25 July 2007

Threat of the gender stereotype

Some of my working women friends have told me that their experience in business and the corporate world has not been only about performing in a competitive environment. They believed that there certainly is discrimination in the workplace, leading to differential treatment of men and women with equal (or similar) abilities.

They also believed that there are gender differences in preferences for job roles, leading to selection of specific jobs, and even occupations, for women. They have gone as far as to tell me that women, possessing abilities equal to men, have different expectations from the job and their ability to perform in the job (compared to men).

Did this mean women have lower expectations from their jobs and their careers? If so, did this mean women are, perhaps unconsciously, creating an image for themselves of being less able than their male counterparts? And, if this is true, did this mean that, once again perhaps unconsciously, women are creating a stereotype for themselves in business and the corporate world?

If the answer to these questions is a resounding ‘yes’, then it is likely that this gender stereotype will create its own pressure on women and, in turn, interfere with their performance at work. What’s worse, this threat of the gender stereotype is likely to give men an advantage over women… thereby, increasing the gender differences at the workplace.


Madhuri said...

I think you are taking a leap here: Different does not mean 'Lower'. As I said earlier (or did I?), 1 kg iron and 1 kg cotton is still equal, though different.
Prefering certain job roles is true. But that is not because it is less demanding, I suppose, mostly the preference is more because of it being in line with a person's aptitude. For instance, I think a man is better suited to manage a shopfloor, because I am not so good at keeping an iron hand.And I don't find in me to shout at people, which is sometime required.
And I honestly think you should increase your sample size.

Madhuri said...

Also - the answer is a resounding NO!

runawaysun said...

This post is based on my interaction with a dozen or so women (I confess, a small sample size) from business and the corporate world in India. It is, perhaps, skewed towards an older generation – women in the 35-50 years age group in senior industry positions. I have merely echoed their voices and presented a (hypothetical) scenario to bring to surface doubts I/they carry.

The point I’m making here has more to do with mind-sets and their consequences, and less with aptitude. It is connected to the preferences women have/display in their jobs and careers, not to their abilities or aspirations. What I intended to say is that these mind-sets and preferences lead to gender differences and stereotypes in the workplace… and threaten gender status.

My views are more contemplative than didactic.