Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Jane Mansbridge Research Award Winners 2016

In its fifteenth year, the Jane Mansbridge Research Award is presented at HKS Class Day for an outstanding research papers (PAEs, SYPAs, etc.) whose analysis of an organization or topic is focused on some aspect of women or gender.

This award is named in honor of Jane Mansbridge, the Adams Professor of Political Leadership and Democratic Values at Harvard Kennedy School. Professor Mansbridge is a WAPPP affiliated faculty member and has been instrumental in fostering, conducting, and promoting gender-related research as well as changing the face of power at the Harvard Kennedy School through her portraiture project.

This year, our faculty selection committee was impressed by the rigor of all nominations saying, “They bring new information into the world and make practical recommendations to advance the cause of gender equality.” From this impressive group, they found two truly exceptional PAEs. And the winners are:

Gender Equality in the Mexican Foreign Service by Tania Del Rio, nominated by Hannah Riley Bowles

Partnerships in Investigating Sex Trafficking: Bridging Gaps to Support Survivors by Caitlin Ryan and Deena Zeplowitz, nominated by Julie Wilson.

About the papers:

Tania Del Rio’s “Gender Equality in the Mexican Foreign Service” is an original and thought-provoking study of the barriers facing women in the Mexican foreign service, along with immediate steps that can reduce those barriers. This careful analysis used three sources: an existing survey of professionals in the foreign service; in depth interviews with members of the service; and an original database compiled for this study that, for 844 foreign service officers, includes demographic information as well as the scores for each element of the promotion exams that the officer had taken since 2002, posts to which each officer had been assigned, and the date of each promotion. The study reveals different obstacles at different stages. At the earliest entrance stage, Del Rio demonstrates potential biases both in the content of written exams and in the process of in-person interviews. At the second stage, she finds significant differences in postings to highly responsible positions and to “hardship post,” both of which count significantly for future promotions. The steps she recommends for de-biasing the exams and interviews and for rethinking the postings are practical and politically feasible.

Caitlin Ryan and Deena Zeplowitz’s “Partnerships in Investigating Sex Trafficking: Bridging Gaps to Support Survivors” investigates programs for reducing sex trafficking in four cities – Boston, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle. Based on interviews with practitioners in all four cities as well as on existing case studies and government documents in each city, the study takes as its focus the problems of foreign-born women who are the victims and survivors of trafficking, particularly those employed in one common venue: illicit massage parlors. The twelve recommendations for action around which the study is organized reveal sensitivity to many points of view – particularly necessary because the authors argue that the government and non-profit agencies concerned with trafficking need to work in coalition. Thus the coalition members need to recognize their differences and find common ground on tactics and intended outcomes even while disagreeing on ideology, theories of causality, and other central issues. Law enforcement officers have different incentives and training from both government workers in family courts and service agencies, and from the voluntary members of the NGOs that engage in work to prevent sex trafficking. A serious approach to these differences informs almost all of the study’s recommendations, including identifying a neutral third-party organization to manage the coalition and establishing clear boundaries between agencies regarding roles and responsibilities. The study recognizes the victims’ and survivors’ own different responses to trauma, need for housing and employment, fear of deportation, fear of the police, and fear of retaliation to themselves and their families in their home countries. Because it is so sensitive to the subtleties of the facts on the ground, this study has produced some highly useful recommendations.


Friday, April 29, 2016

Gendered Career Negotiations: A Toolkit for Navigating, Bending, and Shaping Institutions

This week’s WAPPP seminar was the last of the year! It’s been an honor being your blogger this semester, and I’m looking forward to more cutting-edge gender research in these seminars next year. This week, WAPPP’s own Bobbi Thomason, Senior Fellow and Lecturer at Wharton, presented her work in collaboration with Hannah Riley Bowles and Julia Bear.

