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How a ‘nurturing nature’ holds some women back

Wednesday, November 6, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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By Sarah Veit

The Network’s just released "Women 2020" report says that women as well as men "need to consistently challenge society’s gender stereotypes” to achieve cultural — and workplace — transformation.

Independent research supports this view: The way women perceive themselves and define success has a major impact on their career trajectories.

Women who see themselves as more caring may choose to compete less in the workplace than men, according to "How Competitive Are Female Professionals? A Tale of Identify Conflict,” a study by C. Bram Cadsby, Maroš Servátka and Fei Song published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.

Challenged by society’s gender stereotypes, many women suffer from an identity conflict — ambitious professional vs. nurturing caregiver — when competing with work colleagues, according to the study of MBA students at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. Men’s professional identities, researchers found, reinforce their gender role.

"Stereotypes are learned early in life, become part of one’s cultural understanding and are internalized as personal beliefs and values,” Song said. "Such stereotypes are likely closely related to the differing levels of competitiveness exhibited on average by men and women.”

In an experiment, the MBA students were asked to perform a task for which they would be rewarded with a substantial amount of money if they performed well. They could choose to be compensated according to their performance or by how they performed against three of their peers. Before the task, the subjects were asked questions of either a professional nature or relating to gender and family. A control group was asked neutral questions.

The result: The priming questions had no effect on performance, but women answering the professional questions were more willing to participate in the competitive pay scheme than the women who were primed with questions about gender and family. Priming did not have this effect on the male MBA students.

"These results suggest that life-cycle events such as marriage, pregnancy and parenthood could have very substantial and long-lasting effects on the activation of family identities with their consequent effects on attitudes toward competition,” Cadsby said. "The decision to avoid or minimize competition made by many women in professional careers may be driven not by lack of ability, but rather by the increased salience of gender/family identity, based on stereotypical beliefs, attitudes and ideals over time.”

Family and gender roles also pay a big part in the way women perceive their own success, according to a survey of 5,300 working women in 13 countries by LinkedIn and Cross-Tab. Asked to define "success,” 45 percent said success meant "earning a high salary,” down from 56 percent five or 10 years ago. More than 60 percent defined "success” as "finding the right balance between work and life,” up from 39 percent five or 10 years ago.

The survey, "What Women Want @ Work,” asked the age-old question: Can women have it all — a fulfilling career, relationship and children? Seventy-four percent said, "Yes.” More than 40 percent of women said they are career-focused, but plan to switch gears when they have children.

Professional challenges cited by the women ranged from lack of a clear career path (51 percent) and lack of investment in professional development (47 percent), to inequality in pay (44 percent), juggling family life (44 percent) and lack of a mentor or role model (33 percent).

More than half of working mothers (53 percent) said they love their children and career equally. One-fourth said they love their children, but could never be a stay-at-home mom and 22 percent said they love their job but would be a stay-at-home mom if they could.

Sarah Veit is a writer and editor and an MBA candidate at Rutgers Business School in Newark, N.J., with concentrations in marketing and global business.

Views expressed in signed blogs and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and sponsors.

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