Is Workplace Inequality Still In Place -- Or Just In Women's Minds?

Last Updated Aug 21, 2009 3:09 AM EDT

To many, women's business fashions of the 1980s -- the shoulder pads and the power suits -- were evidence of women trying to fit into a man's world. While the shoulder pads were thankfully ditched some time ago, evidence abounds that women still suffer insecurities about their workplace standing.

Recently, a study led by Professor Scott N. Taylor of the Anderson School of Management at the University of New Mexico found that women managers asked to predict how their supervisors, peers and employees rated them often believed that they were being rated lower than they actually were. Men, on the other hand, were right on target with their predictions, and in some cases, overestimated their standing.
While this might sound like women are suffering from lack of confidence, the researchers ruled this out. "Women rated themselves just as highly as men rated themselves, an encouraging development from the norm of two or three decades ago," Taylor said in a press release.

Taylor, whose findings were presented this month at the Academy of Management's annual meeting, thinks that historical thinking might be to blame for women's lower predictions. "Women are so accustomed to decades of being 'disappeared' and hearing histories of women whose contributions went unnoticed that they assume these conditions exist to the same extent today."

Working mothers struggle for equal consideration
While Taylor found that lower ratings were mostly in women's minds, there are indicators elsewhere that the inequalities in place for working mothers are far more tangible.

Shelley Correll of Stanford University released a study that found women with children face discrimination both when looking for jobs and in their places of work. For its contribution to work-life research, Correll's study recently won a Rosabeth Moss Kanter Award, named for the Harvard Business School professor. Correll found that "pregnant women and mothers are seen as less dependable, less authoritative and less committed to their jobs," according to Boston.com writer Maggie Jackson.

The study found that potential employers may also avoid female candidates who have clear indicators of motherhood, such as PTA board membership, on their resumes. Having children affects men in the workplace, too, though the discrimination cuts the opposite way: Fathers are "slightly preferred over childless male candidates, perhaps because fathers automatically are viewed as breadwinners," says Jackson.

While we've undoubtedly come a long way (if you don't believe it, just watch an episode of Mad Men), this just goes to show that some stereotypes die harder than others.

Working Girl image courtesy of Invisible Magnet.

  • Stacy Blackman

    Stacy Sukov Blackman is president of Stacy Blackman Consulting, where she consults on MBA admissions. She earned her MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University and her Bachelor of Science from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Stacy serves on the Board of Directors of AIGAC, the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, and has published a guide to MBA Admissions, The MBA Application Roadmap.