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Gender differences in performance are declining, says research

Thursday, December 15, 2016

This article appeared in Discover Spears Research, the quarterly research newsletter released by the Spears School of Business.

Men are more likely to be managers. Women are more likely to be organized and team-oriented. These are common stereotypes we hear all the time, but are they true?

A hot topic in the workforce has been gender differences in performance. Tom Stone, professor of management at Oklahoma State University’s Spears School of Business, teamed up with Hogan Assessment’s Jeff Foster, Ball State University professor Brian Webster, NEOMA Business School professor Jennifer Harrison, and Illinois State University professor I. M. Jawahar to examine performance ratings gathered by Hogan Assessments, a human resource consulting firm in Tulsa, Okla. The sample included more than 20 years of performance ratings from approximately 3,500 managers and 9,500 non-managerial employees.

“We found that gender had only minimal effects on ratings for a small number of specific job performance dimensions,” says Stone. “This was generally true regardless of whether the job performance dimension was more agentic (stereotypically male) or communal (stereotypically female) in nature, whether the job was managerial or a non-managerial position, and regardless of the proportion of men or women that traditionally occupy a specific job.”

Tom Stone, professor of management at Oklahoma State University's Spears School of Business
Tom Stone, professor of management at Oklahoma State University's Spears School of Business

While the study found that one gender does not consistently receive better performance ratings than the other, it did however determine that women receive slightly higher ratings in some settings and males receive higher ratings in others. For example, women exceeded men in areas such as caring, building relationships and teamwork, while men exceeded women in risk management, initiative, achievement orientation and self-confidence.

The study’s results suggest that higher levels of performance information (as supervisors are expected to possess) reduces bias and dependence on gender stereotypes.  This is consistent with prior research showing that when information on performance is ambiguous or could be distorted, women are rated lower than men in “male-gendered” work. However, when women’s performance was unambiguous, there are no differences in judgments of competence.

Stone’s article, "Gender differences in supervisors’ multidimensional performance ratings: Large sample evidence," is forthcoming in Human Performance, a Taylor & Francis Publication journal.

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