| Attitudes towards women as managers : a review of literature and research findings (1991) |
Considerable literature has emerged in the last two decades on the issue of women in male dominated professions such as management. A growing body of research now confirms the existence of a "male managerial model" which views women as unsuitable for managerial positions. The existence of such a model has several implications. Firstly, women are discouraged by career counsellors (typically teachers and professors) and family members from fulfilling career aspirations in non-traditional occupations (Terborg, 1977). In a study conducted among high school students Goodale and Hall (1976) found that male students reported more parental interest and pressure in the choice of careers as compared to female students. There are several consequences when, the family itself discourages women from pursuing ‘male’ career paths. These have been discussed in a later section of the paper. Secondly, there is discrimination at the entry level while seeking jobs. Sex discrimination may occur at the application stage, at the recruitment interview stage or at a later stage in the recruitment process (Cohen and Bunker, 1975). Forms of discrimination at the entry level include rejection of applications of a sub-group for non-job related reasons, failure to recruit applications from a sub-group for certain specified positions and payment of lower starting salaries (Terborg and Ilgen, 1975). Thirdly, there is a bias against women managers in tenure, promotion and development (Kahn and Robbins, 1985).
In order to understand the effects of the above on the individual women manager/aspirant it is necessary to describe two critical elements underlying sex biases - sex stereotyping and the sex typing of jobs.
Sex StereotypesStereotype has been defined as a set of attributes ascribed to a group and imputed to its individual members simply because they belong to that group (Taylor, Fiske, Etcoff and Ruderman, 1978). Stereotypical assumptions about a person include beliefs about what that person "must" be like and expectation that the person will behave in a manner consistent to the stereotype. Terborg makes a distinction between sex-role stereotype and sex characteristic stereotype. He defines sex role stereotypes as widely held beliefs concerning appropriate male and female behaviour. For example, a male supervisor can verbally chastize an erring subordinate whereas a female supervisor doing the same may be considered unacceptable. Sex characteristic stereotypes refer to widely held beliefs concerning sex differences on various personality traits such as aggression (women: less aggressive), emotion (women too emotional) etc (Terborg, 1977).
The existence of stereotypes is undesirable because they are overgeneralisations and are either inaccurate or do not apply to the individual group member in question (Heilman, 1983). Conclusions, about the suitability or unsuitability of a particular candidate for a task, based primarily on stereotyping leads to faulty discrimination and sex bias in recruitment. Further, because of the existence of sex stereotypes, a woman is expected not to perform well. Employers expect women to be less competitive, less dedicated, to have conflicting loyalties (family versus work) and hence display less superior performance than men. Epstien (1970) found that career women received more praise than men for lower performance as, lower performance by women was consistent with the expectations of the boss.
Given the existence of stereotypes what happens if a woman performs successfully or outperforms her male colleagues? Deaux and Emswiller (1974) found that both males and females attributed the above average performance of a male on a masculine task more to skill than to luck, while the same level of performance by a female was attributed more to luck than to skill. This shows that, even if information about a successful female manager is provided, an individual can maintain his/her personal opinion and bias against women managers by attributing her success to external causes such as luck, ease of task etc. Since the female manager is not given personal credit for her success, the individual can maintain his bias/stereotype opinion on women managers as a subgroup (Garland and Price, 1977). This is further aided by the fact that women themselves sometimes help in the preservation of status quo. For example, it has been found that women, tend to evaluate their own performances more harshly than men, in the absence of feedback (Lenney, 1977). They are more reluctant to take credit for their success and more willing to accept responsibility for their failures (Deaux 1984). Livingston (1969) found that a manager’s expectations are the key to the subordinates’ performance. Thus, if a managers’ expectation is of high performance by the subordinate, more often than not, the actual performance is likely to be excellent. Conversely if a managers expectations are low, productivity is likely to be low.
Another detrimental effect of sex stereotyping is to increase the role-conflict of the career woman. Societal sex stereotyping leads to the expectation that a woman’s role is primarily one of a home maker and family nurturer. Hence, a working woman faces pressure from her family, colleagues and neighbours to sacrifice her professional career in the wake of family responsibilities while the same is not expected of a man. Thus three kinds of role conflicts occur in the career women. Firstly, conflict arises due to a mismatch between a woman’s own self-concept and professional desires and the societal expectations of her role and duties towards the family. This results in her taking up much greater responsibility for her family and leads to the second role conflict due to role overload. Role overload occurs as the woman tries to assume more and more responsibility for both family and work and tries to be a ‘superwoman’. The third level of conflict occurs in the organisation where she is not expected to perform well. This may, in some cases, lead to a decline in self-esteem, life satisfaction and may ultimately result in
attrition (Duxbury & Higgins, 1991).
