Study: Advising women to 'lean in' misses the mark
- Harvard Business Review (HBR) concluded from the results of a recent study that women's behavior doesn't keep them from advancing on the job — different treatment does. The conclusion is based on an experiment in which women and men at a company were tracked by digital communication and sensor technology throughout the course of their workday.
- Before conducting the experiment, researchers hypothesized that women didn't have the same access (whether self-imposed or not) to mentors, managers or senior leadership, according to HBR. But when researchers analyzed the data, they found no noticeable differences between women and men's work experiences. Women had the same number of associates, spent as much time with senior leaders, earned the same performance ratings and used their time the same way as men in similar roles. Also, the time spent online, in focused work and in face-to-face communication was the same for women and men.
- Researchers concluded that a disparity in promotion rates at the company was due not to women's behavior but how they were treated. "This indicates that arguments about changing women’s behavior — to 'lean-in,' for example — might miss the bigger picture: Gender inequality is due to bias, not differences in behavior," researchers concluded.
As HBR concluded, bias is responsible for gender inequality. Decision makers and those in power sometimes suggest that certain categories of people aren't advancing because of their own failings. In many cases, biased views and lower expectations of women, people of color and other under-represented groups in the workplace are barriers to their career growth and promotion into leadership positions.
Caregiving responsibilities, the burden of which falls largely on women, are considered one of the reasons women aren't advancing at the same rate or level as men. Employers can assist caregivers by offering paid time off, rearranging work schedules and providing caregiving resources and referrals. But until bias is removed as an underlying cause, benefits designed to support families and create work-life balance won't have a positive long-term effect on women's careers.
HR can use data results like HBR's to gauge biased treatment of employees in their organizations. HR will have to get buy-in from management though, because an unbiased mindset starts at the top, with the C-suite.