Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Effect of Sexism

Slate Magazine Positions of Power: How female ambition is shaped.
By J.D. Nordell

Ask a band of 8-year-olds what they want to be when they grow up, and chances are you'll hear the word famous. According to psychiatrist Anna Fels, author of Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women's Changing Lives, developmental studies of boys and girls show that as children, both sexes have remarkably similar desires for achievement. Both wish for accomplishment requiring work or skill; both desire recognition and honor. But fast-forward 20 or more years, and the reality looks different than the expectations. According to the October issue of Fortune, which highlights "The 50 Most Powerful Women in Business," women account for 35 percent of MBAs but only 2 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. Women now make up 16 percent of congressional seats—and 0 percent of U.S. presidents. So, what happens to the grand ambitions of girlhood? There are three possible answers. The first is that innate differences between the sexes mean that women either don't seek high-risk jobs or don't perform as well at them as men do; many conservatives, for example, have seized on social science studies that suggest women demonstrate an aversion to risk-taking.

The second is that conscious discrimination still exists—that sexism is alive and well in the workplace. In 1998, for example, Mitsubishi paid $34 million to female workers who claimed the company had allowed employees and managers to sexually harass them at its plant in Normal, Ill. The third is that, even though formal barriers to women's workplace advancement have been dismantled, unconscious bias continues to interfere, influencing, for example, awards and honors. Recently, the transsexual neuroscientist Ben Barres, who has worked as both a woman and a man in science, noted that he is treated with more respect and interrupted less frequently now that he is a man. (After one talk, a faculty member was overheard saying, "Ben Barres gave a great seminar today, but then his work is much better than his sister's.") And, of course, unconscious bias may be what accounts for the fact that women still do the majority of housework and child-rearing, making it harder for them to complete effectively in the workplace. Whatever the reality of innate gender differences may prove to be—and we still don't understand very much about it—the presence of unconscious bias has been amply demonstrated. One widely cited study showed that when applying for a research grant, women need to be 2.5 times more productive than men to be judged equally competent. The famous "McKay" study asked subjects to rank comparable academic papers by John T. McKay or Joan T. McKay; the "Joan" papers were ranked about one point lower on a five-point scale than the papers by "John." And since the arrival of "blind" orchestra auditions, in which candidates are evaluated from behind a screen, the percentage of women hired by the top five U.S. orchestras has risen from less than 5 percent to 34 percent. What is pernicious about unconscious bias is not only that it creates specific career obstacles—say, being passed over for a promotion or losing out on a fellowship—but that it has subtler and more far-reaching consequences: It erodes the foundation upon which achievement is built—ambition itself. Ambition depends on a host of factors: confidence, actual skill, and the fuel of external recognition. Studies increasingly show that bias corrupts each of these in turn. In doing so, it doesn't just bar a woman from the corner office, it causes her to take herself out of the running. By the time girls become adults, their ambitions have changed—because they have changed. Ambition is a complex internal drive, and it relies heavily on a belief in one's own potential. "In order to have high aspirations, you have to have a sense of your own competence," says Shelley Correll, a sociologist at Cornell who studies the development of aspirations. Correll has found that, in the presence of a stereotype that men are better, women tend to underrate their own performance, while men overrate their own, regardless of demonstrated ability. "We find that if you compare boys and girls, or men and women, with the same grades in math classes, and the exact same scores on standardized math tests, boys think they are better than girls," she notes. To better understand this phenomenon, Correll devised a study in which male and female undergraduates were told they were "pre-testing" a new set of graduate admissions exams. Half the subjects were told that males had more ability on this test; half were told there was no relationship between gender and ability. (The test was devised in such a way that it was impossible to arrive at the correct answers.) All subjects were given the same score. Correll found that men exposed to the belief that males were superior rated their abilities as higher and expressed greater goals for future related activities; women in this group rated their ability as lower and expressed lower goals. Thus, exposure to a generalization about one's group changes the way one interprets one's own ability—and in turn shapes one's goals for the future. These effects, says Correll, "cumulate over women's lives and result in dramatically different outcomes for men and women." (Caric Note: the psychologist Ronald