Discrimination In The Workplace Against Women May Depend On Men's Marital Structure (STUDY)

Even as this year’s Fortune 500 list included a record number of female CEOs, and urban, single women in their 20s are out-earning their male peers, women still face distinct gender barriers in the workplace. The wage gap persists in much of the country, and that record-breaking number of female CEOs was only 3.6 percent. Now a new study shows that employed men's marriages may be partly to blame for stalling the march toward gender equality at work.

The research, led by Sreedhari D. Desai, an Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior at UNC-Chapel Hill, consisted of four smaller studies conducted by researchers from Harvard, NYU, UNC-Chapel Hill and the University of Utah. They explored the relationship between the type of marriages that employed men have and their attitudes toward working women, the Harvard Business Review reported. The researchers found that employed men who are in more traditionally-structured marriages (i.e. their wives stay at home or work part-time outside the home) tend to:

1. Feel less positive about the presence of women in the workplace.
2. Believe that female-dominated organizations operate “less smoothly.”
3. See organizations where women are in leadership roles as “unattractive.”
4. Promote qualified female employees less.

This may explain why so many women find themselves trapped in what’s been called “the marzipan layer” in the corporate hierarchy -- the group of jobs just below senior management. The new study also found that these men who have negative views of working women tend to be the same men who held influential positions of power, which doesn’t bode so well for women trying to advance in male-dominated industries or companies. It stands to reason that these men are also probably less likely to offer sponsorship or mentorship to female employees, which has been shown to be an extremely important factor in career advancement. The researchers concluded that marriage structure has an impact “beyond the four walls of the house” and that attitudes toward women are determined by the social role that a guy plays in his own life. If a man is the primary breadwinner, he may -- even subconsciously -- believe that that’s how it “should be” in all marriages.

Identifying the source of these attitudes doesn’t mean that they’ll be easy to alter, Desai and her colleagues concluded. Men who believe unfavorable things about working women are unlikely to change their mind unless their marital structures change, the researchers wrote, which would be “an exceedingly improbable event on a large scale.” This means that women will have to work around these attitudes -- at least for the time being.

What do you think? How do we shift attitudes about women in the workplace and encourage equal opportunity?