Even in 2017, when more and more women enter historically male-dominated fields, archaic notions of what counts as “men’s work” or “women’s work” continue to persist in many workplace environments. A recent article in The Globe and Mail covers a study that shows how gender stereotypes hurt both men and women at work, and it particularly hurts employees in new fields.
Jobs in new industries are considered to be more gender-neutral than older professions, but gendered perceptions still take hold in these new roles. Using data from a microfinance bank in Central America, Laura Doering and Sarah Thébaud examine how initial interactions with either a man or woman in a gender-ambiguous position shape future perceptions of that role. They find that a client’s initial interaction with a male or female loan manager shaped their perceptions of the entire position as more masculine or feminine. As Doering points out,
“For example, if we first encounter a man in a new or gender-balanced job, we begin to associate the job with masculine stereotypes.”
Clients not only quickly attach gendered perceptions to the position, but are more likely to comply with the demands of the male rather than female managers. However, if the borrower first encounters a woman in the management position, they attribute less authority to the next manager, regardless of gender. As for ways to combat this bias, the authors suggest that one possible solution is an endorsement from a high-status employee among the presence of clients or other colleagues. Doering concludes,
“Such endorsements from high-status individuals can nudge clients and other employees toward more equitable treatment of workers in female-typed roles.”