Current Literature Doesn’t Reflect Many Women’s Negotiation Experiences

We’ve spoken a lot this year about women’s career negotiations, focusing in particular on the effects of ambiguity and stereotypes on negotiation and the social cost of negotiating flexible work arrangements. However, much of the research on gender and negotiations doesn’t reflect the diversity of contexts in which women negotiate. Professor Thomason’s research group analyzed 43 studies on gender and career negotiation, and realized that the overwhelming number (70%) were lab studies, all of them talked about compensation while only some discussed job benefits or promotion, and 95% were negotiations with just one counterpart.

Because the literature is overwhelmingly on institutional topics and standard terms, like one’s starting salary, it’s unclear whether it generalizes to broader career topics that matter for women’s leadership positions and lifetime earnings. One other concern is that negotiating about money may be a gendered trigger. The “ideal worker” for most organizations is a male breadwinner with no outside commitments or distractions, who is understood to have a full-time caregiver at home. When women negotiate for a higher salary or bonus, it may go against stereotypes of how a female worker “should” act and elicit negative reactions.

Using Fieldwork to Build Lab-Testable Theories

Ideally, Professor Thomason explained, research is a combination of grounded theory building in the field – conducting interviews and observing people in the real world – which helps researchers construct hypotheses to test in the lab. Because the current understanding of gender and negotiations is so dominated by lab work on compensation, there is a significant opportunity to do qualitative fieldwork to better understand women’s lived experiences with negotiation.

In that vein, Professor Thomason presented three interrelated studies on the lived experiences of gender in career negotiations: a survey of 46 women, interviews with 49 male and female senior government officials, and a survey of workers in a large professional services firm.

Study 1: Understanding the Types of Negotiation

Professor Thomason’s research group surveyed women in corporate and entrepreneurial roles about their negotiation experiences and found three main types of negotiations. Institutional negotiations are standard requests, like asking for a raise. Institution bending negotiations are about creating a nonstandard work arrangement for an individual employee, like negotiating a flexible schedule. Institution shaping negotiations change the organization itself, often by creating a new role, program, or practice.

Study 2: Who Participates in Each Type of Negotiation, and What Do They Discuss?

In the second study, the research group examined a more institutionally constrained context, the US federal government. This study allowed the researchers to survey men and women and to test whether certain types of negotiations are easier in startups or other work settings that value flexibility and disruption. Each of the 49 interviewees shared stories of negotiating for their own and for others’ career advancement.

The researchers found that men in this sample did far more institutional negotiations and institution shaping negotiations. By contrast, women did significantly more institution bending negotiations for themselves than men did. (So much for the notion that women don't negotiate!) When negotiating for others, that gap disappears: men and women do about the same amount of institution bending and shaping negotiations for others, and men do more institutional negotiations for others than women.

Examining the topic of negotiations showed that compensation was a very small proportion of the issues discussed, in contrast to its disproportionate representation in most studies. Role negotiations were the most common topic – all of the institution shaping negotiations were about role, but role considerations were discussed in each of the three types. Notably, only women participated in institution bending negotiations for geographic and temporal flexibility.

Study 3: Understanding Gender and Leadership in Negotiation

The researchers interviewed 156 partners and senior partners in a professional services firm for the third study. Participants were asked about the frequency of certain types of career negotiation over their career at the firm and were prompted to recall and report on a recent career negotiation. At the end of the survey, participants were asked a series of questions to measure their “perceived freedom to negotiate.” The overall mean for the sample was a 4.7 on a 7 point scale – an “agree somewhat” that they feel free to negotiate career-related issues. There was no difference in perceived freedom to negotiate based on gender or leadership role, which is quite noteworthy!

Professor Thomason’s research group asked whether certain negotiation types are correlated with gender or leadership roles. Women (both partners and senior partners) report significantly more institution bending negotiations than men. However, there are no significant gender differences in institutional or institution shaping negotiations. Senior partners (those in leadership roles) report significantly more institution shaping negotiations, but leadership role is not significantly correlated with institutional or institution bending negotiations. In terms of topic, men report a much higher frequency of job-offer negotiations, like those regarding compensation, whereas women report a much higher frequency of workload and work-life flexibility negotiations.