Sex-Typing of JobsSex-typing of jobs whereby some occupations are regarded as exclusively male or exclusively female - is by no means a recent phenomenon. As early as in 1848, John Stuart Mill in his treatise ‘Principles of Political Economy’ summarised the existence of and reasons for sex typing.
"It deserves consideration, why the wages of women are generally lower, and very much lower than those of men. They are not universally so. Where men and women work at the same employment, if it be one for which they are equally fitted in point of physical power, they are not always unequally paid. Women in factories sometimes, earn as much as men; and so they do in handloom weaving, which, being paid by the piece, brings their efficiency to a sure test. When the efficiency is equal but the pay unequal, the only explanation that can be given is custom; grounded either in prejudice, or in the present condition of society, which, making almost every woman, socially speaking, an appendage of some man, enables men to take systematically, the lions’ share of whatever belongs to both. But the principal question relates to the peculiar employments of women. The remuneration of these is always, greatly below that of employments of equal skill and equal disagreeableness, carried on by men.
"In the occupations in which employers take full advantage of competition, the low wages of women as compared to the ordinary wages of men are a proof that the employments are overstocked: that although so much smaller a number of women, than men, support themselves by wages, the occupations which law and usage make accessible to them are comparatively so few that the field of their employment is still more overcrowded."
The existence of sex typing in the modern world is so obvious that it does not even warrant explanation. Some positions - typists, school teachers, nurses, data entry operators, receptionists to relate a few, are occupations considered primarily female. Conversely, managers, professors and principals, speciality doctors (cardiologists, neurologists, surgeons), computer engineers etc., are usually males. The jobs dominated by women are by-and large, low paying, and encourage the ‘feminine’ attributes that women are believed to possess - nurturance and sensitivity, whereas the jobs dominated by men are characterised by aggressiveness, achievement orientation and mental skills. Basically sex typing of jobs perpetrates the traditional view that any work which is demanding, lucrative and is accorded high status by society is a man’s domain (Heilman, 1983). Whereas women, whose primary responsibility is towards their families, have lower ambition levels and further, do not have to support themselves as their earnings are only a supplementary income to the family.
Kanter (1977) describes in her book : ‘Men and Women of the Corporation’, about the nature of work in a sex-typed ‘feminine’ occupation - a secretary. The organisational sanction given to the dominance of the manager (usually male) and subservience of the secretary (usually female) helps the organisation in maintaining and enhancing traditional stereotypes. Certain aspects of a secretary’s role are similar to that of a wife (There is no implicit reference to sexuality here). Firstly, the secretaries derive their official status, not from their own rank but from the formal rank and status of their bosses, just as a wife’s identity is usually derived from her husband’s position in society. Secondly, a secretary’s role is usually kept intentionally ambiguous: either there is no job description for a secretary or the job description is kept deliberately arbitrary and she may be asked to do even non-official work for her boss. This is similar to a house-wife: there exists no consensus about her role in society: wife, mother, daughter, lover, cook, maid, companion, entertainer, counsellor: she may be required to fit all or some of these differing roles. A third feature is that secretaries are expected to remain loyal to their bosses and are ‘rewarded’ for their loyalty. This reward is however usually in the form of non-monetary gestures such as praise, flattery etc. The similarity to the ‘wife’ is quite obvious in this case.
Sex-typing is justified by society on many accounts. It is argued that women’s roles as wives and mothers take a precedence over their other roles. Men are the bread winners and women, it is assumed, really do not need to work and even if they do, it is merely for ‘pin-money’ (Olson, 1990). Hence many economists claim that sex-typing is rational. In the process, the increasing number of female headed households and the fact that women may also want to pursue a fulfilling career out of their own choice is conveniently relegated to the background.
It is interesting to note that sex-typing has not always persisted in history. Whenever the industry was confronted with severe labour shortages, sex-typing was abandoned and women were considered capable of performing men’s jobs. During the world wars, when most able-bodied young men were out at the front, resulting in a severe labour shortage, American employers willingly suspended their stereotypes and employed women in male dominated tasks (Greenwald 1980, Honey 1984). However as soon as the war ended, women were promptly dismissed from these jobs (Olson, 1990).
Effect of Sexstereotyping and Sex Typing of Jobs
How do sex stereotyping and sex typing of jobs affect women in the work world? We shall consider a few detrimental effects here.