Women just need to act like men —

And don't be so feminine

„The inferior sex …” (Annie Lennox & Aretha Franklin, Sisters are doin it for themselves)

The under-representation of women in academia is sometimes attributed to their "female" behavior. If women would just act like men, they would succeed more. Is this true? The research presented below suggests otherwise. A large body of research in social psychology finds that individuals are penalized when they deviate from normative gender stereotypes. This proves to be true for behavior in professional settings. Although the studies in academic settings are rare, studies in related fields are persuasive. If women act like men in negotiations and ask for higher compensations, they are penalized — and some research shows they do ask, but receive less. When women act "agentic" as men do and less "communal" they are penalized. If women misbehave or do mistakes (as surgeons or financial advisers) they are penalized more than men. And if they over-perform, they are rewarded less than men. When they are bosses, they are held to higher standards. Furthermore, evidence suggests that women know when to negotiate. Simply advising to "negotiate" harder or ask for more, does not seem to be beneficial, however negotiating hard for others might be an option. Playing golf or having a beer with the boss? One paper finds that in an Asian bank male employees assigned to male managers were promoted faster than male employees assigned to female managers while female employees, had the same career progression regardless of their managers’ gender. The authors provide evidence suggesting that these effects were driven by the social interactions between male employees and male managers.

“damned if they do and doomed if they don’t”

Bowles, H. R., Babcock, L., & Lai, L. (2007). Social incentives for gender differences in the propensity to initiate negotiations: Sometimes it does hurt to ask. Organizational Behavior and human decision Processes, 103(1), 84-103.

This study presents the results from four online or laboratory experiments conducted in the U.S. with 100 to 400 participants (ranging from students to adults) each. The results suggest that gender differences in the propensity to initiate negotiations may be explained by differential treatment of men and women when they attempt to negotiate. In Experiments 1 and 2, participants evaluated written accounts of candidates who did or did not initiate negotiations for higher compensation. Evaluators penalized female candidates more than male candidates for initiating negotiations. In Experiment 3, participants evaluated videotapes of candidates who accepted compensation offers or initiated negotiations. Male evaluators penalized female candidates more than male candidates for initiating negotiations; female evaluators penalized all candidates for initiating negotiations. Perceptions of niceness and demandingness explained resistance to female negotiators. In Experiment 4, participants adopted the candidate’s perspective and assessed whether to initiate negotiations in the same scenario used in Experiment 3. With male evaluators, women were less inclined than men to negotiate, and nervousness explained this effect. There was no gender difference when the evaluator was female.

Phelan, J. E., Moss-Racusin, C. A., & Rudman, L. A. (2008). Competent yet out in the cold: Shifting criteria for hiring reflect backlash toward agentic women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 32(4), 406-413.

U.S. laboratory audit study in which participants (n=428) evaluated video tapes of job interviews for the position of a computer lab manager. The study finds that shifting hiring criteria reflects backlash toward agentic (“masterful”) women. Two scripts were developed that the fictitious applicants for the job and the applicants performed these scripted answers. Two styles were taped. In one, the applicants presented themselves as confident, ambitious, and competitive (agentic). In the other applicants presented themselves as competent, but also modest and cooperative (communal). Two male and two female applicants were taped in both styles, yielding a total of eight videotaped interviews. Participants evaluated male or female agentic or communal managerial applicants on dimensions of competence, social skills, and hireability. Consistent with past research, agentic women were perceived as highly competent but deficient in social skills, compared with agentic men. New to the present research, social skills predicted hiring decisions more than competence for agentic women; for all other applicants, competence received more weight than social skills. Thus, evaluators shifted the job criteria away from agentic women’s strong suit (competence) and toward their perceived deficit (social skills) to justify hiring discrimination.

Sarsons, H. (2017). Interpreting Signals in the Labor Market: Evidence from Medical Referrals [Job Market Paper].

U.S. study on physicians’ referrals to surgical specialists (matched sample with n= 14,736 surgeons) testing whether a person's gender influences the way others interpret information about his or her ability. Although this study is outside of academia it shows very convincingly how the ability for professionals is differently interpreted by gender. The study finds that the referring physician views patient outcomes differently depending on the performing surgeon’s gender.