In their interviews, there was no gender difference in ability to recall a recent negotiation, which refutes the assumption that “women don’t negotiate.” There was also no difference between partners and senior partners in recalling a recent negotiation, which indicates that everyone negotiates. The median length of reported negotiations was an extraordinary 90 days, which may present some obstacles to replicating real-life negotiations in a lab setting. Reported negotiations tend to be with more senior and “somewhat close” colleagues, and unlike most lab studies, most negotiations involve multiple counterparts. On average, 90% of men’s negotiation counterparts were also men, while only 13% of women’s negotiation counterparts were also women. There was no gender difference in satisfaction with the outcome, and 88% of the reported negotiations were resolved.

Opportunities for Future Research

This research provides important information about who negotiates, what negotiation type they employ, and the topic of negotiation that can be used to inform new theories and new lab experiments. However, Professor Thomason pointed out, these self-reports could be influenced by gender-appropriate narratives, which may obscure some of the reality of negotiations. It’s also unclear whether leaders conduct more institutional shaping negotiations because they are already in leadership roles or whether they use these negotiations to attain leadership roles. Future research is needed to test these propositions.

One of the key contributions of this work is examining women who have made it and women who have made it big. If the negotiation literature only focuses on barriers to women’s negotiation or the women who have failed to advance, it may inadvertently perpetuate the stereotype that women don’t negotiate or don’t negotiate well. Further research will help us develop a broader conceptualization of gender and career negotiations beyond “women don’t ask” to better understand how women wield negotiation to advance in their careers.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Redesigning Work: Findings from the Work, Family, and Health Network and Implications for Gender Inequality

Social welfare policies in the United States are unique in that they are often provided by employers – think of health care, retirement benefits, and particularly work-family policies. How do we formulate effective work-life integration policies that work for employers and for employees?

This week’s WAPPP seminar featured Erin L. Kelly, Professor of Work and Organization Studies at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Professor Kelly’s early work focused on this hybrid social welfare system in the United States, and she has continued to investigate organizational policies that may address work-family and gender issues. In particular, her work focuses on the consequences of workplace policies for employees and organizations.

Work-life conflict, job control, and flexible schedules

Specific work environments affect work-life conflict and strains. As we’ve discussed in past WAPPP seminars, job control can affect a range of health-promoting behaviors. With more control over where and when you do your work, you may have more time to exercise, cook healthy meals, get enough sleep, and reduce stress. Professor Kelly’s research as part of the Work, Family, and Health Network tests promising workplace initiatives with rigorous methods to determine what workplaces can change to improve the health and well-being of employees and their families while maintaining or improving organizations’ key outcomes.

While flexible work arrangements (like telecommuting and flex schedules) are generally considered a good thing, they may have unintended consequences. Generally, flexible schedules are decided through an “accommodation model,” in which individual employees negotiate with their managers directly. However, there are all kinds of possible confounding factors: who is willing to ask for flexible scheduling? Who gets it? Is there a “flex stigma,” such that flexible workers are perceived as less committed or less competent? Are gendered inequalities exacerbated because flexible work schedules are associated with women and families?

STAR: Normalizing flexibility

Professor Kelly’s work tries to sidestep some of these issues by making flexibility the new normal. She presented the Work, Family, and Health Network’s randomized controlled trial of flexible work in an IT division of a Fortune 500 company. Half of the work units were enrolled in STAR, a program in which work groups reconsider when, where, and how work is done. These decisions are collective and broadly framed to focus on all employees, not necessarily family needs or women’s struggles. 
The other half of the work units remained under existing company policy. Official policy allowed employees to work from home with a formal request that went all the way up to the VP. Existing practice, on the other hand, was more informal – some employees were able to work from home or shift hours, but this practice was deliberately under the radar. 

The researchers collected baseline survey and health data, along with daily diaries and spouse and child surveys. They repeated survey and health data collection at 6, 12, and 18 months. One complication arose midway through the study: the company announced that it was being acquired. The merger was implemented partway through the study.

