The “Disabling” Division of Labor

Because of a persistently unequal division of work at home, men, on average, put in more hours at the office. As a result, it's harder for women to reach the top rungs of the corporate ladder.
  • Transcript


Question: Is time the determining factor in the gender gap?

Alice Eagly:  Time is very much a consideration because of what has happened in many professional fields, which is over the last 50 years the amount of time people are expected to spend to be successful has escalated.  My father had a 40-hour week as a professional and... that’s not so normative anymore in terms of professions, law, medicine, management. And then the fast track career within those fields you know people talk about the 80-hour week or whatever and that is an exaggeration, but people often work very long hours. And so then time is very much an issue.  So it’s harder to manage child-rearing and career.  You say okay, I’m just going to work 40 hours, fine and then your male colleague who perhaps has a stay-at-home wife is working 60 or 65 or 70 and so if he is effective to perhaps turning out a lot more work and being more effective, so then that’s disabling.  So time is very much a consideration and then the issue of the work in the home of how that is shared or not shared or who is doing it; whether it’s being done by somebody other than the mother and father; is the father taking as much work as the mother, et cetera. So the division of labor in the home tends to be unequal.  Not so wildly unequal as it was in an earlier generation, but it still tends to be unequal even if both husband and wife are employed full-time.

Question: Should women act like men to get ahead?

Alice Eagly:  Not necessarily.  It does depend on the larger environment of whether it’s a really strongly masculine culture organization or not. But, in general, aping men by being "just like a man."  You know culturally if somebody says she is just like a man it is not a compliment.  So being a perfect imitator of the male style usually doesn’t work because people find that jarring and it involves more kind of authoritative top down style often depending on the situation of course, but and so in general women do better with a blend of masculine and feminine.  Of course a leadership role involves taking charge and being authoritative and that is culturally masculine, so you do have to do that.

But when women blend that with culturally feminine qualities they’re usually better accepted in the role.  So what would those qualities be?  They are fine.  They are very positive qualities that would be... Yes, be nice.  Do take account of the individual.  Maybe say how are the kids or make relationships more personal and let people know you care about them.  Those kinds of behaviors are more important to a woman in most managerial roles than they would be to a man.  Men do it sometimes, but not necessarily and they don’t particularly need to.  If they don’t do those things people think "That's okay.  He is a man."  He doesn’t you know.  He doesn’t particularly do that, but when a woman doesn’t do that she tends then to be more in an exclusively masculine mode and doesn’t fare as well.

So people like women to acknowledge their femininity, but yet that doesn’t involve moving off into some parts of the feminine repertoire.  It doesn’t being very compliant.  It doesn’t mean crying at work.  It doesn’t mean a lot of those things, but it does mean taking some of the positive feminine qualities of, in fact, being nice and caring about people into the managerial role that women will fare better and I think a lot of the women who do rise actually have that blend. But not necessarily.  I think it’s also true that if a woman is extremely rare in a role, you know she is the first woman who has ever done that role, and it is a kind of a masculine environment—perhaps military or whatever or in some political roles—that she may need to take on a more masculine style because the role is thought to demand so much assertiveness and toughness and if she doesn’t prove herself to be as tough as a man that she will lose authority.  So there are those situations, but I think that’s not typical.  Usually women fare well in the blend and they should not try to ape the men, but to take on positive masculine qualities and positive feminine qualities.

Recorded on September 17, 2010

Interviewed by John Cookson