18, 2013 – New Orleans – When mom is the boss at home, she may
have a harder time being the boss at work. New research suggests that
women, but not men, become less interested in pursuing workplace
power when they view that they are in control of decision-making in
the home. This shift in thinking affects career choices without women
even being aware.
"Women don’t know that they are backing
off from workplace power because of how they are thinking about their
role at home,” says Melissa Williams of Emory University. "As a
result, women may make decisions such as not going after a
high-status promotion at work, or not seeking to work full time,
without realizing why,” explains Williams who will be presenting
her findings today at the Society of Personality and Social
Psychology (SPSP) annual meeting in New Orleans.
new study is one of several at the SPSP meeting that will explore a
continued gender gap in workplace power – from how women versus men
view their roles in the home to how gender stereotypes form at a
young age to how these attitudes affect women's likelihood of
pursuing careers in science and math. "Even
as we see great gains made by women in the workforce, we continue to
also see disproportionately larger numbers of women leaving
successful careers, or diverting their career paths to ones with
fewer hours and greater flexibility, but that also hold less status,”
says Bernadette Park of the University of Colorado Boulder.
women rule at home
often speak about
women as being decision-making experts or powerholders in the home
setting – for example, expecting that men will defer to their
wives’ decisions regarding clothing. But while people intend these
references to be complimentary to women, Williams says, "such
language may have a negative effect on the decisions they make about
their lives outside the home, without them being aware of it.”
test this effect, Williams and colleagues first surveyed people to
gauge their views of power in household decisions-making. Both men
and women perceived power over household decisions as being desirable
and making a person feel powerful.
They then asked men and
women aged 18 to 30 years old to imagine that they were married and
had a child in one of three conditions: either they make many of the
decisions; they make decisions together with their spouse; or they
perform most of the household tasks with no mention of household
decision-making power. Women were less interested in pursuing work
goals when they had household power, compared to sharing equal power
with a spouse. Men’s interest in work goals, however, was
unaffected by their household power.
Also, women’s interest
in workplace power did not change simply by imagining that they were
performing household tasks. "It is only when such tasks are
described as involving power that they negatively affect women’s
motivation to pursue workplace power,” Williams says. "We think
this is because referring to women’s household role as one
involving power puts a positive spin on women’s traditional role on
the home, and makes it seem more appealing.”
is one thing for a woman to choose to stay at home if she wishes her
primary role be that of wife and mother,” Williams says. "But
when the language we use to talk about household chores makes such a
role unconsciously more appealing to women, without the same effect
on men, this is not what most people think of as making a free
When mom and
have some even more basic obstacles to overcome when working at both
home and in the workplace. According
to new study, women experience conflict in managing their identities
as a parent and a worker at the same time, much more so than men.
basic premise of this research is that cultural stereotypes of the
'ideal mom' conflict with stereotypes of the 'ideal worker' and in
particular the 'ideal professional,' says Park of the University of
Colorado Boulder. "In contrast, for men, successfully fulfilling
the role of professional in part also fulfills obligations associated
with the 'ideal dad,'” such as being a provider and being decisive.
"For women, the identities of mom and professional are experienced
in opposition or conflict with one another in a way that dad and
professional are not for men.”
and colleagues measured how easily women and men associate themselves
with career versus family goals through a series of "implicit”
association tests that measure how quickly people categorize words
within the two goal domains. They found that women often had to
"switch hats” in thinking about parenting versus work,
while men primarily associated themselves with just work.
also found that women performed more poorly on cognitive tasks after
experiencing shifts in how they associate with these two identities,
but not before. Men showed no such depletion of cognitive capacities.
The researchers further found that when women received negative
feedback related to a career-related task, they would more strongly
"activate” their identity as a parent, "as if easing the sting
of the failure,” Park says.
data together suggest that "one of the greatest challenges faced by
women in trying to 'have it all' is that they experience a
psychological conflict in their most basic identities not true of
men,” Park says. "Mentally, they have to shift back and forth
between self-conceptions of self-as-mom versus self-as-professional
and these two selves do not reside easily next to each other.”
children follow what you do not what you say
when women work full-time, they often still shoulder a
disproportionate amount of domestic responsibilities at home. This
division of labor can fundamentally change how children view their
gender roles, even if parents teach their children to be egalitarian,
according to new research.
it comes to learning gender roles, actions and implicit attitudes
might speak louder than words,” says
Toni Schmader of the University of British Columbia. "Parents
pride themselves on teaching their kids that they can be anything
they want to be. However, parents’ own behavior and entrenched
cultural associations continue to reinforce more traditional gender
at male and female children between the ages of 7 and 13 and dads and
moms, all in heterosexual cohabiting relationships, the researchers,
led by Schmader and graduate student Alyssa Croft, tested implicit
attitudes toward men and women in the workplace versus home. They
also asked their parents about their paid work hours and relative
contribution to domestic tasks at home and asked children about
preferences for gender-stereotypical toys, shows, and future roles or
researchers found that regardless of whether parents explicitly
endorsed gender-egalitarian roles, if their actual behaviors modeled
a more traditional division of household labor, their children –
especially their daughters – preferred more gender-typical toys, TV
shows, and future occupations.
also found that women performed more of the domestic tasks at home,
even after controlling for fewer hours spent at work compared to men.
"Looking specifically at parents who work full-time, we saw that
women still reported doing nearly twice as much of the domestic work
as men do,” Schmader says. "In line with these trends, both
parents and kids tended to associate women more than men with
childcare and domestic work.”
they found that fathers' stereotypical beliefs and behavior are
particularly important for their daughters' identities. "Girls
might develop ideas of what is possible for them by the kind of roles
their fathers seem to expect from women in general and their moms
more specifically,” Schmader says.
When girls see a new image of
we often see the largest under-representation of women is in the area
of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). In a new study,
making girls feel welcome in computer science and changing their
stereotypes about the subject dramatically increased their interest
in the field.
is a critical stage at which to recruit more females into these
fields as they begin to make career-relevant decisions, yet gender
differences in attitudes toward computing are already evident during
this period,” says Sapna Cheryan of the University of Washington.
Therefore, Cheryan and colleagues sought to change prevailing
cultural stereotypes of computer scientists to see how it affected
showed high-school students photos of
two introductory computer science classrooms, one that contained
highly stereotypical objects (e.g., Star Trek posters) and one that
did not (e.g., nature posters). They told students
that both courses covered the same material, had the same amount of
homework, a male teacher, and a 50:50 gender proportion. Students
rated their interest and their "sense
of belonging” in both courses. With a stereotypical classroom, the
girls' interest in the course was lower than the boys’ interest,
but with the non-stereotypical class, it increased to the same level.
Boys' interest did not change as a result of the stereotypes.
a low-cost approach for countering stereotypes of science as geeky
and male-oriented can increase
sense of belonging and get them more interested in this field without
harming boys in the process, Cheryan says.
girls to enter technological fields is critical for ensuring
participation in, and contributions to, cutting-edge
conference on this research "How
Stereotypes Shape Women's Identities
and Careers” took place Jan. 18, 2013, at the SPSP annual meeting.
More than 3,400 scientists are in attendance at the meeting in New
Orleans from Jan. 17-19 (http://www.spspmeeting.org).
SPSP promotes scientific
research that explores how people think, behave, feel, and interact.
The Society is the largest organization of social and personality
psychologists in the world (http://www.spsp.org/).
M.P. Munoz, SPSP Public Information Officer
Williams, Emory University
Park, University of Colorado
Schmader, University of British
Cheryan, University of Washington