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Gender at Work

A Social Psychological Perspective


Melanie C. Steffens and Ma. Àngels Viladot

While many women receive equal education, such equality is nowhere in sight when it comes to women’s and men’s career success: men still earn significantly more than women and are more likely to be promoted. In this book, the authors offer a state of the art review of applied social-psychological research on gender at work, shedding light on all the different ways that work-related perceptions, attributions, outcomes, and the like differ for women and men. Focusing on domains (e.g., engineering) and positions (e.g., leadership) that are marked by women’s underrepresentation, the first part of the book looks at gender at work in terms of stereotypes, attitudes, and social roles, including parenthood, while the second part takes a social identity and communication perspective, exploring the situations in which men and women interact at work. Many chapters focus on applied questions, such as career choice, effects of role models, and sexual harassment at work. Theories and findings are applied to these topics, with conclusions and recommendations drawn throughout the book.
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Chapter 6. Gender Differences


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Social-psychological research on differences between women and men has a long tradition (see, e.g., Deaux, 1984, for an early review). In part, this is due to the “convenience of using sex as a variable in analysis” (Deaux, 1985, p. 56). However, as Deaux also pointed out, an atheoretical or even opportunistic search for gender differences is not very fruitful. What have we explained if we know that the fact of whether someone is male or female is related (typically in some small way) to some psychological outcome? A person’s gender “serves only as a gross marker” (Deaux, 1984, p. 108). What we want to know is what underlies such a difference, psychologically. Nevertheless, for practical rather than theoretical purposes, it could be informative to know, for example, whether vocational interests of women and men differ (even if the search for answers will probably yield underlying psychological factors). Therefore, in this context, what we are interested in are responses to the question of whether there are differences in abilities, interests, and behavior between women and men that may explain gender segregation at work (i.e., why men and women end up in very different occupations).

Before turning to differences between women and men, two words of caution are necessary to avoid misinterpretations. First, as pointed out earlier, ← 71 | 72 → gender distributions overlap largely, and gender differences are comparatively small. Men and women are much more similar than different in most social-psychological aspects, particularly those related...

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