Thursday, June 7, 2012

Saving Super Women

It's getting harder and harder for the Super Women of the world. Jennifer Steinhauer of the New York Times reported on June 5, 2012 that, "A bill that would pave the way for women to more easily litigate their way to pay equality failed to clear a procedural hurdle in the Senate on Tuesday as Republicans united against the measure for the second time in two years.

 As Lilly M. Ledbetter, the woman whose name was attached to a 2009 law that ensured equal pay for women, watched from the gallery, the Senate voted, 52 to 47, to open debate on the legislation, 8 votes short of the 60 required.‘It’s a very sad day here in the United States Senate,’ Senator Barbara Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland, said after the vote.

The bill would have built on the 2009 Ledbetter legislation, which adjusted the statute of limitations on equal pay lawsuits. Tuesday’s bill sought to bar companies from retaliating against workers who inquire about pay disparities and open pathways for female employees to sue for punitive damages in cases of paycheck discrimination. In 2010, the same bill failed a procedural vote in the Senate when no Republican supported it.

The measure was part of Senate Democrats’ continuing effort to highlight divisions with Republicans over women’s issues and to force Republicans to take difficult votes on bills focused on domestic violence, wage discrimination and other matters.

The only Republican to take to the floor to denounce the measure was Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, who has authored his own legislation that is less sweeping.

‘Let me be clear: pay discrimination based on gender is unacceptable,’ Mr. Heller said. ‘Despite the political rhetoric around here, everyone agrees on this fact. The question is, will the Paycheck Fairness Act actually address workplace inequality? And the simple answer is no...’” (Steinhauer, June, 5, 2012)  

One would think that such a discussion as one regarding equal pay would be a thing of the past. However, years after the women's rights movement we are still fighting for workplace equality. The Senate's failure to act in favor of workplace equality is shocking. Now more than ever women need support. Below I share with you a research paper I wrote as I prepared to graduate from George Mason University; it highlights the  difference between women and men in the workplace and it demonstrates the need for change.

 Gender Differences in 
Work-Family Interaction: 
Does Your Sex Make a Difference?
by Carmela Wood 

Occupational stress, an aspect of work-family conflict, is a challenging matter and with the current economic crisis it is a matter that should be analyzed in further depth. As a result, of the economic crisis, a lot of individuals are struggling more with occupational stress – “Americans are worried about losing their jobs” (Morris, 2009). In addition to work-related stress individuals may struggle with maintaining their home. In an attempt to remain employed during economic failure individuals are most likely devoting more time and energy to work – the compensation theory – and their home life may be negatively affected by experiences of stress at work – the spillover theory; this is an issue that impacts both women and men. However, gender differences do exist. Although, work-family conflict is challenging for women and men, women face more challenges due to gender role ideology/attitudes and gender role values.


Traditionally, men were considered the breadwinners of their household by being the primary person to supply their family’s income; this is no longer true. “Profound changes in family structure and employment patterns have taken place in recent decades;” (Drago, Black, & Wooden, 2005) women are starting to be known as the breadwinners of their household. No longer are women simply answering telephone calls at work instead, women are answering telephone calls, writing proposals, and performing other executive tasks accompanied with high ranking positions.  However, the shift in employment patterns is slow – according to Drago, Black, and Wooden’s 2005 study ”Female Breadwinner Families: Their Existence, Persistence and Sources,” the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports only “24 percent of wives in dual-earner couples earn more than their husbands” (p. 344).

Despite, the slow changes in employment patterns, new trends are occurring. In “Do Sexist Organizational Cultures Create the Queen Bee,” Derks, Ellemers, Laar, and Groot (2011) investigate the emergence of “Queen Bees” (p. 519). According, to the researchers Queen Bees in the workplace are women in high ranking positions that are “dissociating  themselves from their gender [and] contributing to the gender stereotyping of other women” (p. 519).  Derks, Ellemers, Laar, and Groot (2011) found that the emergence of Queen Bee’s may be a result of simply being a female in a masculine organizational culture – most of the high positioned women with low gender identification experienced gender discrimination. Consequently, the obstacles endured by Queen Bee’s lead to their negative behavior towards women in lower positions.  In addition to gender discrimination the researchers propose that the behavior of Queen Bee’s may be a response to the potential threat of their social identity at workplaces where gender may not be valued. As a result of the changes occurring around gender within the work domain, it is imperative that work and family research further their investigations on gender differences; this may help clarify preceding research.    