Following a bad patient outcome (a patient death), physicians lower their beliefs about a female surgeon’s ability more than they do for male surgeons. Referrals from the physician drop by 34% after a bad outcome when the surgeon is female compared with only a slight stagnation in referrals when the surgeon is male. Following a good outcome (an unanticipated survival), however, physicians become more optimistic about a male surgeon’s ability than a female surgeon’s, indicated by a doubling of referrals to the man versus a 70% increase in referrals to the woman.

After a bad experience with one female surgeon, physicians also become less likely to refer to new female surgeons in the same specialty. There are no such spillovers to other men after a bad experience with one male surgeon. Consistent with learning models, physicians’ reactions to events are strongest when they are beginning to refer to a surgeon.

Egan, M. L., Matvos, G., & Seru, A. (2017). When Harry fired Sally: The double standard in punishing misconduct (No. w23242). National Bureau of Economic Research.

U.S. study based on data from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) on financial advisors' employment history as well as misconduct with information on about 1.2 million advisers. The authors examine gender differences in misconduct punishment in the financial advisory industry and find evidence of a gender punishment gap: following an incident of misconduct, female advisers are 20% more likely to lose their jobs and 30% less likely to find new jobs relative to male advisers. Females face harsher outcomes despite engaging in misconduct that is 20% less costly and having a substantially lower propensity towards repeat offenses. The gender punishment gap in hiring and ring dissipates at firms with a greater percentage of female managers at the firm or local branch level. The gender punishment gap is not driven by gender differences in occupation (type of job, firm, market, or financial products handled), productivity, misconduct, or recidivism. The authors extend their analysis to explore the differential treatment of ethnic minorities and find similar patterns of in-group tolerance. The evidence suggests that managers are more forgiving of missteps among members of their own gender/ethnic group.

Exley, C. L., Niederle, M., & Vesterlund, L. (2020). Knowing when to ask: The cost of leaning-in. Journal of Political Economy, 128(3), 816-854.

U.S. laboratory (n about 700) and online ( n about 400) experiment giving men and women the opportunity to enter in negotiations. Women’s reluctance to negotiate is often used to explain the gender wage gap, popularizing the push for women to “lean-in” and negotiate more.

The laboratory experiments abstract away from factors that are known to induce gender differences in more complex negotiations. Participants are anonymous to mitigate fear of discrimination or backlash. To limit ambiguity, they encounter explicit negotiation opportunities and decisions. Participants are informed of what they bring to the table to ease concerns related to lacking confidence. They are informed of their outside options to make the potential loss of a negotiation clear. Whether participants can avoid negotiations, however, varies across the two treatments: Participants in the "Choice treatment" can choose to avoid a negotiation opportunity and instead receive an outside option. By contrast, participants in the "Always treatment" must always enter negotiations.

Examining an environment where women achieve positive profits when they choose to negotiate, the authors find that increased negotiations are not helpful. Women know when to ask: they enter negotiations resulting in positive profits and avoid negotiations resulting in negative profits. While the findings are similar for men, the authors find no evidence that men are more adept than women at knowing when to ask. Thus, results caution against a greater push for women to negotiate.

Artz, B., Goodall, A. H., & Oswald, A. J. (2018). Do women ask?. Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society, 57(4), 611-636.

The study outside of academia uses a matched employer-employee dataset with a representative sample of all Australian employees and workplaces (4,582 observations on individuals who work across 840 different employers). Females typically earn less than males. The reasons are not fully understood. The paper re-examines the idea that women “don’t ask,” which potentially assigns part of the responsibility for the gender pay gap onto female behavior. The paper is the first to be able to use matched employer–employee data in which workers are questioned about their asking behavior. It concludes that males and females ask equally often for promotions and raises. The paper’s empirical results suggest, however, that while women do now ask they “don’t get.”

Abel, M. (2019). Do Workers Discriminate against Female Bosses? IZA working paper.

Laboratory experiment with 2,700 workers hired for a transcription job and randomly assigning the gender of their (fictitious) manager and provision of performance feedback. The study shows that praise from a manager has no effect, criticism negatively impacts workers’ job satisfaction and perception of the task’s importance. When female managers, rather than male, deliver this feedback, the negative effects double in magnitude. Having a critical female manager does not affect effort provision but it does lower workers’ interest in working for the firm in the future. These findings hold for both female and male workers.

Amanatullah, E. T., & Tinsley, C. H. (2013). Punishing female negotiators for asserting too much… or not enough: Exploring why advocacy moderates backlash against assertive female negotiators. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 120(1), 110-122.

Three laboratory experiments with university students (n1= 226; n2=123; n3=532) testing under which conditions female negotiators are punished for being assertive. The study finds that "self-advocating" female negotiators are reluctant to assert their interests. Subsequently they suffer financial repercussions, relative to "other-advocating" females, "self-advocating" males, and "other-advocating" males. "Self-advocating" female negotiators who do assert their interests suffer negative social judgments (i.e., backlash). The authors use nascent theory on societal norms for the behavior of each gender to explain why advocacy context moderates backlash, for example, decreased likability, because their behavior is associated with high negative masculine and low positive feminine characterizations. However, non-assertive and "other-advocating" women suffer a leadership backlash (for example, lower presumed competency) because their behavior is associated with high negative feminine and low positive masculine characterizations. Put it differently, assertive, self-advocating women are seen as arrogant, and non-assertive, other-advocating women are seen as weak. Interestingly, male negotiators do not suffer any backlash consequences despite being characterized in a fashion similar to that of the females in each condition.

Cullen, Z. B., & Perez-Truglia, R. (2019). The Old Boys' Club: Schmoozing and the Gender Gap (No. w26530). National Bureau of Economic Research.

The authors conduct an event-study analysis of manager rotation to estimate the causal effect of managers’ gender on their employees’ career progressions (6,536 employees and 751 managers) in a commercial bank in Asia. They find that male employees assigned to male managers were promoted faster in the following years than male employees assigned to female managers; female employees, on the contrary, had the same career progression regardless of their managers’ gender. These differences were not accompanied by any differences in effort or performance, and they explain a third of the gender gap in promotions at this firm. Then, the authors provide evidence suggesting that these effects were mediated by the social interactions between male employees and male managers. First, they show that the effects were present only among employees who worked in close proximity to their managers. Second, they show that the effects coincided with an uptick in the share of breaks taken with the managers. Third, the authors estimate the impact of social interactions on career progression using quasi-random variation induced by smoking habits. When male employees who smoke transitioned to male managers who smoke, they took breaks with their managers more often and were subsequently promoted at higher rates than male smokers who transitioned to non-smoking managers. The boost in socialization and promotion rates closely mirrors the pattern among male employees assigned a male manager.

Li, C. H., & Zafar, B. (2020). Ask and You Shall Receive? Gender Differences in Regrades in College (No. w26703). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Using administrative data from a large US 4-year public university, the authors show that male students are 18.6 percent more likely than female students to receive favorable grade changes made by instructors. These gender differences cannot be explained by observable characteristics of the students, instructors, and the classes. To understand the mechanisms underlying these gendered outcomes, the authors conduct surveys of students and instructors, which reveal that regrade requests are prevalent, and that male students are more likely than female students to ask for regrades on the intensive margin. Finally, they corroborate the gender differences in regrade requests in an incentivized controlled experiment where participants receive noisy signals of their performance, and where they can ask for regrades: they find that males have a higher willingness to pay (WTP) to ask for regrades. Because students’ payoff depends on their final grade and the cost of regrades, male students’ higher propensity to ask for regrades makes them financially better off only when the cost is low. Males are more likely than females to become financially worse off when the regrade cost is high. Almost half of the gender difference in the WTP is due to gender differences in confidence, uncertainty in beliefs about ability, and the Big Five personality traits.

Evans, J. B., Slaughter, J. E., Ellis, A. P., & Rivin, J. M. (2019). Gender and the evaluation of humor at work. Journal of applied psychology, 104(8), 1077.

US experimental study (outside of academia) with n=101 (sample 1) and n=216 (sample 2) participants. Although research has added to our understanding of the positive and negative effects of the use of humor at work, scholars have paid little attention to characteristics of the humor source. The authors argue that this is an important oversight, particularly in terms of gender. Guided by parallel-constraint-satisfaction theory (PCST), they propose that gender plays an important role in understanding when using humor at work can have costs for the humor source. Humor has the potential to be interpreted as either a functional or disruptive work behavior. Based on PCST, the authors argue that gender stereotypes constrain the interpretation of observed humor such that humor expressed by males is likely to be interpreted as more functional and less disruptive compared with humor expressed by females. As a result, humorous males are ascribed higher status compared with nonhumorous males, while humorous females are ascribed lower status compared with nonhumorous females. These differences have implications for subsequent performance evaluations and assessments of leadership capability. Results from an experiment with 216 participants provides support for the moderated mediation model. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.