Women are breaking the glass ceiling and entering higher levels of organizations. To be successful, women need to have the same developmental experiences as men, and both men and women seem to be getting about the same number of developmental experiences. But if this is the case, why are there fewer women than men reaching the very highest levels of the organization?
THE ROLE OF BENEVOLENT SEXISM
The researchers (King et al., 2012) conducted a series of studies in an attempt to answer this question. They found that although the number of developmental experiences is fairly similar between men and women, the types of experiences differ. Men are given more challenging experiences than women are, and this isn’t because women don’t want more challenging experiences. It’s because managers choose to give more challenging developmental experiences to men.
The findings from these studies seem to occur because some managers are benevolently sexist. For example, they may feel that they need to provide for and protect women, but not that they are any better than women. Men who held these beliefs about women tended to provide fewer challenging developmental opportunities to female subordinates, but men who didn’t hold these beliefs more often gave equally challenging opportunities to male and female subordinates. Women, regardless of their beliefs, also generally gave equally challenging opportunities to male and female subordinates.
These findings suggest that women who want to advance need to seek out challenging developmental experiences, because they may not be getting those experiences otherwise. Organizations need to ensure that both men and women are provided with equally challenging developmental opportunities, and managers must understand that even well-meant attitudes toward women may actually be discriminatory.
King, E. B., Botsford, W., Hebl, M. R., Kazama, S., Dawson, J. F., & Perkins, A. (2012). Benevolent sexism at work: Gender differences in the distribution of challenging developmental experiences. Journal of Management, 38, 1835-1866.