By Audrey Quinn
Posting in Environment
Stanford psychologist Lauren Aguilar has an explanation for why women may underperform in the workplace.
When Kara Martin Snyder looks back at her time at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, one scene lingers in her mind. It's lunchtime in the windowless work space, and the men in the office are engaged in a push-up contest. At the time, she laughed it off. In retrospect, the public show of machismo strikes her as odd.
“It wasn't like the women were off in the corner having a sewing circle,” she explains. But these men were still carrying on the antics of a good old boys club. “A lot of these workplaces like to say that there's no glass ceiling and everyone's got an opportunity,” she says, “but in social ways, nothing's changed.”
Many professional women can relate to such scenarios: those moments when the only woman in the room is tasked with taking notes during a meeting; when a supervisor asks a female employee to run an errand she suspects he wouldn't ask of her male coworkers; when an executive repeatedly goes out for after work drinks with just “the guys.”
Whether these perceived slights are as overt as a push-up contest or as subtle as a post-work drink, such situations can instill women with a damaging sense of threat, says Stanford University gender scholar Lauren Aguilar -- even if other women or men nearby don't perceive them the same way.
"These can be very subtle social things that seem really innocent," Aguilar explains, "but for some women they're really taken as, 'I don't belong here, or I might be treated differently because of my gender here.'"
The repercussions of such sensitivity are especially damaging for women in a business setting, where a person continuously needs to be "on" socially in order to succeed.
To evaluate this, Aguilar asked a large group of women to complete a survey. Each woman answered eleven questions regarding how much she worried that gender stereotypes put her at a professional disadvantage. Some women registered a higher sensitivity to such threat than others. Aguilar then observed how well the women performed in a constructed business negotiation.
Researchers can quantify how someone does in a social situation by taking note of the speech accommodations they make towards the other person. It's natural for us to mimic the speaking patterns of someone we're talking to. The more we do so, the more likely it is that person will see us favorably.
"In business negotiations it's really important to socially connect well, you want to be likable," Aguilar explains. But the women who were particularly sensitive to stereotype threat showed fewer signs of such accommodations. Their negotiation partners rated them less likable, and they won fewer "points" in the pretend negotiation.
One might expect women who are more concerned with gender stereotypes to be more accommodating. But Aguilar says preoccupation with such concerns produces the opposite result.
“It's not the women's skills that causing them to under-perform,” she says, “it's the negative gender stereotypes in their environment that lead them to become anxious. They can't concentrate because they're actually trying to disprove the stereotypes, then unfortunately all their attention isn't on the task in front of them.”
A recent report by the consulting firm McKinsey and Co. found that, “the full potential of women in the workforce has yet to be tapped.” Instead of pointing to the oft-cited culprit of struggles with work-family balance, they list exclusion from informal networks -- like the group of guys that go out for a beer after work -- as one of the major causes preventing women from advancing into higher positions.
When it's suggested that women could improve their job performance if they were simply less sensitive, Aguilar disagrees.
“I think the onus is really on organizations to ensure that women and men are treated equally,” she says. “Subtle things make women more sensitive that they later might be passed over, that's where these self-fulfilling prophesies play out. It's not the women's problem, it's the organization and the way individuals treat others in organizations.”
Aguilar's own work suggests that outside influence can help a woman overcome concern with gender as a liability. Aguilar's study proctors told some women that their gender would not affect their capability in the study's constructed business negotiation. When these verbally assured women went through the scenario, women who had registered as extra sensitive to gender stereotype threat no longer showed poorer performance in the negotiation.
Correction 10/16/12: The location of the push-up competition was originally misstated as Tipping Point Partners. We sincerely regret this misrepresentation.
