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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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Part II: Social Identities, Communication, and Gender


Communication is an everyday activity that is intertwined with human life as a whole so thoroughly that sometimes we overlook its importance and complexity. Every aspect of our daily life depends on communication with others (Giles, 2012; Giles, Reid, & Harwood, 2010). This includes messages from people we do not even know. Much research in organizational psychology has dealt with communication problems between women and men at work as essentially an “interpersonal” phenomenon (Tajfel, 1982), a phenomenon that is mainly influenced by people’s personal characteristics and preferences when they interact. According to this view, people are isolated from the social context, and social interaction is treated as a simple relationship between people (Coates & Johnson, 2001).

Thus, problems of miscommunication (Coupland, Giles, & Wiemann, 1991) in the workplace due to gender were considered as alleged personal shortcomings. Therefore, solutions based on individual education and training were emphasized: Women should be taught to communicate in a more appropriate manner (e.g., to communicate like men or use strategies that do not contradict established standards of workplace communication). Men were ← 155 | 156 → taught to avoid undesirable sexist behaviors and were punished if they did not comply (e.g., threatened with loss of promotions and even with lawsuits).

However, if we approach gender interactions in the workplace as a strictly interpersonal phenomenon, we overlook key pieces of the puzzle (Boggs & Giles, 1999). Examining the social context in the workplace where problems occur, we find evidence that the dynamics of communication...

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