Workplace culture creates obstacles for women managers
Friday, September 01, 2017
Silicon Valley has come in for a shellacking this year from high-profile accusations of corporate leadership and workplace environments that tolerate, if not endorse, various forms of gender bias against women — from hiring and compensation practices to performance evaluations and promotions, to outright sexism and sexual harassment.
Heinous as some of these cases have been, they reflect a more subtle and widespread practice of de facto bias ingrained in many workplace cultures that stems from myths, stereotypes and unconscious prejudices that create an often-unspoken double standard for successful men and women. This double standard becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, as it puts successful women at a disadvantage that undermines their ability to perform at their highest potential.
Recently released findings from a large, longitudinal study of 13,000 male and female employees conducted by Dr. Daniela Lup, a senior lecturer in quantitative sociology at Middlesex University, in the United Kingdom, reveal that "even in workplaces with more flexibility, good pay and promotion opportunities, women were less happy in their roles after being promoted to management positions." On the other hand, the study found, promotions to management are accompanied by an increase in job satisfaction for men.
If a company's HR policies support opportunities for women, why are the women managers dissatisfied when they attain a promotion, whereas their male colleagues are more satisfied? The answer, says Lup, is that the women’s dissatisfaction "often reflects discrimination arising from widespread beliefs ... that women are less able managers."
Not only men but many women as well adhere to this stereotype, and it often is reflected in how subordinates respond to women managers and how upper management and executives treat women in management positions. More often subtle rather than overt, this cultural bias diminishes the women's ability to manage effectively, thus reinforcing the prejudice.
The higher up the corporate ladder a woman climbs, the study shows, the more she is likely to be undermined by subordinates and superiors. According to the study, Lup explains, "The most disadvantaged are women promoted to higher-level management, whose job satisfaction starts declining in the post-promotion period."
Other studies confirm that most differences attributed to women's biology or assumed to be innate to women are, in fact, the result of the workplace environment or culture.
In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Stephanie K. Johnson, an associate professor of management and entrepreneurship at University of Colorado's Leeds School of Business, reviewed the body of research on gender gaps in the workplace. Johnson found that "studies show employers do tend discriminate against women and minorities" in a number of ways.
Similarly, an article by freelance writer Christine Rho on the Modern Workplace section of the website Everwise surveyed recent literature on gender bias in the workplace and found that stereotypes and prejudices against women, or in favor of certain types of male behavior, create obstacles for women. This starts with the resume review and screening process and continues through placement, performance evaluation and promotion opportunities, and in a variety of everyday workplace situations.
Johnson points out that in response to pressures to provide a more fair and equal workplace, companies have adopted a "modern sexist" posture. The argument is that since women now are able to compete on a more level playing field, their inability to attain higher positions or equal the performance of their male counterparts "must be a result of women's own choices or inferiority as opposed to discrimination."
In short, it chooses to ignore how its values, culture and processes reward certain types of male behavior and devalue or discount the contributions of its female employees — even when women outperform men at similar tasks or in similar positions.
A first step to correcting this bias is for companies to be aware of and own up to the different experiences of male and female employees, then to take action quickly when issues arise.
"If the glass ceiling is to be shattered," Lup states, "organizations should not only focus on removing overt barriers that prevent women from advancing on the managerial ladder, but also pay close attention to the actual experiences that women have once they reach positions of authority."
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