In general previous investigations on gender differences in work and family have produced contradicting results that tend to develop more questions than answers. Several studies have found no significant difference between women, men, and work-family conflict; Korabick, Lero, and Whitehead outline a set of studies that support this premise in their 2008 hardback, “Handbook of Work-Family Integration: Research, Theory, and Best Practices.” However, majority of the research on gender difference in work-family conflict has found differences. Some research has found that women experience higher levels of work-family conflict than men, while other studies have found opposing results.

Research Supporting Men
Livingston and Burley’s 1991 study, “Surprising Initial Findings Regarding Sex, Sex Role, and Anticipated Work-Family Conflict” found significant results in support of men anticipating more challenges than women in work-family interaction. Unlike the majority of research on gender differences in work and family the researchers focus their study on the future rather than the past or current circumstances of their participants. Their sample of college women and men produced interesting results – men as opposed to women expected greater career conflict in the future. The researchers propose that their findings may be explained through Pleck’s (1997) asymmetrical permeability hypothesis. According to Livingston and Burley (1991) Pleck’s (1997) theory suggests that “men are permitted to forego family activities for work and women to forego work for family activities;” (p. 736) hence, women may not expect career conflict as much as men.     

Although, Livingston and Burley’s 1991 study offers an innovative tactic – analyzing beliefs of the future – to understanding gender differences, their research has several limitations. One limitation of the research is the age group of their participants; 67.5 percent of their participants were under 20. Furthermore, the researchers were limited to Caucasian men and women. 82.4 percent of their sample was Caucasian; therefore only 17.6 percent of their sample were ethic. Due to the study’s limitations the results may not be generalized to other groups of people – for example African American’s, Latino’s, Asians, etc.; this problem of reliability is seen in various studies on gender differences.  

Research Supporting Women
 In an attempt to resolve the shortcomings of previous research on gender differences Emslie and Hunt’s 2009 study, “’Live to Work’ or ‘Work to Live’?  A Qualitative Study of Gender and Work-life Balance among Men and Women in Mid-life” employs an infrequently used methodology – qualitative instead of quantitative – to assist in their research; this allows them to find significant results in support of women facing more challenges than men in work-family interaction. While, they found women and men to have similar problems with work-family balance, in accordance to previous studies, the researchers discover that women, unlike men, have longer lasting problems. In their investigation women tended to struggle with current issues of “juggling paid work, adult children and ageing parents, while the men tended to locate problems of work–life balance in the past…when paid work conflicted with the demands of raising young children” (p. 166). Ultimately, women experience more work-family conflict than men.

In addition to Emslie and Hunt’s (2009) study Lundberg and Frankenhauser (1999) found distinct differences in women and men in their investigation on “Stress and Workload of Men and Women in High Ranking Positions.” According to their study, most women as opposed to men felt they must surpass the opposite sex in work performance in order to obtain a promotion. Moreover, they found that women have more family responsibilities; this increases the overall workload of working women. Thus, women in comparison to men appear to have less of a “favorable situation” (p. 149) both at work and at home. Additional findings in Lundberg and Frankenhauser’s study reveal neurological differences in women and men.  It appears that cortisol is more significant to men after work whereas epinephrine and norepinephrine is more significant to women after work; this biologically confirms that females’ may have more workload than men, because instead of relaxing after work women are predisposed to higher levels of adrenaline or epinephrine. One could presume that the increase in adrenaline in women after work is due to the fact that women may need additional stimulants to affectively carry out responsibilities at home. 

Similar to Lundberg and Frankenhauser’s study, gender differences were found at home in Biernat and Wortman’s 1991 study, “Sharing of Home Responsibilities between Professionally Employed Women and Their Husbands.“ According to Biernat and Wortman’s study, wives reported having greater responsibilities in the home than their husbands. Husbands were responsible for a few household chores such as repairs and laundry. Nonetheless, wives reported having greater responsibility for household chores including shopping, cooking, cleaning, and managing money. Accordingly, the researchers were able to further highlight the responsibilities of women and men in the home; it is evident that the division in household chores is not equal – women bear most of the workload. However, wives were not dissatisfied with the division of household chores; in fact wives appeared to be more critical of themselves than of their husbands. Women’s satisfaction with unequal workload at home may be a result of women expecting to have more workload.   

