Columns & Opinions

What Research Tells Us About How Women Are Treated at Work

We publish a lot of articles based on new research (you may have noticed). This year, some of our most viewed and shared stories were based on studies about women — and, more specifically, stories looking at differences in how men and women are treated, and behave, at work. I’ve summarized six below, including one where the office is actually a tennis court.

A Study Used Sensors to Show That Men and Women Are Treated Differently at Work

The question: Why do fewer women end up in senior positions than men? Is it because they have fewer mentors? Less face time with managers? Or aren’t as proactive as men in talking to senior leaders?

The methodology: An analysis of email communication and meeting schedule data for hundreds of employees in one office over four months. One hundred employees were given sociometrist budgets (similar to the ID badges worn by all employees) to track in-person behavior, including movement, proximity to other badges, and volume and tone of speech.

The results: No perceptible differences were observed in the behavior of men and women. They had the same number of contacts, spent the same amount of time with senior leaders, and allocated their time similarly. They also spend the same amount of time in online and face-to-face conversations. Yet women weren’t advancing and men were.

The conclusion: “Our analysis suggests that the difference in promotion rates between men and women in this company was due not to their behavior but to how they were treated. This indicates that arguments about changing women’s behavior — to ‘lean-in,’ for example — might miss the bigger picture: Gender inequality is due to bias, not differences in behavior.” –Stephen Turban (former data scientist, Humanyze), Laura Freeman (data analyst, Humanyze), and Ben Waber (Humanyze CEO, visiting scientist at the MIT Media Lab)

The Ambition-Marriage Trade-Off Too Many Single Women Face

The question: Are actions that lead to professional success viewed less favorably in the heterosexual marriage market?

The methodology: Career center questionnaires were completed by 355 incoming business school students (241 men and 114 women) regarding their job preferences (desired compensation, hours of work, and days per month of travel). Students also rated their leadership abilities and professional ambition.

The results: When single women were told their answers would be viewed by just their career counselors, single and married women gave similar answers. When they were told their answers would be viewed by both counselors and peers, however, single women lowered their desired salary (from $131,000 to $113,000  on average) and the number of days they were willing to travel (14 days vs. 7). The hours they were willing to work per week dropped by four, and they also reported less professional ambition.

The conclusion: “Taken together, our results suggest that single women avoid actions that would help their careers because of marriage considerations, and that marriage considerations may be an additional explanation for gender differences in the labor market. Many schooling and initial career decisions…occur early in life, when most women are single. These decisions can have labor market consequences with long-lasting effects.” –Leonardo Bursztyn (University of Chicago), Thomas Fujiwara (Princeton University, and Amanda Pallais (Harvard University)

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