November 7, 2012
Researchers have previously demonstrated that approximately half of the pay gap between men and women (women earn about 20% less) is due to women having a tendency to work in different occupations and industries than men, a phenomenon called “gender segregation.” But what causes this gender segregation?
Wharton management professor Matthew Bidwell and Roxana Barbulescu, a management professor at McGill University in Montreal, decided to find out and what they uncovered is that negative employer behavior isn’t the only cause of gender segregation. “How women view the employment landscape even before starting the job application process” can lead them to choose different jobs than their male counterparts, thus further promoting gender segregation.
In their paper titled, “Do Women Choose Different Jobs From Men? Mechanisms of Application Segregation in the Market for Managerial Workers,” Bidwell and Barbulescu analyzed data on 1,255 men and women entering the job market after graduating from a large, elite, one-year international MBA program. While this group might not be typical of the population at large, the authors noted that, “studying MBA students is particularly valuable for exploring segregation into some of the best-paid and most influential jobs in society, which are the kinds of jobs in which women have traditionally been under-represented.”
The researchers surveyed the MBA students as to their job interests at the beginning of the program and then at the end so they could discover the kinds of jobs for which they applied, from where the students received offers, and the jobs they ultimately accepted. What they found was that “women were significantly less likely to apply to Wall Street-type finance jobs, somewhat less likely to apply to consulting jobs, and more likely to apply to jobs in general management, most notably internal finance and marketing.”
Further research revealed three factors influenced job search decisions:
- Applicants’ preferences for specific rewards from their jobs, such as pay or schedule flexibility
- The ability of applicants to identify with particular kinds of jobs
- The applicants’ expectations that they would obtain the job if they applied for it
For example, Bidwell and Barbulescu found females were significantly less likely than men to apply for positions where work/life satisfaction ranked low and women tended to apply for positions in industries that employed higher percentages of women. At the beginning of the MBA program, women were just as confident as their male counterparts that they would receive a job offer in whatever fields they applied – except in investment banking.
However, when women did apply, they were just as likely to get the investment banking job as the men. This is because women’s expectation of obtaining a job in the traditionally male dominated investment banking world, with its macho image, impacted whether or not they applied because of their lowered expectation of actually getting a position. Stated Bidwell, “Women just didn’t think they would get jobs there, so they didn’t apply.”
What Bidwell and Barbulescu’s research also demonstrates is the difficulty in bringing about changes in a society still fraught with gender role perceptions. “If you tell employers to stop discriminating [against women], it doesn’t mean you will end up with greater access for women to better, higher-paying jobs. Instead, it’s about changing perceptions of culture,” Bidwell advised.
Actions Bidwell and Barbulescu recommend as ways employers can decrease the gender segregation phenomenon:
- Implement practices that reduce conflicts between work and family demands (examples from Lisa: promote flexible work schedules, provide access to daycare, promote a Results-Only Work Environment, etc.).
- Change the way jobs are structured/described and roles/behaviors enacted to make them gender neutral. Jobs should de-emphasize masculine and feminine stereotypical attributes. Application and hiring information should be gender neutral.
- Make it easier for women to work in male-dominated companies/industries by adapting working styles to allow women (and men) to accommodate family demands.
Bottom line: To decrease workplace gender segregation and thus help women obtain higher paying jobs will take proactive attention and actions from employers, as Bidwell and Barbulescu pointed out. However, it also requires women to educate themselves and other women on how their perceptions of jobs and lowered expectations of getting hired in certain positions (such as in male-dominated industries or traditionally male-dominated jobs) could actually be sabotaging careers and keeping them from the higher paying jobs they desire.
Women need to train themselves and other women to remove the imaginary perception barriers and see themselves as capable of succeeding in any job. To accomplish this, women should define their career goals, determine the knowledge, education, and experience necessary, and then go after their career dreams – no matter what the industry or job.
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