Effects of STAR on work-family outcomes

Participating in STAR was associated with increased control over work time, greater supervisor support for personal and family life, and employees saying they had “enough time” with family. There was no effect on work hours or overall intensity. While some employers may have hoped for increased productivity, the researchers see this  as a positive sign – flexibility shouldn’t turn into pressure to be “always on.” Significantly, there was no difference in work hours with STAR based on gender or parental status. 

In terms of work outcomes, STAR increased job satisfaction at 12 months and reduced turnover intentions at 12 months. STAR also reduced voluntary exits at 3 years (7.6% of STAR participants left the company, compared to 11.3% of control group members). A related paper estimates  that STAR had a positive ROI of 1.6 for the firm. The employer reduced turnover costs and the lost productivity that comes with training new workers. 

Effects of STAR on health outcomes

STAR decreased burnout, stress, and psychological distress at the 12-month follow up for participants who began STAR before the merger was underway. For other employees, anxiety about the merger (and the future of STAR!) may have confounded these effects. Participants in STAR showed modest increases in sleep duration and quality at the 12-month follow up. STAR also increased parents’ time with children over 12 months. 

Interestingly, many of these benefits transferred to STAR participants’ children. Adolescents whose parents were in STAR showed better sleep quality and more consistent sleep duration, along with more positive affect and less emotional reactivity to daily stressors. Professor Kelly believes that this effect is partially due to parents being more available and able to stick to routines that work for their families with flexible schedules. 

The STAR experiment shows the benefits of flexible work schedules on work-family and health outcomes. However, Professor Kelly brought up a number of other questions for future study. How did behaviors actually change under STAR? Did groups differ in their utilization of flex time? We look forward to hearing more from Professor Kelly and the Work, Family, and Health Network!

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Long-Run Effect of Maternity Leave Benefits on Mental Health: Evidence from European Countries

We spend a lot of time thinking about the short-term benefits of comprehensive parental leave policies—keeping mothers in the paid workforce, improving outcomes for children—but what about the long-term effects? This week’s WAPPP seminar featured Lisa F. Berkman, Thomas Cabot Professor of Public Policy and Epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Director of the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies. Professor Berkman places particular emphasis on the long-term health impacts of social and economic policies. She shared her findings regarding maternity leave policies and women’s long-run mental and physical health.

Background: Lagging Women’s Health and Work-Family Conflict

The impetus for Professor Berkman’s work stems from diverging life expectancies for women in the United States. From the 1940’s to the 1980’s, the U.S. was solidly middle-of-the-pack in terms of female life expectancy among OECD countries. However, over the last 30 years we have seen a dramatic shift. While women’s life expectancy increased slightly in the U.S. over that period, other countries have zoomed ahead. The U.S. is now dead last in female life expectancy relative to other OECD countries. The reason for this shift is unexplained. A study by the National Academy of Sciences examined smoking, obesity, economic inequality, social networks, access to medical care, and hormonal issues, but none of these “usual suspects” was able to explain this lag.

A recent Brookings report on inequality indicates that life expectancy has stagnated for low-income women. In examining cohorts of women born in 1920 and 1940, they found almost no change in life expectancy for women in the lowest income deciles over time. By contrast, women in the top income decile show significant increases in life expectancy. High-income women born in 1940 have a life expectancy 4-5 years longer than those born in 1920.

The changing work-family landscape in the U.S. may account for these changes. The number of births to single mothers and the share of women with children in the workforce have skyrocketed in the last 25 years. Formal social protection policies are lacking in the U.S. There is no federally-mandated paid leave, and the Family and Medical Leave Act covers only some workers. Professor Berkman calls this the “perfect storm” that is unique to the U.S. – fertility has remained high, more women have entered the labor force, and workers have few social protections. How does work-family conflict relate to long-term health?

The Long-Run Effect of Maternal Leave Benefits on Women’s Mental Health

Depression, according to Professor Berkman, is the second leading cause of disability worldwide. Depressive symptoms are very common in older people. It may be that a lack of comprehensive maternity leave policies increases the risk of depression for women later in life. Strong social support policies reduce immediate pressures and post-partum stress, and stressful life events may be related to recurrent depression.