Triana’s 2001 study “A Woman’s Place and a Man’s Duty: How Gender Role Incongruence in One’s Family Life Can Result in Home-Related Spillover Discrimination at Work” further emphasizes the challenges women face by questioning  the place of women – Do they belong in the workplace? Should they make more money than men? Similar to Drago, Black, & Wooden (2005) (see p. 2) the researcher investigates female breadwinners or primary wage earners and finds significant results in support of women potentially experiencing higher levels of work-family conflict. Triana (2001) found that individuals were “more surprised to see female primary wage earners and male secondary wage earners than female secondary wage earners and male primary wage earners;” (p. 73) such results demonstrate that female breadwinners are perceived as uncommon. Although, females have been proven to be slowly earning more money than their male counterpart, it is evident that society has yet to notice the change in employment pattern. Moreover, Triana (2001) found that individuals were more likely to rate secondary wage earning men as “overqualified” (p. 79) rather than primary wage earning women; this suggests that women may hurt themselves professionally by deviating from the traditional view of women who simply answers telephone calls. It is apparent that men experience more of an advantage than a disadvantage, while women experience more of a disadvantage than an advantage.

Although, research that supports women and their challenge to balance work and family has produced significant results, they have limitations. Like, the research that supports men experiencing higher levels of work-family conflict, research that supports women raises the question of generalizability. Some studies are limited to a certain age group (Derks, Ellemers, Laar, & Groot, 2011; Triana, 2001) while other studies make their results more reliable by incorporating a range of ages (Emslie & Hunt, 2009; Lundberg & Frankenhauser, 1999). Other research is restricted to a particular ethnicity (Triana, 2001). Despite, the limitations that can be seen in some of the research, results have been proven to be quite consistent regarding women and their experience of work-family conflict; women experience more work-family conflict than men (Derks, Ellemers, Laar, & Groot, 2011; Emslie & Hunt, 2009; Lundberg & Frankenhauser, 1999; Biernat & Wortman, 1991).
In recent years women have been proving their place in the world. Although, society has yet to notice the change in employment patterns, women are starting to become the breadwinners of their household. Such occurrences validates women’s place; women are an integral part of the workforce and home life.

Similar to a juggler one would see on the streets entertaining onlookers with their juggling abilities of three or more objects, women are juggling work demands along with family demands. Despite, their incredible abilities, women are still at a disadvantage; men appear to face fewer challenges than women in balancing work and family due to society’s ideas of gender and gender role values. Clearly, women are resilient; although, society has placed a number of obstacles in the way of their progression - [including the Senate's failure to act Tuesday] - women are rising to the challenge. However, the resilience of women could be negatively impacted by the current economic crisis. Now more than ever we must recognize that gender differences do exist, and women are the ones that are at a disadvantage. As a society we must change the way we think and the way we do business in order to improve the well-being of both women and men.

I ask you "Who's there to save the hero? Who's there to save the [woman]...?" (Save the Hero)  


Biernat, M., & Wortman, C. B. (1991). Sharing of home responsibilities between professionally employed women and their husbands. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60 (6), 844-860.
Derks,B., Ellemers, N., Laar, C., & Groot, K. (2011). Do Sexist Organizational Culture Create the Queen Bee.  British Journal of Social Psychology, 50, 519–535
Drago, R., Black, D., & Wodden, M. (2005). Female Breadwinner Families: Their Existence, Persistence and Sources. Journal of Sociology, 41 (4), 343-362
Emslie, C., & Hunt, K. (2009). ’Live to Work’ or ‘Work to Live’? A Qualitative Study of Gender and Work-life Balance among Men and Women in Mid-life. Gender, Work, and Organization, 16 (1), 151-172.
Korabik, K., Lero, D.S., & Whitehead, D.L. (2008). Handbook of Work-Family Integration: Research, Theory, and Best Practices. Oxford, UK: Academic Press.
Livingston, M.M., & Burley, K.A. (1991). Surprising Initial Findings Regarding Sex, Sex Role, and Anticipated Work-Family Conflict. Psychological Reports, 68, 735-738
Lundberg, U., & Frakenhaeuser, M. (1999). Stress and Workload of Men and Women in High Ranking Positions. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 4 (2), 142-151.
Morris, S.S. (2011). Review of the book American Jobs: What Response from U.S. Economic Policy, by J. Bhagwati & A. S. Blinder. Human Resource Management, 50 (2), 303- 306.
Triana, C.M. (2001). A Woman’s Place and a Man’s Duty: How Gender Role Incongruence in One’s Family Life Can Result in Home-Related Spillover Discrimination at Work. Journal of Buissness and Psychology 26 (1), 71-86.

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