It is known that women often have more difficulties in the labor market than men. There are many reasons, including stereotypes about women, other standards for the evaluation of men and women, condescending treatment of women by men, male solidarity in the work environment and lack of feminine solidarity, women’s unbelief in their skills, motherhood… (1)
it all affects the so-called glass ceiling, or a barrier that makes it difficult for women to get promoted. It is an invisible barrier – it is not influenced by any legal regulations, but stereotypes, different treatment of men and women and similar factors.
In my annual work, written at the Faculty of Psychology of the University of Warsaw in Poland, I focused on the factors that people explain the successes and failures of men and women.
Previous studies on this subject have shown that people approach men and women’s successes differently. US research (2) has shown that the success of men in the “masculine” task is translated to a greater degree with abilities than luck, and the success of women to a greater extent with luck than with abilities. In a typically “feminine” task, however, there is no reverse dependence. In the “feminine” task there were no differences between the assessment of women’s success and the success of men. In general, regardless of the type of task, men were perceived as more capable than women.
Similar results were shown by studies on Germans and Spaniards (3). In this study, success of women working in the male industry was more likely to be attributed to external factors than internal factors, and success of women who work in the female industry was more likely to be explained by internal factors. However, the successes of men were attributed to internal factors regardless of the industry in which they worked. In this study, the following were adopted as internal factors: abilities, correspondence between person and position and sex, and as external: happiness, decision of the superior, the need for changes in personnel.
In the study, in which the reasons for the successes of doctors who had or did not have a father who was a doctor, were assessed (4), the respondents generally perceived women as more motivated to work than men. The success of a woman who had a doctor father was more often seen as a result of luck than the success of a woman who did not have a father working as doctor. In the case of men, their success was attributed to luck as often, regardless of whether he had a doctor father or not. Differences were also found between the perception of success by men and women.
All of the above studies tested only the difference between the assessment of women and men. In my study, I have added the variable being a parent or not.
The respondents read a story about a person working in the male industry who either promoted (success) or lost a job (failure). The employee was either a man or a woman and had children or not. Each subject read only one of all eight stories.
Then the respondents answered questions that checked the text. Those who incorrectly answered the question about the gender of the employee, whether they have children or whether they were promoted, were rejected. Out of 420 people, 350 people were analyzed.
Then, the respondents were asked to rate on a 7-point scale to what extent, according to them, each of the following factors contributed to the employee’s performance:
In the conditions of success:
- high competence of the employee
- high diligence
- personality traits of the employee
- low difficulty of tasks
- cooperation of other people in the department
- high experience
- gentle superior
- help from other employees
In the conditions of failure:
- low employee competence
- low diligence
- personality traits of the employee
- high difficulty of tasks
- bad luck
- lack of cooperation of other people in the department
- little experience
- exigent superior
- no help from other employees
Finally, the respondents filled in the scale of ambivalent sexism, which measures the intensity of benevolent sexism and hostile sexism. Benevolent sexism is the belief that women are sensitive, gentle, that they need to be looked after and adored, while hostile sexism reveals the opinion that women often use their femininity to gain power over men.
It turned out that, in general, successes are attributed more often to internal factors (high competence, high diligence and personality traits) than external factors (low task difficulty, luck, cooperation of other people in the department, mild treatment by the superior and help from other employees) – by both women as well as men and women’s successes as well as men’s successes. After the results of previous studies, which I described above, other results could be expected. The employee in my story worked in the automotive – “male” industry. According to previous studies, men should therefore explain women’s successes more often by external than internal factors. It turned out, however, that all the successes of all are explained more often by internal factors than by external factors.
Studies have also shown that hostile sexism is more intense in men than women, while benevolent sexism is just as intense in women and men. Sexism, both benevolent and hostile, correlates more with the attribution of external than internal factors. This is a positive correlation, meaning statistically, the more sexist one is, the more he/she explains the results of work at external factors.
In addition, research has shown that:
- in general, the failures of childless women are more attributed to minor experience than the failure of childless men,
- women attribute successes of childless women to a greater degree of gentle treatment by the superior than the successes of mothers,
- men, the successes of childless men attribute to a greater extent to the low difficulty of tasks and gentle treatment by the superior than the successes of fathers,
- women, fathers’ successes attribute more to external factors than successes of mothers (the biggest difference in the case of luck),
- women, the failures of men without children attribute more to bad luck than failures of women without children (this is the most important difference from the above),
- there are no differences between the evaluation of the successes of childless women and the success of childless men, the failure of mothers and the failure of childless women, the failure of fathers and the failure of men without children, mothers’ failures and the failures of fathers.
As you can see, there are more differences in the grades given by women. The only difference in the surveyed male gender is the difference compared to the childless men and the fathers. If a childless man is successful, men more often think that it is the result of easy tasks that they had to perform and gentle treatment by the superior than if the father succeeded. A similar difference is in women. If a childless woman is successful, women more often think that this is a result of gentle treatment by the superior than if the mother succeeds. You can also see that if the father is successful, women more often explain it with external factors than if the mother succeeds. Men do not see women in this way. There is no difference between them how they judge the successes of fathers and mothers. On the other hand, if a childless man suffers a failure, women more often explain it because they were unlucky than women without children.
The results of the study also show some differences between the ratings of female respondents and male respondents in specific conditions:
In red, I marked the results indicating prejudices against the opposite sex and green indicates prejudices against one’s gender. As you can see, both men are prejudiced against women and women against men and certain data suggest that even women against fathers are more prejudiced than men towards mothers? In general, however, the results of the research are more optimistic than one might think from other publications on the subject. Only certain partial results, in some conditions, indicate some prejudices. In general, respondents definitely more often explained successes with internal factors than external factors, regardless of gender.
- Bogusława Budrowska, Danuta Duch-Krzysztoszek, Anna Titkow (2003) Szklany sufit: bariery i ograniczenia karier polskich kobiet. Raport z badania. Wyd. Instytut Spraw Publicznych.
- Kay Deaux, Tim Enswiller (1974) Explanations of successful performance on sex-linked tasks: What is skill for the male is luck fot the female, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 29 (1), 80-85
- Rocio Garcia-Retamero, Esther Lopez-Zafra (2009) Causal attributions about feminine and leadership roles: A cross-cultural comparison, Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 40 (3), 492-509
- Shirley Feldman-Summers, Sara B. Kiesler (1974) Those who are number two try harder: The effect of sex on attributions of causality, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 30 (6), 846-855