To test this explanation, Professor Berkman examined SHARE, a cross-country sample representative of the 50+ population across Europe. The dataset includes complete working histories, fertility histories, and extensive measures of mental health, physical health, and labor market behavior. She also examined the Family Policy Database on maternity leave policies in these countries. This study focused on first births.

Professor Berkman found that at low levels of maternity leave benefits, working women had a slightly higher depression score than non-working women. However, once maternity leave benefits kick in, there is a significant change. With more than five weeks’ paid leave, working women were much less likely to show signs of depression than non-working women. Statistical analysis showed a 16.2% difference in depression scores in old age for working and non-working women in high-benefits countries.

This result seems a bit perplexing—why do non-working women in high-benefits countries have a higher depression rate in old age? This may be an issue of social comparison. Women who live in countries with strong maternity leave policies may regret not being in the paid labor force. While the mechanism is unclear, the relationship is strong. Depression in old age is clearly correlated with maternity leave policies during the birth of one’s first child.

This finding has significant policy implications. Depression is costly, and older people with depression use more health services, medical supplies, home care, and assisted living than those without depression. As some countries have moved to cut parental leave benefits, these costs should be factored into the long-run impacts of such policy decisions.

The Breaking Point: Work Stress, Motherhood, and Marital Status as Risk Factors for Mortality among Working U.S. Women

Having looked at mental health outcomes, Professor Berkman shifted to thinking about physical health outcomes based on work-family conflict. One weakness of existing literature is that many studies assume women’s work-family situations are consistent throughout their adult life. However, many women show significant variation over time in whether they are married, in the paid labor force, and have children at home. Theoretically, there are 4.06*10^31 ways to combine marriage, work, and children between the ages of 16 and 50! The researchers focused on seven distinct work-family patterns in the sample and looked at overall age-standardized mortality rates across these groups.

Married working mothers who took some time off or work do the best in terms of low mortality, followed by working non-mothers. Married mothers who always worked and married mothers who never worked fall in the middle of the mortality distribution. Single working mothers and single non-working mothers round out the bottom of the spectrum and have the worst mortality outcomes. There are obvious selection effects here: single mothers are far more likely to be in poverty, and there are a number of other confounding factors that influence these results.

Professor Berkman hypothesized that lifetime job demands and job control could be mediating factors for mortality. Demanding jobs are likely to cause stress that can negatively affect health outcomes. Having control over one’s work schedule, by contrast, likely reduces stress. Professor Berkman looked at the self-reported longest-held job for each individual in the dataset and assigned continuous demand and control scores to each person. Results show that low job control greatly increases mortality for each group, but particularly for single mothers. This study is another example of how public policies can have long-run health impacts. Work-family conflict can have a profound impact on health, especially for those with limited social and economic resources.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Can Professionally-Employed Mothers Have It All?

The question of whether working mothers can “have it all” has generated much discussion, but less work has been done on how workplace support affects new mothers and families. Even with family-friendly policies in place, do employees feel comfortable using them, or face social stigma for taking time off? What is it about certain policies that leads to greater employee satisfaction and retention? In this week’s WAPPP seminar, Jamie Ladge, Associate Professor of Management and Organizational Development at Northeastern University, presented her work on workplace social support, employee self-efficacy, and job turnover among professionally-employed women.

Returning to work following a first birth can be a tricky time, working to balance caring for an infant and workplace demands. New mothers who perceive that balancing these demands will be challenging may choose to leave their organization. Drawing from social learning and social comparison theory, Professor Ladge investigates how supportive work environments shape new mothers’ decisions to quit.

Much previous work has been done on the direct influence of social support in organizations on employee turnover. Professor Ladge is interested in uncovering just how this mechanism works. Supportive work environments help to mitigate the observed decline in job satisfaction when new mothers return to work, and support from supervisors and spouses plays a major role in decreasing new mothers’ role strain. However, there is still threat of bias from managers perceiving new mothers as less committed to their jobs. New mothers can feel undervalued at work and worry about their abilities both at work and with their families. They key to Professor Ladge’s research is not just how employers can support new mothers, but how perceptions of mothers in the workplace can affect a new mother’s desire to remain in her current job.

