Female managers are perceived as more prone to managerial derailment than male managers
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Female managers are perceived as more likely to derail by supervisors, finds a new study.
The research focused on informal evaluations of managerial potential and managerial derailment (where a seemingly up-and-coming manager gets fired, demoted, or doesn’t advance as expected).
Two studies analyzed data collected on nearly 50,000 managers enrolled in leadership development programs.
Two more experimental studies had managers look at performance reviews of two made-up employees with the only difference being the employees gender.
Overall, the studies found that supervisors were more likely to predict managerial derailment for women managers than for men – even when evaluating managers that showed the same levels of ineffective interpersonal behaviors.
The result of these negative informal assessments was that female managers received less mentoring in the workplace.
Female managers were also less likely to receive the kind of supervisor sponsorship that get them a promotion.
Lead researcher, Joyce Bono, a University of Florida management professor said:
If you’re doing performance evaluations, there’s a record in an HR file you could reference, and gender bias could be identified and dealt with but perceptions of derailment potential exist in a supervisor’s head.
They’re never recorded. They’re informal assessments that supervisors make, yet they have important implications for the opportunities that supervisors provide.
So are the negative managerial derailment assessments female managers get from male supervisors made on purpose?
The researchers say the bias here comes from societal expectations and stereotypes.
Don’t think of the bias exhibited here as behavior of bad people who don’t want women to get ahead rather, we expect women to be nicer than men, because that’s what our society has told us to expect.
These beliefs influence our behaviors, often without our awareness.
But even small differences can have large effects.
The researchers noted:
Let’s assume that a Fortune 500 company with a million people has 500 managers, equally split between men and women, who exhibit high level of ineffective interpersonal behaviors.
Based on our tests of practical significant in Study 1, 77% of the women (193), but only 60% of the men (150), are likely to derail.
This leaves the organization with 157 managers (of the original 500) in place, but now, rather than an equal number of men and women, we have 100 men and only 57 women remaining.
This is a simple illustration, but it has been well established in the literature that even very small effect sizes—indicating tiny but consistent stereotype-based biases in each evaluation—could lead to substantial gender disparities at high levels of an organization
Bono advises that top executives and HR practitioners be especially attentive to the mentoring and sponsorship of female managers.
This is a problem we can’t procedure our way out of because it happens in our brains, and this is the society we grew up in.
We have to keep talking about it so we catch ourselves and our colleagues’ biases, and work together to reduce their negative effects on the mentorship and advancement of women.
The study was published in the journal Personnel Psychology (Bono et al., 2016).
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