The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘gender discrimination’

The Situation of Gender in the Workplace

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 18, 2012

From Harvard Business Review (part of an op-ed written by Lauren Stiller Rikleen):

The new millennium has not brought much progress for women seeking top leadership roles in the workplace. Although female graduates continue to pour out of colleges and professional schools, the percentages of women running large companies, or serving as managing partners of their law firms, or sitting on corporate boards have barely budged in the past decade.

Why has progress stalled? A recent study suggests the unlikeliest of reasons: the marriage structure of men in the workplace.

A group of researchers from several universities recently published a report on the attitudes and beliefs of employed men, which shows that those with wives who did not work outside the home or who worked part-time were more likely than those with wives who worked to: (1) have an unfavorable view about women in the workplace; (2)think workplaces run less smoothly with more women; (3) view workplaces with female leaders as less desirable; and (4) conside female candidates for promotion to be less qualified than comparable male colleagues.

The researchers also found that the men who exhibited resistance to women’s advancement were “more likely to populate the upper echelons of organizations and thus, occupy more powerful positions.”

Their conclusion? “Marriage structures play an important role in economic life beyond the four walls of the house.” They affect how people view gender roles and how they categorize others. And, as Harvard professor Mahzarin Banaji has documented in her work, using the Implicit Association Test, this can happen even unconsciously.

So even if a male boss explicitly states — and believes — he supports women in leadership, he might still exhibit contradictory behavior or remain oblivious to the obstacles that female colleagues face. Indeed, according to this HBR Research Report from the Center for Work-Life Policy, only 28% of men, compared with 49% of women, see gender bias as still prevalent in the workplace.

I saw this in my own research for Ending the Gauntlet: Removing Barriers to Women’s Success in the Law. Many of the women partners I interviewed described a lack of support and sponsorship from key men in their firms. Several talked to male colleagues who admitted that the success of married women as equity partners invalidated the choices they and their wives had made about how to divide the responsibilities of work and family.

These biases are understandable. It’s natural to seek validation for the choices, and particularly the sacrifices, you have made. But when this expresses itself in attitudes and actions that make it difficult for talented individuals whose choices have been different to advance, it is critical for workplace leaders to intervene.

More.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Distribution, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Law, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of “Opting Out”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 29, 2011

Since the early 2000s, much of  Situationist Contributors’ research, writing, teaching, and speaking has focused on the role of “choice,” “the choice myth,” and “choicism” in rationalizing injustice and inequality, particularly in the U.S.  (e.g., The Blame Frame: Justifying (Racial) Injustice in America).  That work has, among other factors, helped to inspire a growing body of fascinating experimental research (and, unfortunately, one derivative book) on the topic.   Over the next couple of months, we will highlight some of that intriguing new research on The Situationist.  (First installment, “Choice and Inequality, is here.)

Here is a summary of research co-authored by Situationist friend Nicole Stephens.

From APS:

For the first time in history, the majority of Americans believe that women’s job opportunities are equal to men’s. For example, a 2005 Gallup poll indicated that 53 percent of Americans endorse the view that opportunities are equal, despite the fact that women still earn less than men, are underrepresented at the highest levels of many fields, and face other gender barriers such as bias against working mothers and inflexible workplaces.

New research from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University helps to explain why many Americans fail to see these persistent gender barriers. The research demonstrates that the common American assumption that behavior is a product of personal choice fosters the belief that opportunities are equal and that gender barriers no longer exist in today’s workplace.

The study, “Opting Out or Denying Discrimination? How the Framework of Free Choice in American Society Influences Perceptions of Gender Inequality,” suggests that the assumption that women “opt out” of the workforce, or have the choice between career or family, promotes the belief that individuals are in control of their fates and are unconstrained by the environment.

The study was co-authored by Nicole M. Stephens, assistant professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management, and Cynthia S. Levine, a doctoral student in the psychology department at Stanford University. It will be published in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“Although we’ve made great strides toward gender equality in American society, significant obstacles still do, in fact, hold many women back from reaching the upper levels of their organizations,” said Stephens. “In our research, we sought to determine how the very idea of ‘opting out,’ or making a choice to leave the workplace, may be maintaining these social and structural barriers by making it more difficult to recognize gender discrimination.”

In one study, a group of stay-at-home mothers answered survey questions about how much choice they had in taking time off from their career and about their feelings of empowerment in making life plans and controlling their environment.

The participants then reviewed a set of real statistics about gender inequality in four fields – business, politics, law and science/engineering – and were asked to evaluate whether these barriers were due to bias against women or societal and workplace factors that make it difficult for women to hold these positions.

As predicted, most women explained their workplace departure as a matter of personal choice – which is reflective of the cultural understanding of choice in American society and underscores how the prevalence of choice influences behavior. These same women experienced a greater sense of personal well-being, but less often recognized the examples of discrimination and structural barriers presented in the statistics.

In a follow-up experiment, the researchers examined the consequences of the common cultural representation of women’s workplace departure as a choice. Specifically, they examined how exposure to a choice message influenced Americans’ beliefs about equality and the existence of discrimination. First, undergraduate students were subtly exposed to one of two posters on a wall about women leaving the workforce: either a poster with a choice message (“Choosing to Leave: Women’s Experiences Away from the Workforce”) or one in a control condition that simply said “Women at Home: Experiences Away from the Workforce.”

Then, the participants were asked to take a survey about social issues. The participants exposed to the first poster with the choice message more strongly endorsed the belief that opportunities are equal and that gender discrimination is nonexistent, versus the control group who more clearly recognized discrimination. Interestingly, those participants who considered themselves to be feminists were more likely than other participants to identify discrimination.

“This second experiment demonstrates that even subtle exposure to the choice framework promotes the belief that discrimination no longer exists,” said Levine. “One single brief encounter – such as a message in a poster – influenced the ability to recognize discrimination. Regular exposure to such messages could intensify over time, creating a vicious cycle that keeps women from reaching the top of high-status fields.”

Overall, Stephens and Levine noted that while choice may be central to women’s explanations of their own workplace departure, this framework is a double-edged sword.

“Choice has short-term personal benefits on well-being, but perhaps long-term detriments for women’s advancement in the workplace collectively,” said Stephens. “In general, as a society we need to raise awareness and increase attention for the gender barriers that still exist. By taking these barriers into account, the discussion about women’s workplace departure could be reframed to recognize that many women do not freely choose to leave the workplace, but instead are pushed out by persistent workplace barriers such as limited workplace flexibility, unaffordable childcare, and negative stereotypes about working mothers.”

More.

You can download a pdf of the article here.

Related Situationst posts:

You can review hundreds of Situationist posts related to the topic of “choice myth” here or to the topic of inequality here.

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Distribution, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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