She works hard(er) for her money

Story by Chris Graham

So there’s this study out there that seems to indicate that women think – well, if you ask them, they know – that they have to work harder at their jobs than men.
Now, being a man who thinks himself that he has to work pretty hard, and over the years has thought that maybe, just maybe, his job is harder than that of the average woman in the same basic job in large part because it seems to him men are expected to work harder, well, I was at a loss.
And then University of Virginia sociology professor Elizabeth Gorman tells me that there’s a “common perception” out there among women that women have to “work twice as hard as men in order to be seen as being half as good.”
My world is turning upside down.

Gorman and Julie Kmec of Washington State University looked in-depth at five surveys of workplace attitudes taken in the United States and Britain between 1977 and 2001. All asked respondents the same question: Do you agree with this statement – My job requires that I work very hard?

In all of the surveys, women were significantly more likely to agree with the statement than men were.

“We were very intrigued by that,” Gorman said in an interview on “The Augusta Free Press Show.”
And so the researchers set to figure out what might be going on behind the answers. They started by trying to account for factors like the strength and stamina required on jobs in different fields, how much some employees are required to use math and computers, the level of interaction with others that might be required in some positions to try to create the effect of putting men and women in basically identical jobs.

When the work to establish controls in the study was complete, then, it turned out that the gender gap was actually wider than it was at the outset, Gorman said.

So then Gorman and Kmec tried to account for the effect of home life on what goes on in the workplace.

“One reason why it might is if women are exhausted because, as we know, they tend to bear more of the burden at home in terms of housework and child care. So perhaps they’re just more tired when they get to work – and we all know that when we don’t have very much energy, everything seems like more of an effort,” Gorman said.

But after factoring in marital and parental status, “we still couldn’t explain the gap,” Gorman said.

Adding in controls for job skills and qualifications and levels of education and experience were not the answers, either.

“Having eliminated all of those other possible explanations, we came back to the conventional wisdom – that women really do have to work harder, even in the same jobs, as men, because they’re being held to a higher standard,” Gorman said.

“This is very consistent with a lot of experimental research that has tended to show that – that people, men and women, too, when they are shown evidence of performance, whether it’s a written essay or painting or a resume, and they’re told that it was done by a man, it looks good to them, when they’re told the same thing was done by a woman, they don’t think it was so good,” Gorman said.

My two cents here – what if there isn’t something of a psychological factor involved wherein men and women in similar jobs providing similar inputs and realizing similar outputs simply perceive these things differently?

Gorman notes here that the statement in the survey is not asking for a perception of how hard the work is or how much effort they actually exerted.

Fair enough – I’ve always been a firm believer in the notion that perception is reality.

As for the implications of this study …

“One message for women who work is if you feel like you have to put in a lot of effort in order to get recognition and credit, while perhaps your male colleagues seem to just kind of glide ahead rather effortlessly and are much more likely to be seen as rising stars, don’t assume it’s just because you’re not as good as they are. Rather, you’re not alone,” Gorman said.

“This is a phenomenon that exists throughout the U.S. population, throughout the British population. It’s existed for at least 30 years. So you’re not alone. It’s a phenomenon that pretty much all women in the workplace have to confront. So don’t give up, basically. Keep plugging is the message for women workers,” Gorman said.

And for employers, the message is, “Think about this, this seems to be going on. Think about how you look at your male and female employees – how you evaluate their performance, what inferences you make from their performance about who’s good and who’s not. And think about whether there are ways that that can be made more objective and more fair so that the required effort is more the same for men and women,” Gorman said.

Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.

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