Eight Major Problems for Women on the Job
Subtle biases that explain why women stall out as they try to move up
Posted May 23, 2016
Women will be a key voting bloc in the upcoming presidential election, and Hillary Clinton has made fairness in the workplace a major pillar of her campaign. Is this just a cynical appeal to female voters, or is the candidate addressing a major and widespread problem? Research suggests that gender bias is a indeed a pressing issue.
For the first time, women are half of the educated labor force and earn the majority of advanced degrees. But while women are doing spectacularly well in universities, in the workplace it's an opposite picture. Women are stalling out, and the higher they go, the harder it gets. Women are not making the progress they have a right to expect, given their education and early promise. New research tells us that a whole network of land mines is exploding women's progress as they try to move ahead. Here are eight major problems women face in the American workplace:
1) Getting in the door will be harder for a woman than it is for a man.
Her resume may look just like his, but because the name is Jane and not Joe, recruiters may not give a second look. A review of many studies of U.S. decision-makers who hired candidates found that clearly competent men were rated higher than equally competent women. This bias is especially rampant in the booming high-tech industry. One study, conducted by professors at Columbia, Northwestern and the University of Chicago, found that two-thirds of managers selected male job candidates, even when the men did not perform as well as the women on math problems that were part of the application process.
In major American universities, rampant gender bias also was found in research laboratories. The exact same resumes were sent to male and female professors looking to hire lab managers. A male name garnered more offers, better pay and more mentoring opportunities than the "female" candidates. Faculty of both sexes believed the woman to be less competent.
2) A woman will earn less than a man.
The WAGE (Women Are Getting Even) Project, a national group that helps women close the gender gap in pay, illustrates this salary difference in a stark way. "Tina and Ted graduated from the same university, with the same degree. They work the same number of hours, in the same type of job. And yet, as they start their first jobs, Ted is making $4,000 more than Tina. In the second year, the difference has added up to almost $9,500."
Over a lifetime of work, a woman with a bachelor's degree will earn a third less (some $700,000) than a man with the same degree, the group found. .
Women start behind and never catch up. This pattern holds true even among graduates from our most elite universities: Female Harvard graduates earn 30 percent less than their male counterparts.
3) Women won't be promoted the way men are (part 1).
Men are promoted on potential, women on performance. Why do so many young male hotshots move up the ladder ahead of their more seasoned female peers? Women are being judged on what they have actually done. For promising men, potential is enough to win the day, according to Catalyst, a think tank focused on women in the workplace.
Women who switched jobs two or more times after earning an MBA received $53,472 less than women who stayed put at their first job and climbed the ranks, Catalyst found. These women had to prove themselves again each time they changed employers. In contrast, men who moved on from their first post-MBA job earned $13,743 more than those who stayed with their first employer. It seems that they were being paid for promise.
4) Women won't be promoted the way men are (part 2).
Let's consider a woman who has cleared all the hurdles, exceeded expectations and has all the requisite skills for a new job. She may think that getting hired at a good company, law firm or investment bank is all about meritocracy. Think again.
What sports she plays, what teams she roots for, where she went to school and whether she'd be "fun" to hang out with after hours may determine whether or not she gets an offer. And a final obstacle may be the hardest of all to overcome. It's called "cultural fit."
Psychologist Lauren A. Rivera of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern warns that "the hang-out" factor may mean more than terrific skills when it comes to the final decision. In fact, she finds, the folks who hire (usually men) may actually lower the bar for candidates who share their backgrounds and interests. Disturbingly, these less-qualified candidates may actually win out.
She says the managers in her study "hired in a manner more closely resembling the choice of friends or romantic partners" rather than seeking out the most competent candidates.
5) If a woman is seen as competent, people won't like her.
A major problem still hinders women: When they are clearly competent, they are also often judged to be unlikable — by both men and women. In fact, the more accomplished women become, the more they may suffer in the workplace.
Men who are competent are seen as forceful, worthy of promotion and likely to succeed. It's all a plus. Women who display competence often pay a price. They are seen by both men and women as unlikable — unfeminine, aggressive, conniving and untrustworthy — as "downright awful," notes New York University psychologist Madeline Heilman. Less competent women are seen as more likable but not very good at their jobs. Another lose-lose for women.
6) A woman won't get the credit she is due.
Women work hard and achieve the desired results — and men get the credit. NYU's Heilman and Michelle Haynes of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell have shown that in mixed-sex teams, credit is far more often given to the male than the female team member.
Specifically, female members were rated as being less competent, less influential and less likely to have played a leadership role in work on the task. Both women and men fell into the trap of giving higher marks to the male team member.
We've heard this same story again and again from women around the U.S. It is especially ominous because in most cases, it isn't a matter of conscious discrimination against women. It's simply that the skewed ideas we all have in our heads about what men and women can or can't do are incredibly hard to root out.
7) A woman won't get second chances.
A 2008 report called "The Athena Factor" found that women in high positions in male-dominated fields, such as tech, suffer harsher penalties than men when they slip up.
One of the report's authors, Sylvia Ann Hewlett, founding president of the Center for Work-Life Policy in New York, notes in the Harvard Business Review that in tech firms, "the way to get promoted is to do a diving catch. Some system is crashing in Bulgaria, so you get on the plane in the middle of the night and dash off and spend the weekend wrestling with routers and come back a hero."
But what if the catch isn't made? "Women have a hard time taking on those assignments because you can dive and fail to catch. If a man fails, his buddies dust him off and say, 'It's not your fault; try again next time.' A woman fails and is never seen again."
8) A woman won't be riding the "glass escalator."
Women in female-dominated industries suffer from what has been called the glass escalator. White men in these fields rise more quickly than equally qualified women (and nonwhite men) in position, pay and benefits.
It may seem that women in female-dominated industries would have a leg up, because female supervisors would be eager to promote members of their own sex, but they don't. Intriguingly, female supervisors favor white men when it comes to promotion. These men ride the glass escalator to the top, reports sociologist Ryan Smith at Baruch College, at the City University of New York.
Why does this happen? Smith says, "White men bring their privileges with them when they enter female-dominated occupations, and women and minority supervisors may simply yield to the weight of these societal stereotypes."
Are women taking over the world, as some pundits have argued? The facts above prove the answer to be a resounding no. Despite women's gains, equality remains a distant goal.
Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett are the authors of "The New Soft War on Women: How the Myth of Female Ascendance is Hurting Women, Men — and Our Economy."
A version of this article appeared in the Chicago Tribune