Women See Job Advancement as Less Desirable

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

Quite rightly, our society identifies sources of disparity and works to eliminate them. One such disparity is the relative lack of women in top jobs, such as CEOs and professorships. There are multiple reasons for this, but the only politically correct one is discrimination. The data, however, often point to different conclusions. For instance, in April of this year, PNAS released a study that showed that women were preferred 2-to-1 in academic science jobs.

To be sure, discrimination plays some role. Tribalism — which can manifest itself in our tendency to associate with or favor others based upon gender, race, ethnicity, religion, or a whole host of other traits — appears to be an inherent part of the human condition. Additionally, women are often viewed as less competent than men. Fortunately, we have made great strides in overcoming such weaknesses, and a growing base of evidence suggests that factors other than discrimination may play a bigger role in women’s professional outcomes.

More evidence in support of this viewpoint has just been published in PNAS. The researchers, all of whom were women from Harvard, conducted a series of studies whose aim was to determine how men and women viewed the desirability of professional advancement. They discovered that women found job promotions to be less desirable than men did. (See chart.)

Probing deeper, the researchers found that women had a greater expectation of negative consequences from a job promotion, such as more stress or conflict with other life goals. Furthermore, women craved power less than men did.

The authors admit that the cause of these gender differences remain complex and unknown. Biology, cultural norms, and discrimination all play a role in shaping the preferences of men and women. Yet, their research does seem to suggest that while job advancement opportunities are being made available to women, many choose not to pursue them. The authors conclude:

“[C]ompared to men, women have more life goals that make achieving high-power positions at work seem less desirable (but equally attainable). Therefore, women may not assume high-level positions in organizations — at least in part — because they desire other things as well.”

While the researchers’ findings are certainly interesting, there isn’t much news here. Indeed, the team merely seems to have confirmed the mundane observations of everyday life. Yet, in our politically charged environment, stating the obvious can be a career-ending mistake. So, cheers to the authors for having the courage to publish it.

Source: Francesca Gino, Caroline Ashley Wilmuth, and Alison Wood Brooks. “Compared to men, women view professional advancement as equally attainable, but less desirable.” PNAS. Published online before print: 21-Sept-2015. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1502567112