Follow me on Twitter

Blog archive

We Participate In:

ABA Journal Blawg 100!

Subscribe to The Jury Room via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


Female bosses can lower a man’s pay & prestige

Wednesday, July 27, 2011
posted by Rita Handrich

When you see a picture of Tammy Wynette on our blog, you know it’s time for another installation of “sometimes it’s hard to be a woman”. This time we have new research on how a female boss in a traditionally male job can lower her male subordinate’s salary as well as his prestige. How can this be studied? Read on.

Research participants were assigned to read a written vignette about a workplace assistant, his or her supervisor and the type of work they performed. In half of the vignettes, the supervisor was either a male construction site supervisor or a female human resources supervisor. (Traditional gender assignment to the supervisory roles.) In the other half the genders of the supervisors were reversed so that the construction site supervisor was female and the human resources supervisor was male. (Non-traditional gender assignment to the supervisory roles.)

After reading the vignettes, the research participants were asked about how much status, power or independence they believed the assistant deserved in a future job and how much of a salary they would pay to the assistant (be they male or female). And here’s what they found:

Males who worked for gender-incongruent supervisors (i.e., a female construction site supervisor or a male HR professional) were assigned lower status than males who worked for gender-congruent supervisors (i.e., a male construction site supervisor or a female HR professional). Females had no such status differential.

Further, when males worked for gender-incongruent supervisors, they received lower salaries than when they worked for gender-congruent supervisors. Again, females had no comparable salary differential.

The researchers suggest that the males working for gender-incongruent supervisors were seen as less masculine. They cite common beliefs that “a man isn’t much of a man” if he subordinates himself to a gender-incongruent supervisor [who is, by definition, low status].

Thus, it appears that only male (and not female) employees lose status when subordinated to a gender deviant boss, because being subordinate to an individual who has lowered status as a result of their gender-deviant role places these male subordinates at risk of having their gender identity (i.e., masculinity) called into question.”

So of course, they conducted a second experiment using the same vignettes but this time the assistant was always male and half the time the assistant was described in stereotypically masculine terms: as enjoying “watching football, eating steak and ribs, and driving fast cars”. The researchers called this “bolstering masculine credentials”. You can probably guess the results of these studies.

The macho-men were assigned both higher status and higher salaries. And there was no difference in how male and female research participants rated the assistants.

So the researchers went back again and compared a different set of gender-incongruent professionals—a female corporate lawyer and a male family lawyer. You guessed it. They had the same results.

So if women in gender-incongruent roles want their male employees to maintain both status and prestige—it appears they should only hire ‘manly men’. And men in positions where they report to a gender-incongruent boss should probably talk about eating red meat and the game this weekend and drive muscle cars. Or not.

Taken together, these studies suggest that a man who works for a woman is viewed as less valuable unless he is also tied to stereotypical male interests.  The implicit assumptions about men who work for women are thus that they have something to prove, as in “What kind of man works for a woman?”  If you read into this some not-too-subtle bias against men who are submissive to female authority, or perhaps homophobia, then we are reading the same research.

What this research does say is that we remain powerfully affected by deeply rooted beliefs about gender and power. Pay attention to these dynamics when they are present in your cases or with witnesses. Subtly “bolstering masculinity” may be an effective strategy in some instances.
Brescoll, VL,, Uhlmann, EL, & Moss-Racusin, C. (2011). Masculinity, Status and Subordination: Why working for a gender stereotype violator causes men to lose status. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.


%d bloggers like this: