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Guest Blogs: Budworth & Ezzedeen on Sexism, Modesty, and Family Roles as Determinants of Employment Success and Earnings

Men who think women belong the home baking cookies and raising children earn more than men who think women should be treated with equality in employment, a new study by Professors Judge and Livingstone reports.   An earlier study came to similar results. I wondered how this study relates to much-reported findings made recently by two of my esteemed colleagues here in the Human Resources group at York, Professor Souha Ezzedeen and Professor Marie-Helene Budworth.   So, I asked them for their comments on the study.

Souha’s recent study (The Man Behind the Woman) examined the role of a supportive spouse in the careers of executive women.   Here are Souha’s comments on the Judge & Livingstone study:

The findings of the recent Judge and Livingston study published in the prestigious Journal of Applied Psychology can certainly be discouraging to those of us who support more egalitarian workplaces and more fluid family and organizational roles for the sexes. Indeed, their longitudinal study suggests that men with more traditional views on gender, i.e. men who believe in greater separation of gender roles – men as breadwinners and women as homemakers – earn more than men with more progressive or “modern” views. That the authors should gauge gender role orientation by asking questions such as whether there was a relationship between youth delinquency and women’s rates of employment was also interesting to me. Conservative pundits often blame women’s employment for quite the assortment of social ills, ranging from breakdown of the family, decline in moral values, to youth violence, and rise in criminality.

The interpretations of other scholars are interesting in their own right as well. For example, one professor at Winchester – Dr. Magdalena Zawisza – cogently argued that men with traditional gender views exhibit strong power orientations that they leverage in the domain of work and at home as well. She also contends that organizations might be more inclined to promote men who are their family’s sole provider, on grounds that the family depends on that one individual for its wellbeing.

My view on these findings is this: Men who are more traditional in their sex-role orientation will certainly exhibit more of the ideal of rugged masculinity and power – nicely portrayed in the chauvinistic and power-hungry Madison avenue executives of the TV series Mad Men and thus will sell their skills and credits better to their organizations and boast more about their achievements and accomplishments, which eventually buys them greater earnings.

From a work and family perspective, men with traditional gender views will most likely seek a female partner with equally traditional views, a partner who will be happy to stay at home and care for the family full-time. When men have access to such round-the-clock help at home (she does all the cooking, cleaning, raising the kids, and entertaining etc.), they do not experience the work/family tug-of-war that occurs when both partners work. Thus, they are able to devote themselves completely to their careers and “sprint” through them so to speak. They will be in a position to say “Yes!” to any travel assignment, weekend work (or golfing!), or late night entertaining that comes their way. They eventually earn the label of a “high-performance” individual, which in due course gets them the raises and promotions. That this perpetuates the wage gap is understandable. Biological realities and resilient social norms imply that more women than men stay at home while their partners work full-time, thus more men than women can sprint through careers like that and go up the earnings’ ladder.

For women, the findings of my own study showed that such support at home is equally important to those who are career-oriented. These career-oriented women who logically embody non-traditional gender norms also earn slightly more than women with traditional views according to the Judge and Livingston study. My research shows that they tend to choose partners who are supportive of their career aspirations, partners with presumably less traditional gender role orientations. Both my research and the findings of the Judge and Livingston study show a change in social norms around gender, career orientation, and support at home, which is of course encouraging. With organizations rising in diversity and women occupying increasing ranks among the managerial and professional classes, hopefully the gender gap that results from lopsided social norms will diminish and both men and women can experience the fullness of enjoying both a career and a family life.

Marie-Helene’s study (see a news report (with video!) describing the study here) examined the role of modesty and gender in predicting employment earnings.  Here’s what Marie had to say about the Judge & Livingstone study:

While the Judge study provides some interesting data to support the relationship between traditional views and income for men and women, there is nothing new here theoretically.  What is interesting is that women are penalized in the workforce for holding the same values as men.  It is somewhat predictable when one considers that Judge is examining values that have implications for attitudes toward a woman’s involvement in the workforce, but other research has found a similar theme.  As an example, a study that I conducted with Sara Mann at Guelph University found that men and women are rewarded differently for their values toward modesty.

Women low in modesty earn more than women high in modesty (as one would expect); however, men high in modesty earn more than men low in modesty.  As men and women, if we value the same things, we cannot expect the same economic reward.  This has implication for how we train, develop, and prepare individuals for managerial positions.  Programs of study that do not consider underlying values, motivations, and individual characteristics in addition to gender and culture are unlikely to be successful in ensuring progression to senior management levels.

Interesting stuff.  Does anyone see any implications for employment, or human rights, law flowing from this discussion of the relationship between gender roles, stereotypes, and employment outcomes?

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