Gender bias at workplace can influence how supervisors view a manager’s long-term potential, a new study shows.
The researchers examined a phenomenon called managerial derailment and found that supervisors can have subtle, even subconscious differences while expecting behaviour from male and female managers, which can have costly consequences for women in the workplace, most notably the loss of mentorship.
“If you’re doing performance evaluations, there’s a record in a Human Resource file you could refer to, and gender biases could be identified and dealt with,” said Joyce Bono, Professor at the University of Florida, US.
“However, perceptions of derailment potential exist in a supervisor’s head. They’re informal assessments that supervisors make, yet they have important implications for the opportunities that supervisors provide,” added Bono.
To examine gender bias in perceptions of derailment potential, the authors conducted four studies.
Two studies analysed data collected on nearly 50,000 managers enrolled in leadership development programmes and the other two were experimental studies where managers examined performance reviews of two fictitious employees whose only difference was their gender.
Bono and her colleagues found that when evaluating managers who exhibited equal levels of ineffective interpersonal behaviours, supervisors were more likely to predict derailment for women managers than for men.
Because of these negative assessments, female managers receive less mentoring.
“Sponsorship and mentoring are even more important for women than men because women are typically are less connected to those higher in the corporate hierarchy in part because there are more men than women at higher levels,” Bono added in the study published in the journal Personnel Psychology.
Bono emphasises that the negative assessments female managers receive from male supervisors are not purposeful or nefarious.
“Don’t think of the bias exhibited here as behaviour of bad people who don’t want women to get ahead. Rather, we expect women to be nicer than men, because that’s what our society has told us to expect. These beliefs influence our behaviors, often without our awareness,” the author said.