Perceived gender bias and organizational outcomes

After creating the Gender Bias Scale for Women Leaders, my co-authors (Amber Stephenson, Leanne Dzubinski, and David Wang) and I used it to see which aspects of perceived gender bias correlate with two organizational outcomes: workplace satisfaction and turnover intention. The results were surprising. We hypothesized that several gender bias subfactors would correlate with women’s intention to leave their job and with women’s workplace satisfaction. Our findings show that experiences with male culture and queen bee syndrome were related to lower job satisfaction* and greater intent to leave the position. An environment steeped in male culture assumes that men are in charge and control the decision-making; a boys’ club atmosphere may also be present. Queen bee syndrome occurs when high-ranking women fail to support or actively block junior women’s success (and is usually a consequence of the sexism that high-ranking women themselves experience). It makes sense then that when women have little chance to advance or succeed in an organization, they may be less satisfied and choose to vacate the position.

Some other factors failed to correlate with workplace satisfaction and intent to leave. For example, surprisingly workplace harassment failed to correlate with either outcome. Recent research has shown that workplace ostracism had a stronger impact on employee turnover and well-being than did harassment. The reason may be that organizations take a more active stance in prohibiting harassment than prohibiting less (seemingly) egregious acts like ostracism. Thus employees may have more support available for overt bias, like harassment than for subtler forms of bias.

Another surprising result was that salary inequality failed to correlate with workplace satisfaction and turnover intention. This may be because (unfortunately) the persistent and pervasive reality of the gender wage gap leads women to believe that seeking other employment may not lead to a substantive pay difference. As we say in our journal article, women may “prefer the ‘devil they know’ over taking their chances elsewhere that might not be any better.”

This does not mean that organizations don’t need to worry about harassment or pay equity. Quite the contrary. Our findings demonstrate that organizational leaders should first and foremost ensure that their culture is one that welcomes and embraces women, truly includes them at all levels, and ensures they are well-supported. Such actions would encompass all aspects of women’s working conditions including no tolerance for harassment and ensuring pay equity. Not only are equitable environments good for women; they are also good for the organization as a whole.

Read our study and get details on the Gender Bias Scale for Women Leaders, which organizations can use to measure women’s perceptions of experienced gender bias.

*The association between queen bee syndrome and workplace satisfaction was marginal.

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