Gender challenges in the workplace: What are challenges unique to women in the workplace?


[This post was originally delivered as a talk at the Faith@Work Summit in Dallas, TX. Read the first post in the series here.]

First, all of us, men and women alike, have implicit biases about the performance and roles of men and women. We can see this with a number of studies using a method known as the “Goldberg paradigm.” Using this method, researchers provide a speech or a paper to subjects who are asked to rate it. When the subjects think that a man wrote it they give it a higher evaluation than if they think a women wrote it.

And this phenomenon isn’t limited to speeches or papers. It has been replicated with resumes – when people get a resume with a woman’s name, they are less likely to call her for an interview than if they get the exact same resume with a man’s name. Research grants have been found to be equally problematic. Granting agencies are more likely to provide grants to male researchers than to female ones. In fact, it is estimated that a woman needs to have published about two and a half times as many articles as a man to get an equivalent grant.

There is a test called the Implicit Association Test that allows us to measure this implicit bias directly. This is a computer based test where people have to pair words and pictures together. We can do this task very quickly when we have an intuitive sense that these words and pictures go together, but it takes a lot longer to do when we don’t have an intuitive link between the words and pictures. Interestingly, most people pair male faces quite quickly with words like “president” and “executive” and pair female faces quite quickly with words like “assistant” and “aide.” It takes a lot longer to do the opposite pairings.

The thought experiment that you did a few minutes ago demonstrates another expectation that many of us hold. We expect men to be assertive and task oriented, and we expect women to be nurturing and relational.

Let me be clear that these are not just expectations that men have about women. Women share the same set of expectations. And BOTH men and women tend to have fairly negative perceptions of women who don’t meet the gender stereotypes of nurturing and relational.

Here’s the trouble. We tend to think of leadership traits as including things like direct, task focused, assertive, and so on. And when men express these traits, that is consistent with our expectations. But when women act in the exact same ways, it runs counter to our expectations, and we notice. And we often make a negative attribution about the woman in question.

So a woman ends up in what is called a “double bind.” If she acts in a way that is consistent with her gender stereotype – that is, relational and helpful and kind – people really like her. But they don’t think of her as a leader. On the other hand, if she acts in ways that are consistent with our expectations of a leader – direct, task focused, and assertive – people might think of her as a leader, but they don’t really like her. Men simply don’t have to make the same trade off.

It is perhaps because of this double bind that women don’t move up in organizations in the same way that men do.  A 2016 study out of McKinsey found that while women and men start out roughly equally represented in entry level jobs, by the time you get to the C-suite fewer than one in five executives are women. At every level of the upward pipeline women are filtered out.  We know that on their performance appraisals, on average women are rated more poorly than men. And this is true even when their objective performance is the same.

And finally, women are paid less than men. You’ve probably heard a range of numbers here about how much women are paid relative to men. And these numbers can sometimes be misleading because they are not always comparing apples to apples. Men and women often go into different types of jobs, and may make different choices when it comes to taking time away from work to care for kids, and so on.  

However, even when equalizing everything you can think of to equalize when comparing men and women – industry, type of job, tenure, hours worked, performance, ambition, and so on, women are still paid about 5-10% less than men for the exact same work.

So, we know that that women and men often have different experiences at work.  And we know that for practical and theological reasons we should care about the opportunities of women at work.

Male and female God created them. Together.

God blessed them. Together.

God called them to work. Together.

But what can we do to make God’s purposes a reality?

[Stay tuned for the final post in this series, addressing what individuals, organizations and churches can do to help.]


Denise Daniels is professor of management at Seattle Pacific University.


  One thought on “Gender challenges in the workplace: What are challenges unique to women in the workplace?

  1. Jeff Haanen
    February 5, 2017 at 2:33 pm

    Jennifer, can we repost this at DIFW, linking back to the original?

    Jeff Haanen Executive Director Denver Institute for Faith & Work


    Liked by 1 person

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