Job authority isn't enough for women
The New York Times
THE question of why women don't have as many leadership roles in the workplace as men do is a longstanding one.
Some have pointed to internal barriers, suggesting that the problem is partly attributable to something about women themselves - they are not "ambitious enough" at work (while pursuing meaningful family goals), or are deeply committed to work but too hesitant to climb leadership ladders.
Others cite structural or institutional barriers. Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg, in her now-famous phrase, would have women "lean in", to be more assertive at work and not let biases keep them from pushing forward.
By leaning in, women would obtain more authority.
But the vital question is whether the presumed perks of achieving authority enrich women's working lives in the same ways they do for men.
Part of our analysis, first reported in a paper published in the journal Sociological Perspectives, confirmed two patterns: First, women tend to have less job authority, compared with men.
Second, having job authority is associated less strongly with higher earnings for women, compared with men.
We sought to push the issue by further dissecting these patterns: How do women in positions of greater authority experience their own level of job autonomy, job influence and the personal meaningfulness of their work?
And are these perceptions different, compared with men?
Several findings from our analysis, which used a 2011 survey of the Canadian workforce, stood out.
First, among women and men holding jobs with high levels of authority, men tended to be more likely than women to perceive that they had influence ("a lot of say on the job") and autonomy ("the freedom to decide what gets done at work").
Second, men tended to experience a stronger link between feeling influential at work and describing work as intrinsically highly rewarding and personally meaningful.
Third, greater job authority yielded high intrinsic rewards among both women and men who felt influential at work.
But, even when men didn't feel very influential, having more job authority was still associated with intrinsic rewards.
By contrast, among women, a job with supposed authority was only intrinsically rewarding when it was coupled with their own perception of having real influence at work.
Collectively, these findings tell us something about the experience of work for both genders.
Men tend to perceive more intrinsic rewards either from feeling influential or from having authority. For women, both conditions seem to be necessary.
And even when women do occupy the "corner suite", they aren't guaranteed the personal and professional rewards men garner.
As men gain positions of job authority, conventional expectations, the acceptance and support of their co-workers, and the sense of fulfilling work often buoy them.
It's what they are "supposed to do" - and they are usually respected and rewarded for it. Men identify with work, and, in turn, cultural expectations judge them by the work that they do.
However, women may encounter stigma for prioritising work. So, for them, job authority that feels symbolic might not be experienced as rewarding.
Just as women with job authority tend to receive lower salaries and smaller bonuses than men of equal rank, so, too, do they tend to reap fewer of the less tangible, yet deeply meaningful, rewards of power.
This could have many wider workplace implications, including an impact on retention rates. Women who sacrifice and lean in, yet do not feel the subjective rewards of their positional authority, may ultimately be less inclined to stay in those positions.
In her book, Sandberg asserts that "since more men aim for leadership roles, it is not surprising that they obtain them, especially given all the obstacles that women have to overcome".
The psychosocial rewards gap, however, suggests that attaining leadership roles is only part of the story. It's critical to be aware of the social and structural complexities that make the leadership experience so different for working men and women.
Scott Schieman is a professor, Markus Schafer is an assistant professor and Mitchell McIvor is a doctoral candidate, all in the sociology department at the University of Toronto.