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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 8. Maintaining Social Hierarchies


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Group-based oppression is pervasive. In most societies, there are social groups that have more access to power, status, and material well-being and other groups that experience stigma and hardship (Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth, & Malle, 1994; Pratto et al., 1997). In other words, there are dominant and oppressed groups. An example that easily comes to mind is the former apartheid system in South Africa. Similarly, if Blacks are disadvantaged as compared to Whites in the United States, and foreigners are discriminated against in Germany, the same mechanisms are at work. With regard to gender, all societies in the world are unequal (see numbers provided in the Introduction). Most people value equality and justice, which are also embedded in Western countries’ constitutions and laws. Given striking examples of injustice, one could imagine an uproar or even a revolution—or at least the implementation of immediate and strong interventions against such inequalities. Isn’t it strange that this does not happen?

To explain how hierarchical societies are maintained through social and psychological processes, social dominance theory was developed (Sidanius & Pratto, 1999). As the theory states, if there are widely accepted ideologies within societies that legitimize discrimination, intergroup conflict is minimized and intergroup relations are smooth (Pratto et al., 1994). Moral and ← 105 | 106 → intellectual justifications for inequalities in power, status, and privilege among groups in a given social system serve to stabilize that system (Sidanius et al., 1994). For example, if there is consensus in a...

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