Professor Ladge surveyed 695 professionally-employed new mothers who had gone back to their same organization after giving birth. The mean age in this group was 35, mean work experience 3.8 years, and the majority were white and had advanced degrees. Each respondent self-reported on a scale from 1-5 their perceived manager support, presence of work-family role models, and their perceived self-efficacy in their jobs and in their roles as mothers. Professor Ladge also conducted interviews with many new mothers to probe their experiences of managerial support, role models of work-family balance, and re-evaluating their effectiveness as workers after the birth of their first child.

The main link between social support and workplace turnover, according to Professor Ladge, is new mothers’ sense of self-efficacy—the sense that they can “successfully execute the behavior required to produce the desired outcomes.” Professor Ladge breaks this down into job self-efficacy and maternal self-efficacy. New mothers returning to work may worry about their ability to handle the demands of their job while balancing childcare, and may also encounter some stigma about whether they can be a “good mother” while working full-time. However, when new mothers feel efficacious (in either or both of these domains), they are much less likely to quit working. Support from managers and supportive working environments can increase feelings of self-efficacy, which encourages job retention among new mothers.

Interestingly, role models of work-family balance may decrease new mothers’ sense of job self-efficacy and lead them to look for work elsewhere. While this finding isn’t terribly statistically significant in the model, it fits well with anecdotal data. It’s easy to be insecure when comparing yourself to superstars! Professor Ladge is looking to probe this effect further to better understand the impact of role models on self-efficacy and job turnover.

Future Directions

Further research will be useful to determine how these different domains of self-efficacy influence each other, and whether job self-efficacy and maternal self-efficacy are really separate constructs. Professor Ladge is also interested in further integrating qualitative data in quantitative studies in order to better “tell the story” of new working mothers. Further, there’s a great deal of work to do on intersectionality and work-family conflict. Do only middle- and upper-class women have access to supportive workplace policies? How do LGB parents deal with work-family conflict? Another key issue is ensuring that supportive workplace policies are not simply construed as policies for working mothers. These policies should apply to all workers, and all workers should feel comfortable taking advantage of them!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Achieving Meritocracy in the Workplace

Knowing what we do about the gender wage gap and implicit bias in the workplace, what sort of measures could we take to improve pay equity? Could a meritocratic system, with pay based strictly on performance, be the answer?

This week’s WAPPP seminar featured Emilio Castilla, NTU Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management (during his spring break, no less!). Professor Castilla’s work focuses on the social aspects of work and how social and organizational processes influence employment outcomes – with important managerial implications.

Performance-reward practices are now standard within most industries – 69% of organizations offer variable bonuses based on performance, and some type of merit pay exists in almost all companies. If these pay practices are truly meritocratic, demographics shouldn’t matter. However, the gender and racial implications of merit-based employer efforts are not well understood – do these company practices improve workplace equity and diversity?

In theory, if merit pay was based solely on performance, we would see similar levels of pay for men and women at each performance rank. However, one of Professor Castilla’s studies showed that the benefits of a higher performance rank were much greater for men than for women. A man’s performance bonus was significantly larger than a woman’s at the same performance level, and the gender gap increased the higher the performance quintile.

Skeptics may argue that women may have less experience than men, may be less productive than men, or may not ask for bonuses. To test these assertions, Professor Castilla conducted a company field study of performance rewards over time. There was no evidence in the company that women or minorities received lower starting salaries than white men within a given job and work unit. However, there was evidence of performance-reward bias. Even with the same performance scores, women and minorities with the same job, work unit, supervisor, and human capital received lower salary increases than white men. This study provides some evidence that in trying to close the gender wage gap, we should really be looking at the processes and outcomes surrounding bonus pay.

