Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Beyond the Glass Ceiling

Today my friend sent me a link to Boys Clubs Tumblr – a visual collection of “the corners of the world where women have yet to tread.” It is mind-boggling how much progress we still have to make in closing gender gaps.

At WAPPP Seminars this year we discussed some of these “corners of the world.” There are the overwhelmingly male corporate boards, the merely 18 female CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, and the female stock brokers earning less than their male peers. But we also heard about female leaders helping their countries address inter-group conflict, female professors inspiring young women to pursue STEM careers, and the women mobilizing their communities for land rights. 

In the final seminar of the academic year, Professor Matt Huffman, of the UC Irvine Sociology Department and the Paul Merage School of Business, brought research to bear on another question – do women managers change the workplace itself?

There is some evidence that female managers do close gender gaps among their employees. One study found that wage gaps were smaller inlocal U.S. industries with many high-status females. Two other studies explored gender segregation and found that female managers increased female hiring and gender integration in the California savings and loan industry and in California’s state agencies.

Huffman set out to study these phenomena on a much larger scale, using Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s data. EEO-1 reports, which are filed by all “medium and large” firms under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, amount to a set of longitudinal workplace data spanning decades. Each report breaks out the managerial and non-managerial occupations at a specific work site and reports on the number of women and racial minorities in each category. Because the work sites are identified by name and address, the individual files are confidential and only available to a handful of researchers. For Huffman, this presents a goldmine for empirical analysis, complete with information on industry types, organization sizes, and other potential control variables.

Since the data did not include wages, instead of focusing on wage gaps, Huffman decided to study organizational segregation – a measure of how evenly men and women were distributed across the non-managerial categories in the organization. Using regression analysis on 1975, 1986, 1995 and 2005 data, he demonstrated that organizations with a higher percentage of women in management positions were less gender-segregated in the non-managerial ranks.

Though the most recent work places were generally far less gender-segregated than the older cohorts, even without female managers, the pattern across all four points in time was similar – higher percentage of female managers meant more integrated subordinates. In other words, breaking up the boys' club at the top, helped break the barriers among departments and functional areas below. 

Huffman ran a series of other analyses to pinpoint aspects of the workplace context that amplified or diminished the gender-integrating effect of female managers on their organizations. He found that managerial formalization and company growth were both conducive to the gender integrating effect of female managers. Perhaps it is because formal structures can give women more access to power than a loose work environment might. It may also be because a female manager in a growing organization has more opportunities to hire people, altering the gender balance of her workforce.

Why does gender diversity and gender integration matter? First, women bring unique lived experiences to the workplace, and given that women are also half of the consumers, it is prudent to include their perspectives in developing and selling products and services. (Maybe if the Apple Inc. team added some women, someone would have thought that iPad could be a bit of an awkward name...). Second, companies with more female leaders make more money and women executives make venture-backed companies more successful, despite the fact that the venture capital world is still decidedly a boys club

Finally, gender equality is the just and the smart thing to do, which is why WAPPP's work closing gender gaps in economic opportunity, political participation, health and education is so important.

Anya Malkov is an MPP candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School, a WAPPP Cultural Bridge Fellow, and an alumna of From Harvard Square to the Oval Office.

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