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Women can face internal identity conflict in the workplace

Women can face internal identity conflict in the workplace
September 1, 2013
Women in the workplace can face internal identity conflict when it comes to competing against their co-workers, a University of Canterbury (UC) researcher says.
Associate Professor Maroš Servátka researched the issue in a new study along with Ontario’s University of Guelph professor Bram Cadsby and Toronto’s Ryerson University professor Fei Song. Their findings have been published in the latest issue of the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization
``Our research argues that gender stereotypes originate from the social roles that men and women have traditionally occupied in a society,’’ Professor Servátka says.
``Stereotypes are learned early in life, become part of one’s cultural understanding and are internalised as implicit beliefs and endorsed values. People extend stereotypes to develop implicit self-concepts, which are evidenced by automatic associations between the self and stereotypical personality traits, abilities and roles.
``Such stereotypes are likely closely related to the differing competitiveness demonstrated by men and women. Employing a behavioral experiment, researchers show that, for women, identity priming significantly affects willingness to participate in competition and to take risky gambles.
``Such priming has significantly different effects on males from the same population. This contrast suggests an identity conflict for the female professionals in our study that was absent for the males.’’
Professor Servátka’s research found women often experience conflicting role identities: a professional identity that is highly competitive, competent and ambitious and a gender/family identity that is warm, supportive and caring.
``We found that female students would face identity conflicts when it came to choosing which reward model they preferred.
``Many females would pick the piecemeal-reward model unless they were primed by the professional survey, where they would then pick the competitive model. Many males would pick the competitive-reward model regardless of which survey they answered. This suggests that, unlike males, females face an internal conflict when it comes to being competitive in the workplace.
``Men’s competitiveness did increase after the gender-family survey, but being competitive was something we saw after all three types of surveys, so it’s not a big shift.
``The main finding is that female identity priming significantly affects a woman’s willingness to participate in competitive tournaments, take risky gambles and pick a tournament pay scheme.
``Although such priming effects may be short-term in nature, these results suggest that life-cycle events such as marriage, pregnancy and parenthood could have very substantial and long-lasting effects on the activation of family identities with their consequent effects on attitudes toward competition.
``The decision to avoid or minimise competition made by many women in professional careers may be driven not by lack of ability but rather by the increased salience of the gender/family identity, based on stereotypical beliefs, attitudes and ideals over time,’’ Professor Servátka says.


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