The key question in thinking about organizational processes is whether the gender gap exists because of or despite employer meritocratic efforts. What is the alternative to performance-based pay? If we eliminated merit pay, would we see no bias? Or are these results better than what we had under traditional systems?

To answer these questions, Professor Castilla took to the lab. Participants were given a limited budget of $1,000 to distribute among employees in bonuses. In the meritocratic condition, participants were given performance evaluations of each employee and were told that this was the only criterion for distributing bonuses. In the non-meritocratic condition, participants still had access to performance evaluations, but were told that it was up to the manager’s discretion to distribute bonuses. In addition, researchers varied the gender of the employees to be evaluated, who each had equal performance ratings. In the non-meritocratic condition, participants awarded male and female employees about the same level of bonus, with no statistically significant difference (on average, women received about $399 and men received $401). Shockingly, in the meritocratic condition, there was an enormous gender gap in favor of men. Men received about $420 in bonus pay in the meritocratic condition, compared to $374 for women. Professor Castilla calls this the paradox of meritocracy—in an organization that emphasizes meritocracy in its culture, without specific structures or processes in place, bias is even greater.

Demographic inequality persists despite employer merit-based efforts. This finding is consistent with “moral credentialing” – in contexts where people are led to feel unbiased, fair, or objective, they are actually more likely to then behave in biased ways. By making employees feel like they’re working in a meritocracy that strictly evaluates performance, they are more likely to unleash bias. This is true for both male and female study participants distributing bonuses!

Organizational practices and processes matter, and there is unlikely to be only one solution to bias in the workplace. Still, it is critical to investigate which employer practices help to reduce workplace inequality and increase diversity. Professor Castilla undertook one large firm-level study designed to empirically test whether introducing organizational accountability and transparency policies reduced any pay gap based on employee demographics. Performance management at this company was a three-step process: supervisors met with employees once a year to discuss their performance and provide feedback, but were not responsible for setting compensation. This step is characterized by high accountability and transparency: the supervisor is responsible for providing feedback, and the employee has to acknowledge receiving the feedback and register their reaction to it. However, steps two and three are less visible. In step two, compensation is decided at the work unit level, and in step three HR rubber stamps the work unit’s decision. The key intervention here would be to increase accountability and transparency in steps two and three.

The company created a Performance-Reward Committee that Professor Castilla emphasized was a task force in the truest sense of the term: they had a defined task and the force to intervene if they found any evidence of pay discrepancy and bias. Once compensation-setters had to be accountable and visible in terms of their process and outcome, demographic variables played no significant role in bonus pay. Instead, performance ratings became even more statistically significant.

Professor Castilla’s work illustrates some of the critical challenges faced by employers. Meritocracy is harder than it looks! Merit-based efforts can activate implicit bias above and beyond traditional processes. However, Professor Castilla emphasizes, the key lesson here is not “we shouldn’t adopt practices to increase fairness and equity.” Instead, we should pay close attention to implementation, accountability, and transparency.

Read the paper: 

The Paradox of Meritocracy in Organizations 
Authors: Emilio J. Castilla Stephan Benard 
Organizations that emphasize merit-based cultures, while intending to increase opportunities, fairness, and equity, may inadvertently be disadvantaging women.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Women's Career Negotiations: A Workshop

This week at WAPPP, we got a special treat. Professor Hannah Riley Bowles, Senior Lecturer in Public Policy at the Kennedy School and WAPPP’s Research Director, presented some of her work on gender and negotiation. This seminar was a great opportunity to not only hear about cutting-edge gender research, but to begin to apply it to ourselves and our organizations. While the material presented focused mostly on women and career negotiations, Professor Riley Bowles noted that all of this is good advice for men, too. However, many of her insights have special relevance for women as they navigate potential career pitfalls.

Much of the popular literature around negotiation focuses on pay, but there are many more reasons to negotiate in your career. Negotiation can enhance your recognition and rewards, play a key role in seizing opportunities to expand your authority, or be used to overcome barriers or career challenges. In a survey of 364 female executives, 80% reported a recent career negotiation, which casts significant doubt on the idea that “women don’t negotiate.” The most common reason to negotiate was seeking a new position or a leadership opportunity, rather than negotiating compensation.