Oct 15, 2012
Not everyone is suited for a corporate life. Women usually have a different style than men do. That is why woman managers are disliked by about 55% of their male subordinates, and around 65% of their female subordinates, as polled numerous times. It's not that it's society, it's that women approach things differently. That's OK, there are situations and workplaces where a typical women's approach will work better than a typical mans. Denying biology does no one any good. However, personality also plays a major part. Many people are just not suited for management. Typical Engineers and Programmers are not people people. they are thing people. That orientation is required by the nature of the job. around 50% of men, and well over 75% of women are just not more interested in things and how they work than they are in other people. Those groups, (more than 62% of the total population if you are counting) should just not go into those fields. They will be unhappy with the work. Of the remaining part, less than 1/4 are mentally able to do the work. That is why most Engineering Departments have very little in the way of 'Control Classes' for entrance. The nature of the coursework limits the enrollment. This is why, after 40 years of trying to encourage women to go into the STEM fields, Women still make up less than 15% of Engineering and Computer Science graduates. They just aren't biologically (mentally) suited to the field. It isn't that they can't do the work, it's that they don't want to. And, that's OK. There are still women who are outliers, who ARE suited to the Engineering and Computer Science fields. Such women should be allowed to pursue a career in the field, if they want to. Let the Woman decide. There are plenty of other fields that the rest would be more suited to. If a manager goes into a position supervising a group of these 'thing' people, they will probably not be able to relate well to them. Business majors who try to supervise groups of these Engineering types generally fail. They just don't relate. They also just don't understand what is happening. Of course, the reverse is also true. When an Engineer is promoted into management, if not well mentored by other managers, they will fail several times, before finally 'getting it'. It is often the third job where an Engineer finally makes it as a manager. Some never do 'get it'. In the Article, the young woman who was used as an example was working in a Start Up Center. She was put off by a group of young men who were acting like young men. No, it wasn't something that belonged in a corporate environment, but, it wasn't a corporate environment. Most of the people there were working for different companies, just sharing office space. The young men in question had issues. So did the young woman. Those issues meant that she (and they) weren't really ready to be successful Corporate People. Saying that it was strictly one or the other groups 'fault' is a waste of time and effort. Both really need to grow up. The young Woman needs to either get a thicker skin, or find some place else to do things, where she won't feel threatened. The juvenile behavior that was going on wasn't directed at her. Of course, the young men in question will also need to become more aware of their own behavior. Both they and the young woman in the story will probably fail this time. Hopefully, all of them will learn and grow because of it. The Author and her quoted sources are really just demonstrating Animal Farm behavior. Some animals are more equal than others. No, Women should not be given special treatment if they want to work with others. Neither should men. Sadly, there are a lot of 'Feminazis' who demand both equal treatment and special treatment. Sorry, you can't have it both ways. Pick one. By the way, if you are a sensitive person, stay out of the Construction field too. It's rough and tumble, and often very juvenile.
Every company has its own culture. Some you happen to mesh with, others you don't. I don't know how society is supposed to "solve" this issue. There will always be extreme cases of discrimination that government has to regulate. But at some point people have to deal with these issues themselves or move on. Back in the '80s, I worked for a rare major tech company that was controlled by women. The head was a woman. All the product marketing team leaders were women. While the engineering VP was a man, he was married to the marketing VP. So there were no pushup contests during lunch. On the surface there was a lot less conflict. But it was just as cliquish as any other company I ever worked for. Just because you were a woman didn't guarantee you would advance if you didn't cultivate the right relationships. And the men knew they would never advance outside of engineering or manufacturing (since I was a junior engineer at the time with no aspirations for management, I didn't care one way or another). The idea that the workplace will be heaven once women are put in charge is ridiculous. People are people. It just depends on the values of the corporate leaders and how well they match yours. Working at that company was actually one of the better experiences of my career. But a company that creates a culture where men dominate over women cuts their talent pool by half and is probably doomed to failure.
I'm Kara mentioned in the article above. The push-up contests happened when I worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers, not Tipping Point Partners. Tipping Point Partners is the most innovative, progressive place that I have ever worked. Damn near magical, really.
"One might expect women who are more concerned with gender stereotypes to be more accommodating. But Aguilar says preoccupation with such concerns produces the opposite result." I'm male. I'm a computer programmer, and make good money but am at the very bottom of the corporate ladder. At age 52 I am not a manager (and probably never will be) for the simple reason that I do not possess the social-skillset necessary to move up. More than likely, being preoccupied with gender stereotypes is a symptom of a social-skillset not well adapted to moving up the ladder. It's an indication of a fearful mindset, and managers are not made of that stuff.
Equality in the workplace does not mean control over peoples lives. Equal pay, of course, as equal opportunity as possible, certainly. Stopping men from being men to satisfy some gender based need for control of the local environment? No. Equality means we put up with YOUR gender biases, [bring an infant into a room with men and women in it and see what happens], and you put up with ours.
Your first paragraph reminds of a post about a month ago on hip offices, creative centers or corporate kindergartens? http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/design-architecture/hip-offices-creative-centers-or-8216corporate-kindergartens/8699 This office would be the latter. Unless there is a company gym on site, such behavior in a public lunch area should not be tolerated by her or the company. Your blaming old boy thinking for the behavior, but the core of the problem lies in the kindergarten atmosphere allowed by the company. An old fashioned office environment might have been stuffy and demeaning to women as a reflection of society at the time, but this type of childish behavior in a public lunch area would not have been tolerated in a professional office 50 years ago. My suggestion, file a complaint with HR over it being a distracting and unprofessional environment to work in. If you can get video of the behavior I would use it to backup to your complaint. Rather than getting into a he said , she said case. Then find another company to work for and move on. Claiming sexism in a complaint over childish behavior puts a needless target on you that other companies might be afraid of. Keep it a professional complaint unless actual sexual harrassment happened. If people at job interviews ask why you left, be honest, tell them and offer the video as proof. If they are a professionally run company and you have talent, they will want you. The people you work for are clowns.
enough about sensitivity drivel. men don't usually like it (except some kinds of men..). They tolerate it to a point.