Gender Stereotypes Still Matter At Work But New Data Shows Progress

Gender stereotypes are apparently alive and well, but the good news is there seems to be progress toward more equitable views of women, men, their strengths and their abilities to lead. A study by Zety finds some interesting insights about perceptions of men and women at work.

Gender, Skills and Challenges

In particular, the study found 73% of respondents reported there was no relationship between gender and people’s skills. The nuance in this result is when people had slightly more work experience (3-10 years vs. 1-2 years) they were more likely to say gender mattered at work. In addition, when they worked at smaller companies (1-50 employees vs. 500+ employees), they were also more likely to say gender mattered.

When people were asked whether it was easier to be a man or a woman at work, the greatest proportion of people (46%) said it didn’t matter, but 34% thought it was easier to be a male than a female employee and 20% thought it was easier to be female.

The biggest difference in perceptions was when it came to finding a job. Here, 30% thought it was easier to be on the hunt for a job as a man, and only 16% thought it was easier as a woman.

Gender Stereotypes

What about stereotypes? Most people (71%) believe they’re alive and well, and this was the sentiment among 75% of women and 68% of men. The stereotypes tend to be demonstrated in people’s assumptions about men’s and women’s traits.

Men reported they had been described by colleagues or managers as aggressive, competitive, analytical, emotional and incompetent more frequently than women. Interestingly, both men and women reported being characterized as weak, stupid, smart, competent, confident, compassionate, a role model and a leader at fairly equal frequencies.

Leadership and Job Performance

Regarding particular professions, most people believed men and women could perform all jobs well. But men were generally seen as being better lawyers, politicians and police officers while women were described as performing better as teachers, doctors or accountants.

Perhaps the best news was most people (58%) believed leadership had no gender. For the majority of respondents, gender also didn’t matter for being a good employee (70%), a good colleague (64%), a team player (66%) or a relationship builder (61%).

Reality Is Perception

It’s notable that 47% of both men and women reported having been discriminated against on the basis of their sex, and this was true for 51% of women and 42% of men. In addition, for those who believe gender matters in the workplace, 69% have experienced discrimination. For those who don’t believe gender matters, only 25% have experienced workplace sexism.

Where to Go from Here

It is significant and positive that so many people believe leadership, collegiality and performance are not dependent on gender. That’s encouraging progress in terms of the belief systems which underlie choices and behaviors.

Overall, the differences between individuals are more meaningful than the differences between groups. And when people are judged based on their membership in any group, it undermines the complexity and nuance that are part of every person.

Instead of judging—either positively or negatively—based on gender, strive to get to know people based on what makes them unique. Be present, ask questions and listen. Seek out relationships with people who are different than you in all kinds of ways and assume you have something to learn from multiple points of view. Also seek healthy debate, dialogue and discussion—so you can exchange ideas, challenge your own beliefs and improve your understanding of people and issues.

In Sum

A wide range of attributes define any individual, and some characteristics are core while others are less central to our identity. Be self aware, and also be empathetic toward others. Communities are strongest when people can bring their best, and when diverse skills, talents and perspectives combine—so everyone can feel a sense of belonging and so the community can be resilient over time.