimate their capability and apply regardless.