The measure of a modern man’s masculinity typically is taken in the workplace. How big is his office? How high is his salary? How impressive are his responsibilities?
Newly published research adds an unexpected ingredient to this mix: What sex is his supervisor?
Victoria Brescoll of the Yale School of Management reports male employees get penalized when their boss wields power in defiance of gender stereotypes. Her research suggests men in such positions suffer a loss of status and prestige due to a perceived lack of masculinity.
“These results further indicate that gender stereotype violations can impact men just as powerfully as women,” Brescoll and two colleagues write in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. In fact, more powerfully, under these particular circumstances, the researchers found no such effect for female subordinates.
Brescoll and her colleagues describe two experiments, the first of which featured 73 women and 47 men (mean age 40). Participants were randomly assigned to read a scenario about a workplace assistant, his or her supervisor and the type of work they performed.
In half the scenarios, the boss was either a male construction-site supervisor or a female human resources supervisor. In the other half, the genders were reversed, so the construction-site supervisor was a woman, and the human resources executive was a man.
Participants then responded to three questions assessing how much status, power and independence they believed the subordinate deserved in a future job and what salary they would pay him or her. They also rated the assistant (who was male in half the scenarios and female in the other half), assessing such traits as strength, dominance and timidity.
The results: “Male subordinates of stereotype-incongruent supervisors were accorded less status than male subordinates of stereotype-congruent supervisors,” the researchers report. “In contrast, there was no significant difference” in status for females.
Why does it matter? Well, consider this: “Male targets who worked for stereotype-incongruent supervisors received lower salaries than male targets who worked for stereotype-congruent supervisors,” Brescoll and her colleagues report. There was no significant salary difference for female subordinates.
The results suggested this loss of prestige and potential pay was due to a lack of perceived masculinity, in that men (but not women) who worked for gender-incongruent bosses scored lower on measures such as perceived strength and dominance. To confirm this, the researchers conducted a second experiment, this one featuring 52 men and 104 women (mean age 34).
They read the same scenarios and answered the same questions as participants in the first experiment. This time, all the subordinates were men, but half were described in stereotypically masculine terms: They enjoyed “watching football, eating steak and ribs, and driving fast cars.”
This affirmation of their masculine credentials made a big difference. Those pigskin-loving, meat-eating guys with gender-incongruent supervisors were ranked significantly higher in status than those who lacked those macho-man descriptions. In addition, they received “significantly higher salaries.”
It should be noted that gender did not play a role in participants’ responses. Men and women were equally likely to punish those whose bosses strayed from gender stereotypes.
A “conceptual replication” of these studies with a different set of gender-incongruent careers — female corporate lawyer and female family lawyer — “fully replicated” these results.
As Brescoll notes, her previous research has found that “men and women who occupy stereotype-incongruent roles tend to be accorded lower status.” Her new research suggests this loss of prestige extends to the men who work for them.
So guys who work for either a) high-powered women, or b) men who are in what are perceived as “women’s jobs,” are viewed as less manly, and this impacts both their social standing and earnings potential. There’s a price to be paid for being a trailblazer; for men, there’s also a price to be paid for working for one.