03.05.08

Perceptions and the Gender Gap

Posted in Business, Jacob Canon, The Oscar Show, UVa College of Arts & Sciences, Uncategorized, University of Virginia, ethics, happiness at 12:04 pm by Jacob Canon

In today’s show, adapted from an article published this month on the Oscar Web site written by Anne Bromley, a senior editor/writer for UVa Media Relations, we look at a recent study by University of Virginia Sociologist Elizabeth Gorman which said, no matter how the data was sliced or certain variables controlled: women say they have to work harder than men.

 
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The statement, “Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good,” may not be totally off the mark in the workplace states a recent study by University of Virginia Sociologist Elizabeth Gorman and Julie Kmec of Washington State University.

The study analyzed five surveys of men and women in Britain and the US, given in 1977, 1992, two in 1997, and 2001. They concentrated their analysis on the two surveys conducted in 1997, both comprising cross-sectional interviews of about 3,500 workers in the US and almost 2,500 in the UK. To yield comparable answers, they evaluated results from the following survey question: “My job requires that I work very hard.” And, according to the results, a gender gap persisted in ratings of the statement. Women were significantly more likely to say they strongly agreed or agreed, than men.

Gorman noted, “The statement in the survey about required work effort is not one in which employees are comparing themselves to the opposite sex, it’s also not asking for a perception of how hard the work is or how much effort they actually exerted. Our focus is on required work effort, the effort that an employee is expected to exert in order to perform her or his job at a level that is satisfactory to the employer. It is important to distinguish required effort from an employee’s actual exerted effort.”

The researchers analyzed the survey data to see if, in fact, women did have more difficult jobs, but that was not the case. Even when the jobs were almost identical, women still were significantly more likely to say they had to work very hard. And, while controlling for physical and mental demands of a particular job, Gorman and Kmec found that neither group of factors explained the different findings about work effort.

Looking for other potential reasons, the sociologists considered domestic responsibilities outside of work. They stated, “Marriage and parenthood had the same effect on reports of required effort for women and men. In the U.S. sample, the researchers matched the number of hours spent on childcare and housework. Between men and women who performed the same amount of time on these tasks, women were still more likely to say their jobs required them to work very hard.”

So what explains the difference between genders and perceived required effort in the work place?

In their paper, “We (Have to) Try Harder: Gender and Required Work Effort in Britain and the United States,” released in the December issue of the journal “Gender and Society” the researchers said, “We argue that the association between sex and reported required work effort is best interpreted as reflecting stricter performance standards imposed on women, even when women and men hold the same jobs.”

Gorman said, “A lot of experimental research has shown that people rate the same performance as better when told it was done by a man. People give lower marks to an essay, a painting or a résumé when it has a woman’s name on it. And when a man and a woman work together on a project, people assume the man contributed more than the woman did. Even when a woman’s work is indisputably excellent, people don’t believe she’s good — they think she got lucky.” It follows then, that women have to do better than a man in order to get the same evaluation.

Gorman then added, “This is what women are up against. They have to work harder… And in light of this previous research, it makes sense to conclude that women have to work harder to win their bosses’ approval.”

Some possible consequences of this “effort gap” in the workplace include: the quality of women’s work experience is likely to be lower than men’s; this difference in required effort could also have consequences for women’s careers, making it harder for them to be recognized and promoted. Also, the physical and emotional effects could, in turn, have negative repercussions for families.

Gorman went on to say, “It wouldn’t be fair to use this research to reinforce stereotypes.”

Kmec added, “Instead, employers should take into account women’s hard work when considering who to promote and reward. We do not want to insist that female workers shirk their job responsibilities to make this gap go away. Rather, we hope employers make job performance standards more transparent and be held accountable for their evaluations of women at work.”

You’ve been listening to the Oscar Show, I’m Jacob Canon. Join us next week when we will look at the work of Maurie McInnis and her perspective of class politics, social structures and hierarchies of antebellum South through the examination 19th century art and material objects.

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