Steele has found the same affect with racial generalizations) Bias is also shown to shape ability itself. Robert Rosenthal, a sociologist at UCLA, randomly assigned children to different classes, and then told half the classrooms' teachers they had gifted classes and the other half that their students were average. At the end of the year, the "gifted" students scored higher on IQ tests. In other words, if others perceive you as talented, you become more talented. If you are perceived as less able, your ability shrinks. Meanwhile, studies of what psychologists call "stereotype threat" demonstrate that awareness of negative stereotypes about one's group diminishes performance. Toni Schmader, a psychologist at the University of Arizona, conducted a study in which undergraduates were asked to memorize words while doing math; one group was told this was a problem-solving exercise, the other, that this was a test comparing men and women. Women's performance suffered only when they believed they were being compared to men—this prompted the stereotype that men are better in math. Another study examined how stereotype threat affected Asian-American women's performance on math tasks. When subjects were asked questions related to Asian identity before taking the test (prompting the stereotype that Asians are good at math), their performance went up. When asked questions related to gender (prompting the stereotype that women are bad at math), their performance went down. Ambition also depends on recognition. While we like to think of ourselves as unaffected by others' assessments, anyone who's experienced the boosting effect of a sincere compliment knows this isn't true. Notes Fels in Necessary Dreams, studies by psychologists such as Jerome Kagan, Carol Dweck, and Howard Gardner have shown that being recognized enhances learning, motivation, productivity, and self-esteem. As Fels notes, "we sustain effort on projects that maximize present or future affirmation." Recognition, then, is its own perpetual-motion device: It increases drive, which increases achievement, which leads to more recognition. But if, as the study cited above shows, a woman must be 2.5 times as productive to be judged equally competent, she receives that much less recognition for equal productivity—leaving her out of the cycle of recognition and reward. Like an immune disorder, bias attacks from the inside, compromising self-perception and actual ability. It also attacks from the outside, isolating the individual from proper rewards. There are, however, a few silver linings. First, according to Fels, given the right encouragement, ambition can blossom at any time. When individuals experience a burst of achievement or recognition later in life, the full force of childhood ambition seems to return. Second, many of these studies suggest that bias' effects on performance and self-perception are, like a stain, fairly responsive to spot treatment. In Schmader's word-memorization study, a third group was told that exposure to stereotypes might lead women to underperform. In this group, the women and men scored equally well, suggesting that awareness of bias may mitigate its effect. Correll recommends that institutions acknowledge that while bias may exist "out there," this particular organization is a safe place, and provide messages about all individuals' potential—"from the top down." Transparency helps, too: Where there are clear methods of evaluation, women do well. The October issue of Fortune looks at three large American companies with many women at the top and finds that each relies on measurable results to determine advancement, including "empirical standards, clear goals, and frequent reviews." Empirical standards, frequent reviews—sound familiar? Schools do the same thing. In counties around the country, women now account for the majority of valedictorians.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

DancingChef says. . . .

In this blog you say that women’s drive for achievement is no longer as strong as it was when they were young girls, women’s work quality is less than a mans, and that women feel they can not achieve higher than a man. As a woman, I find none of that to hold any truth. Women do not think that way because that is how they view themselves but that is how men view women and men try to instill that view in women. In this blog you mention a transsexual, Ben Barres, who has had the opportunity to be in the workforce as both a man and women. When he was a man he found that he was treated with more respect and did not get interrupted as much. As a woman his work of quality was criticized. Women’s work in the work field may not always be of the highest quality but unlike males, women have a lot more responsibilities beside the work field. Not only are women trying to have a career but the must attend to home as well. In society today women’s work and attention is spread very thinly, while males are not. So since men might have more success in the work field and they may give higher quality of work, work is the only lace that their focus is needed. Since women are stretched in many different areas, sometimes one area must suffer and sometimes that is the drive to achieve in a career; which this case of women going back and forth from traditional (structuralist) to independent (modernism) that were addressed in the reading from Thiele. Women want the best of both worlds.

rodeo8 said...

