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What Does Workplace Bias between Men and Women Mean?

A recent study by the Harvard Business Review used sensor technology to challenge ideas around the lack of professional mobility for women in the workplace. Many people believe that the reason for the low rates of women in high professional positions is due to a gendered difference in workplace behavior between men and women, which ultimately results in fewer women climbing professional ranks. This particular study, however, puts those ideas to rest.

The study – which was administered within an anonymous company – distributed badges that operated with sensor technology to monitor the behaviors and interactions that employees held between one another. The study concluded that men and women did not differ in their work ethics, proximity to superiors and potential mentors, or willingness to take on leadership opportunities. What did differ was that men had higher rates of reaping the benefits of the aforementioned attributes.

So, how come women are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to job promotions that result in acquiring leadership positions?

The HBR study states, “In this company, women made up roughly 35 percent–40 percent of the entry-level workforce but a smaller percentage at each subsequent level. Women made up only 20 percent of people at the two highest seniority levels at this organization.” A telling piece of information that many easily support is the notion that women are not assertive enough to rise to leadership opportunities in the same way as their male counterparts. However, the study found that notions like this are not the case; it is not an issue of deficiency on account of female employees, but instead, an issue of male bias.

Male bias further explains the misconception about the assumed differences in behavior between men and women in the workplace. The misconception is not in the claim that women behave differently in professional settings, but instead how their behaviors are perceived by their peers in relation to their male counterparts. Women are susceptible to having their workplace behaviors and decisions viewed as negatively affecting the business, while their male counterparts’ identical behaviors are viewed as an asset.

An example of this bias is present within the concepts of the “Fatherhood Bonus” and “Motherhood Penalty.” These two concepts refer to the idea of companies viewing male employees with children as significantly more responsible, while female employees with children are viewed as uncommitted to their work.

Many of the misinterpretations of women’s behavior and choices within the workplace actually tend to revolve around society’s expectations of women to take responsibility for familial matters.

An article by the Pew Research Center states, “Roughly four in ten mothers said that at some point in their work life they had taken a significant amount of time off (39 percent) or reduced their work hours (42 percent) to care for a child or other family member. Roughly a quarter (27 percent) said they had quit work altogether to take care of these familial responsibilities. Fewer men said the same. For example, just 24 percent of fathers said they had taken a significant amount of time off to care for a child or other family member.”

So how do we change this dynamic between men and women in the workforce to make the playing field more level? It begins with companies addressing biases that they have within their workspaces and making appropriate accommodations to assist, rather than penalize, female employees for being forced to choose between their work and their families.

Featured Image by With Associates on Flickr

Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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