‘Executive women are just gears in everything’

A lot of scientific research focuses on why there are so few women at the top. Tanja van der Lippe, professor of sociology at Utrecht University, examines the follow-up question: If those women are at the top, what do you notice?

For example, she conducted large-scale research into the effect of female managers on the pay gap and culture in a company. Together with her colleagues, she collected data from nearly eleven thousand respondents who worked at 259 companies in nine European countries. This data set has been the basis for various publications, the most recent of which was published on the Economic Statistical Messages (ESB) platform on 26 May.

According to these data, women in the countries surveyed (including Bulgaria and Hungary) earn on average just under € 10 net per hour, while for men it is almost € 12. Would a female leader have an effect on that pay gap, the researchers wanted to know.

Three hypotheses were tested. The first: women are agents of change who ensure a more equal pay for other women. Or the opposite: they are queens, top women who see their own careers as proof that sexism does not exist and oppose policies to empower female employees. Option three: women are gears at all. They want to tackle the pay gap, but they have too little influence and power in the organization to change wages.

Your research shows that the third hypothesis is true: women are just gears in everything. You write about this in the article ‘fortunately’. Why?

“Because otherwise one would have to conclude that the pay gap was so big all those years before that because there was a male leader. That would be very disastrous. That’s why I wrote: fortunately it’s not just that. The pay gap between men and women has many more reasons: ranging from the study program that girls and boys choose to the distribution of care tasks in the home and the cost of childcare. The solution lies in tackling all the reasons, it’s not just about whether there is a man or a woman at the top. ”

The new Dutch quota system, where a third of the boards of listed companies must consist of women, will not change much in the pay gap?

“No not yet. But it may be that at some point a turning point occurs when there really is a large proportion of women at the top. Perhaps women then have the power to create change. We have not investigated that yet, but it could be. “

What do you think about that quota at all? Is that a good idea?

“Other countries with similar quotas show that it helps to increase the proportion of women in management positions. It seems to me to be a good reason to try it here in Holland. At the same time, a quota is no longer the Holy Grail. It is a step in the right direction, but it is a misunderstanding to think that it will solve the problem. ”

In research, you mainly use the terms masculine or feminine leadership style rather than male or female leadership. Is it in the context of the current diversity debate?

“No, the concepts of feminine and masculine are much older. But previous research has often looked at whether it did not matter whether a man or woman was in charge, while it is better to also look at leadership style. It is a more accurate representation of reality. Because a man can have a feminine leadership style, and a woman can also have a masculine style. It is no longer enough to look at gender. It is good that the current debate is bringing that diversity more forward. ”

What exactly do you mean by masculine and feminine?

Feminine leadership style includes concepts such as ‘attentive’, ‘understanding’, ‘collegial’ and ‘modest’, while the masculine style includes the concepts of ‘confident’, ‘competitive’, ‘dominant’ and ‘ambitious’. But it’s not one thing or the other: you can also be alert and confident. In general, women more often have a feminine leadership style and men a masculine style, but we no longer assume that it is always 100 percent. ”

A feminine leadership style enhances the ‘family culture’ of an organization, your research shows. What is it?

“Maybe I can explain it based on the questions we asked the respondents. We asked if their supervisor is understanding when prioritizing their family, is accommodating when there is a sick child, for example, and if the top management encourages supervisors to be aware of this. In other words: Is the boss aware that the employee is also doing something in his life other than just work?

“We see that a female leader and a feminine leadership style are associated with a more family-friendly culture in the workplace – if you ask the employees. It is significantly smaller for a male leader. Interestingly, male leaders rate themselves more positively than female leaders. The male leader gives the family-friendly culture under his leadership an average of 3.97 – on a scale of 1 to 5. His staff gives him a score of 3.71. That is a relatively large difference. For the female leader, her own estimate is 3.80, almost the same as that of her employees: 3.79. ”

Do these men overestimate themselves?

“Maybe, but it does not have to be a negative thing. If these men realize through this research: hey, I thought I already did it very family-friendly, but according to my staff I am not, then there may be room for improvement. “They may also have given a socially desirable answer. That men know that a family-friendly culture is considered important and therefore give themselves a high score on it.”

The dataset you created for this study dates from 2016. Would not much have changed with the current focus on liberation and equality?

“The world is changing less fast in this area than we often think. It was a huge job to collect this data, it took us more than two years. However, we could do a smaller survey in 2018 and there are plans for another survey in 2023. Maybe other results will come up; I like to be surprised. ”

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