I agree with all three points, personally I don’t think women attempt at high-risk jobs, partially because they know that there is still unconscious discrimination that still exists and because they feel like no one believes that women can be in high positions and be successful. If you are raised in a society where it is believed that men do a better job in higher positions you are not going to have much faith in yourself to move into a position of leadership in a company. As this study says I believe that it is true, if women know that people believe then they are much more likely to achieve and do better than men. However at the same time, I don’t think that women are just under achievers, I believe that we as a society don’t realize what women really do. In today’s society not many women stay home and just take care of the children like in past times, now women work, take care of the children and the house all at the same time. Now day’s women do way more than they did in recent times, on top of also carrying higher positions in companies. Personally I don’t think women are given enough credit, just because women have not become half the population as Fortune 500 CEO’s does not mean that they are just not cutting it. More women are going to college and graduating college than ever before, it is just a matter of time before a female becomes President, the country is on the upswing and women are on the up rise in the country.

spiegelglanz said...

One could still argue, Anonymous, that your self-awareness in your ability to promote yourself in society is based on your awareness of these stereotypes--as the article points out, the playing field is leveled when the disadvantaged are made aware that the stereotypes imposing on their success are the only hindrance to their success. It's a sort of interesting confidence, just as we gain confidence from praise and self-worth.

The upward mobility of women into roles of success is just as slow as it is for any other disadvantaged group. I, personally, always advocated affirmative action as a kickstart to equality.

But I'm more interested in Anonymous's perspective of women as homemakers. True equality doesn't come from making adjustments so that women can keep the house and raise the children as well as hold a job, it comes from giving women more options than being a housewife. Of course there's nothing wrong with being a housewife, the job can be just as difficult as any other in the book, but saying that women should assume the role based on tradition is just as unhealthy as saying blacks should stay relegated to dead-end jobs and the inner city.

The massive underrepresentation of women in politics and high business is nothing much more than an indication of the progress left to go. Proportional representation shouldn't be a pipe dream, and working to remove the barriers--like discriminatory stereotypes and a general unbalance between the sexes in terms of aptitude for success--is a pretty obvious road to take.

tbugg04 said...

We live in a very sexist world whether or not we like to think about it. People don’t tend to think that we do because they want to think that we have come farther then that. I agree with rodeo8 in saying that I don’t think enough women attempt getting high risk jobs. I in part feel this way because women are not encouraged enough to take these positions. I think that there is still a bit of a mind set floating around that women should be in more traditional jobs rather then CEOs of a company. Also women are still expected to be in charge of the house and children. In a way I think that the burden of the second shift puts up a barrier for women in that it makes it less desirable to want to get high risk jobs. I also don’t think that women are encouraged enough. To me it is not very encouraging to see that there are not many women in high ranking positions. Gender should have no effect on whether or not you get a job just as race should have no effect.
When I read the part about the top U.S. orchestras increasing their percentage of women that were being hired by almost 30 percent I was encouraged. But also at the same time saddened because they had to resort to the use of “blind” auditions rather then already just being “blind” to the candidate’s sex. To me gender inequality is going to be a very had thing to fix because it is at such and individual level.

Hendrix said...

The results of this experiment didnt suprise me oe bit.This goes back to my theory that people who are not treated equal begin to accept their role as being inferior. In Martin Luther King Jr.'s letter in Birmingham jail he says that some black people get tired of fighting against the supressors and they begin to accept their role. I think this is the same for women. Many women today even sell out to make money off of their bodies because I think they feel that is the only way to make a good living.Women wear skimpy clothes and are more inclined to have sex with some one they are not in a relationship with. I think this is because they have accepted that they are not equivalent to a man. In this experiment some women were told that men score higher on these tests and as a result women did worse on the tests than a man. This supports that people who are told that they are less than someone else, begin to believe it and even play that role in society.

