A new study released by the Center for Gender in Organizations (CGO) at the Simmons School of Management, suggests that contrary to popular belief, the most effective help in resolving subtle gender dynamics at work may come from a male boss. The study also found that despite success in combating many forms of blatant gender discrimination, covert bias is alive and well.
A survey of more than 300 professional women at the Simmons Leadership Conference in 2010 reveals that virtually every one of them has experienced subtle gender bias issues, also known as second generation gender bias, at work. CGO's research suggests that the prevalence of second generation bias in the workplace counteracts initiatives to develop pipelines of women leaders and help close the women's leadership gap; and may further explain why the percentage of women in senior or top-level positions lags dismally behind.
The women polled reported receiving much help in dealing with subtle gender issues from personal circles; professional networks outside their organizations; and bosses, mentors, and peers within their organizations. They reported that they received the most help from spouses/partners, and more from women than from men. However, when the kind of help was connected to perceived success in dealing with second generation gender bias, it was bosses, particularly male bosses, who were the most helpful.
"It may be that help in dealing most effectively with second generation gender bias must come from people who have formal authority in the organizations, and who are themselves unencumbered by gender issues; they are the ones best positioned to change the situation," said Dr. Špela Trefalt, a Simmons School of Management professor who co-authored the study. "Our research indicates that alliances between women and men are essential for closing the women's leadership gap, and that senior male managers need to be actively engaged in the change process."
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