Interestingly, while white and black women in the sample had the same level of seniority, white women reported significantly higher rates of negotiation. While there is not much data on intersectionality and negotiation, this is an important aspect that deserves greater consideration. It is also important to recognize that career negotiations are a two-level game. Negotiations with employers are contingent on negotiations at home and divisions of household labor that help women succeed in their careers. While most literature focuses on employer/employee negotiations, research suggests that these domestic negotiations have a bigger effect on the gender wage gap.

Ambiguity plays a major role in the negotiation gender gap. In particular, there are three key sources of ambiguity: ambiguity about who is negotiating, ambiguity about how to negotiate, and ambiguity about what is negotiable. When you don’t know much about the person you’re negotiating with, it heightens the potential for stereotypic attribution. You may look for salient cues like gender and be more inclined to use that information the less you know about someone. The question of how to negotiate appears to be particularly impactful for women. When professionals are provided with information about the negotiation norms of a company, we see no gender gap in willingness to negotiate. This gender gap only appears when it’s not clear how, when, or whether to negotiate. Finally, there may be significant ambiguity about what is negotiable and what can be put on the table. This ambiguity increases gender gaps in outcomes and may encourage gender stereotypic distribution of resources.

These three forms of ambiguity are problematic because they open the door for issues stemming from gendered social networks and gender stereotypes. Your social network can have a profound impact on the type and quality of information and advice you receive. Individuals tend to form social networks with people like them—men’s social networks in particular are homogeneous and tend to consist of overlapping work and friendship ties. Women report more diverse work ties, but their friendship ties tend to be concentrated outside of work. A man who reaches out to a male colleague and friend for career advice may get significantly different information than a woman who reaches out to the same colleague.

Gender stereotypes can also significantly affect negotiation performance. Descriptive stereotypes (“the way men/women are…”) can seep into our subconscious and trigger stereotype threat. If women are implicitly reminded that they’re supposedly weaker at negotiating, it may jeopardize their negotiation success. Interestingly, according to Professor Riley Bowles, if you explicitly tell men and women that men do better at negotiation because they’re rational-analytic, men get nervous (because they’re not sure it’s true), women get angry, and the gender gap in negotiation outcomes reverses. Prescriptive stereotypes (the way men/women should be…”) also have a major impact on the gender gap in negotiations. Women incur a much larger social cost for negotiating than men, perhaps because they are perceived as “not very nice,” “too demanding,” or otherwise different from the way women "should be."

However, this social cost does not occur in all areas. Professor Riley Bowles' least favorite question (that she loves to answer) is: does this mean that men should negotiate for women? The answer is a resounding no. In a study where men and women were asked to conduct pay negotiations both on their own behalf and on behalf of others, women were much more effective when advocating for someone else, and in this study vastly outperformed every other group. Men are not better negotiators in all circumstances—women do extraordinarily well on behalf of others, but run into difficult situations when dealing with ambiguity, self-advocacy, or negotiating for pay.

How should we navigate this social liability? Professor Riley Bowles suggests negotiating in ways that are relationship-oriented, so that negotiators are able to get what they want and deal with the social cost. Relational accounts – also known as the I/We Strategy—are one method of doing just that. Negotiators using the I/We Strategy employ legitimate explanations for what they want that are persuasive to their negotiating counterpart while signaling concern for organizational relationships. Rather than saying “I’m overworked and won’t be able to keep up if you don’t hire another person,” say, “This is a strategic opportunity for the company to grow in this area.” Focusing on win-wins and making legitimate concerns transparent are two key ways to reduce the social cost of negotiation.

In closing, Professor Riley Bowles asked us to each think of a current, anticipated, or desired career-related negotiation and to make specific, realistic goals for what we want to achieve. We each received a workbook to guide our preparation. Based on this research, to improve our outcomes we can work to reduce ambiguity and to employ an I/We Strategy. How do you plan to handle your next negotiation?