Female bosses judged more harshly than male counterparts for being insensitive, disrespectful

Posted on October 5, 2016

In a new study in the Journal of Applied Psychology explores the way that female managers are appraised when they treat others unjustly. The research suggests that while the sexes are treated even-handedly when they commit certain injustices, there are some things we still can't abide from a woman.

140 undergraduates (two thirds women, majority White or Asian) to appraise a male or female manager based on feedback from the manager’s subordinates. Participants were shown high ratings of the manager’s work skills, and some brief accounts of memorable workplace episodes, which were either benign or included a description of an office overhaul where the manager reallocated workspaces in a way that many staff felt was unjust.

For some participants, this injustice was in the form of the manager acting inconsistently throughout the process and relying too heavily on their own opinions. Participants understandably frowned on this, rating the manager’s overall job performance as lower and suggesting they were less deserving of rewards like a promotion or bonus. These managerial behaviours are the hallmark of “procedural injustice” – essentially, doing things unfairly and without sticking to agreed methods. What’s important here is that the participants frowned upon these infractions with equal intensity, whether they were committed by a male or female manager.

So far, so egalitarian, but a hazard was waiting in the grass. When participants read about staff complaining that the manager had been unjust in another way, by being disrespectful and ignoring the individual’s preferences, the punishments they chose for female managers were significantly harsher than those they chose for male managers, in terms of lower performance ratings and fewer recommendations for rewards. The same effect was found in a replication using a larger sample (464 participants) of workers with an average of 14 years experience: they treated female and male bosses equivalently for procedural infractions, but chose to punish women more for interpersonal offenses.

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Source material from British Psychological Society

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