Women are underestimated at work (and this seems normal to us)

You will probably know more than one case in which a person’s meritorious actions are not properly recognized. The opinions of those who have a lot to say and to contribute are systematically underestimated just to be who they are.

You might also think that these are exceptional cases which do not affect the vast majority of us: the victims of this discrimination are people who, although fully valid, are either placed in an unusual context or themselves abnormal. For example, it is not uncommon to witness paternalistic attitudes towards beggars or people from very different cultures who are strange to us.

In fact, we recommend that you read the article “Psychology of Sexism: 5 Sexist Ideas That Are Given Today”.

Women in business: structural discrimination

However, this type of “speaker bias” does not only occur in isolated cases: there is a variant of these that has seeped into the depths of our society and cuts across the quality of relationships that we talk to each other. And is although we rationally know that the words spoken by men and women are worth the same, it cannot be said that we always act accordingly. At least in the area of ​​organizations.

Gender bias

We have known for a long time the world of double standards which guide our way of perceiving the two sexes by worrying about gender bias: The expectation of a man is not the same as the expectation of a woman. To this list we must add a new unwarranted (and unjustifiable) comparative grievance that is entrenched in our way of seeing the world. It seems that the loquacity this is not a trait that is too popular with women, even when successful teamwork is on the line.

Psychologist Adam Grant found this out while researching workgroups related to the professional field. Male employees who contributed valuable ideas were rated much more positively by their superiors. Outraged, the more the employee spoke, the more useful he was in the eyes of the superior. However, the same did not happen when the person to be assessed was female: in their case, their contributions did not imply a more positive assessment of their performance. Likewise, the fact that a woman speaks more does not correspond to a better consideration of her role in the company.

Who says what?

The results of this research suggest that men and women do not receive the same recognition for what they say or suggest. While the good news is that organizations that communicate have a large flow of ideas, the bad news is that the perceived usefulness or futility of these ideas seems to depend in part on who says them.

From this perspective, men have good reasons to speak up and propose things (because their ideas will be taken into account while giving them a better reputation and chances of promotion), while among women this possibility is more blurred. Now, it is one thing for there to be a double standard in the assessor’s gaze and another for everyone, both the assessor and the appraised, to accept this measuring stick. Do we take the existence of this gender bias for granted?

It seems so, and to a large extent. In a study conducted by the psychologist Victoria L. BrescollA number of people of both sexes had imagined their performance as members at a hypothetical business meeting. Some of these people were asked to imagine themselves as the most powerful member of the meeting, while others were asked to see themselves as the lowest rung of the hierarchy.

result: the men nestled in the shoes of the “boss” said they would talk more (Measure the degree to which they would speak on a scale), while women placed in a position of power they adjusted their speaking time to a level similar to that of their lower-ranking colleagues. Additionally, to bolster the line of research, Part 1 of this same study shows how much the most powerful US Senators do not differ from Senators with a junior profile in terms of time. While the reverse occurs between senators. It seems that this penchant for “self-silence” is also extended to women in domes of high decision-making.

Another form of inequality

It is more or less clear that, in the case of women, the path of talkativeness offers fewer possibilities to make valuable contributions. In this case, we would be talking about the so-called opportunity cost: better not to waste time and effort talking when other things can be done that will be more beneficial to everyone.

However, Brescoll suspects that this apparent shyness of women may be due to fear. face social sanctions for talking too much. Is it possible that in fact speaking plus not only does not add, but also subtracts? Can a woman have a harder time being more talkative? This may seem like an unwarranted concern, but if it is well founded, the consequences could be very negative. To answer this question, Brescoll conducted another part of his study.

The price of gossip

In this final section of the research, 156 male and female volunteers read a brief biographical profile of a leadership position (CEO) portrayed as a male or female (John Morgan or Jennifer Morgan).

In addition to this slight variation, the content of the biography also differed in another aspect: some of the profiles depicted a relatively talkative person, while the other set of biographies dealt with a person who spoke less than usual. In the case of a study between subjects, each person has read one and only one of the 4 types of biographical profiles (2 types of biographies according to the sex of the profile and 2 types of biographies according to what the CEO talks about or little). After that, each of the 156 volunteers had assess profile which he had read according to the ability of Mr. o Ms. Morgan will occupy the position of CEO using rating scales of 0 to 7 points.

the results

The first striking fact is that the gender of the participants does not seem to play an important role when assessing the profile that each of them had in front of them. The second fact to be commented on is that the fear of a social sanction is justified: loquacity seems to be a frowned upon characteristic in women, At least in the workplace and for the post of CEO or similar.

And is that, as Brescoll and his team found out, the most talkative male CEOs were rewarded with a 10% higher score, while that same trait, loquacity, was punished in female profiles. Specifically, the more talkative J. Morgans obtained about 14% fewer points. Once again, it should be emphasized that this has been done by both men and women, and that this is a totally irrational bias that acts as a ballast when it comes to arriving or keeping a position of more or less power and responsibility. This burden affects both the living conditions of women (a difficulty in developing economically) and the social relations that we maintain between ourselves and all that derives from it.

In addition, this drawback has a pinch effect: theoretically, to grow in organizations, you have to bring ideas to the whole community, and yet this need to give ideas is also an exposure that can have its dangers. Women can be looked down upon both for not speaking as much as men and for doing so. Obviously also the whole organization is injured by this dynamic of harmful relationships, although there may be a male elite that is more easily perpetuated by having certain biological characteristics.

However, while it is true that this bias seems to be firmly entrenched in our way of understanding the world, it is also true that it is totally unwarranted. Brescoll speculates on the possibility of these results being explained by gender roles assigned to positions of power: “powerful men must demonstrate their power, while women who have power must not”. In other words, what keeps this bias alive are a few totally cultural forces and that, therefore, we have the possibility of change.

Beyond the rational

In short, speaking too much is a sanction that affects both women’s chances of promotion and their appreciation by others. Whether this form of discrimination is something that is only present in formalized systems of association (hierarchical companies, public administrations, etc.) or transcends this field is something in which these studies are not deepened. However, unfortunately it seems unrealistic to think that this bias works precisely only in areas where logic and efficiency should prevail. (In other words, where it’s most problematic).

The fact that many potentially interesting contributions are dismissed for being proposed by women and the existence of a social sanction for women who “talk more about the narrative” are examples of sexism that has its roots in all. areas of life. gender studies and many feminist theories. This is, in short, a sign that neither the business world is so independent of our informal relationships nor how it operates as rationally as is usually assumed.

Bibliographical references:

  • Brescoll, VL (2012). Who speaks and why: gender, power and talk in organizations. Quarterly administrative sciences. 56 (4), pages 622 to 641. doi: 10.1177 / 0001839212439994
  • Grant, AM (2013). Shake the ship but keep it steady: the role of emotion regulation in employee voices. Management Academy. 56 (6), pp. 1703 – 1723. doi: 10.5465 / amj.2011.0035

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