In order to overcome this women need to be more encouraged throughout their lives. They need to be told that they can do whatever a man can do. This would make them feel more equal and i think it would show, especially in the work force. it probably wouldn't hurt to teach men that women are not less than them.

retro_liberal said...

Living in Eastern Ky my whole life, sexism has been prevalent all my life. Men have never made much effort to hide their visible sexism here. Often times men rail against women, and put them down. They want to keep them “barefoot and pregnant.” What has this done to the Eastern Ky woman? It’s shaken her, it’s beaten her down almost spiritually, and it has secured her spot as secondary citizen.

No, I’m not surprise by the findings of this study. In fact it only serves to confirm many theories I have held. Women are, and will probably remain to be, as Simone de Beauvoir calls them, “the Other.” Not man, not animal. Just something else entirely; I can only imagine how this affects the psyche of modern day women. We seem to be in a very transitional period in our history. We’re moving from a sexist and racist society to something else. This has been the case for years, but, I fear that perhaps the female of my generation may pay a hefty price for this transition.

Not quite accepted as being equal, yet urged to throw off the cloak of the “Ideal Feminine” today’s woman may have to face a severe identity crisis. A prime example is Hilary Clinton, the first serious female challenger to the Presidency. Many of my friends label her as a “bitch” because she exudes confidence and leadership qualities. Others chastise her as being lesbian because she doesn’t foster an image of ideal feminism. Personally, I hope she wins the Presidency and shows that a woman can be an effective leader, and equal to man.

clintbanks said...

I fail to think of any stereotype that isn't based in some form of reality. They may not all be true, but you can see how people arise there based on certain facts. Eastern Kentuckians being poor, Jewish people being rich and cheap, all have some historical context that they can be viewed in.
Women not being ambitious is more than likely based on some sort of biological or evolutionary facet in which it was not beneficial for females to be ambitious.
Now the rules have changed and it is just as beneficial for women to be ambitious (as far as power positions), but how much are we a slave to out biology and history?
It's a tough call. There seems to be some evidence that female feelings of inferiority cause them to be liess ambitious or perform sub-par. Where do these feelings come from though, are they innate in human nature or a construct of society that happened by chance.
I am of the feeling that if everyone on the earth was wiped out and populated by children unaffected by the modern world they would probably do certain things, like invent language. Have sex. But there is no doubt that there would also be sexism, racism, war. (Taken from Matt Ridley). I don't see it as a happenchance event in our history that males became powerful, but almost determined. Many things can be done to try to relieve the feelings of inferiority, but I would argue that they are hard wired and cannot be ignored.

kingkong said...

I think that sexism still exist even in the workplace. I'm sure I don't think it is as bad as it used to be but I think it still exists. To be honest my friends and I make sexist jokes when we are around some of our close girl friends because the jokes are pretty funny and our close girlfriends know we are totally joking and they go along with it. I'm not saying that is a good thing to do, make jokes about it but I'm just saying that I think sexism still goes on.

Also the studies they talked about in the article that talked about people doing better on test because people told them they were better by encouraging them is definitely true. I think that even if someone is being sexist towards women that if a woman has motivation and can block out what other people say then they can do what they want. That goes for men too. I mean I guess this doesn’t really apply if a woman or a man doesn’t get a job because of their gender. But honestly in that case it would really just suck that an employer would base their decision on hiring somebody on a person’s gender. I mean I would be pretty pissed if I didn't get hired for my gender but I guess I would just go find a new job. I think that sexism still exist and that’s a pretty horrible thing to say but if people can get motivation and block out what people say and ignore the sexism comments or jokes then they will be fine.