Research on Masculinity, Diversity and Inclusion at Work: Experience from E4E Project
Organisational Behaviour and Economics
This research examines the impact of perceptions of the workplace on men’s and women’s turnover intentions and wellbeing. The context is that of Equal4Europe, a European-funded project which interrogates gender dynamics in research performing business development institutions. Women are persistently less represented in these fields, in higher ranks of the career pipeline. Whilst this is true across faculty groups, administrative and supportive roles are in majority held by women. Previous research in this context suggests that women feel less included and less supported in their workplaces. These different, gendered experiences may cause women to leave careers in research faculty to a greater extent than their male counterparts. In this research, we focus on employees’ perceptions that their institution is supportive of inclusion, of gender equality, or of a competitive masculinity, as three dimensions that are relevant to the business context. To address this question, we use data collected in 2020 across 6 different research institutions. Throughout the analysis, we account for important socio-demographic parameters and indicators of a person’s household composition. We examine how gender and rank influence not only a person’s perception of the work environment, but also their turnover intentions and wellbeing. To effectively understand the potential role of gender, we equally conduct a series of interaction effects to identify differences in gender effects across the main occupational groups of our study.
Women often report they feel less “included” in organisations than their male counterparts. One concern with this gap in feelings of inclusion is that it may lead to women leaving certain organisations/careers because they feel less “at home”, and hence be a contributor to the leaky pipeline. Fixing the problem to make the environment more welcoming to women is, however, risky if it makes men feel less welcome. There is indeed increasing evidence and reports of backlash against gender diversity and equality policies (Bertrand 2020). There are also growing reports of “gender fatigue”, where men and women alike feel burdened by the emphasis on gender policies.
Here, we study whether there is a trade-off between making workplaces more inclusive for women and men’s wellbeing in organisations and whether an excessive focus on gender issues can have unintended adverse effects. We focus on three dimensions of professional climate and norms that are relevant in this context. The first is the extent to which norms of expected (and rewarded) behaviours are stereotypically male. The second is whether the organisation is characterised by a favourable climate for inclusion (i.e values individuals regardless of group/social category membership). The third dimension we focus on is the perception that the institution promotes gender diversity and equality.
We find that while women do perceive their environments as being more stereotypically masculine, less inclusive and less supportive of gender equality than men, there is no trade-off between the two genders: the key dimensions that make workplaces better for women also benefit men. More concretely, in our data, a less masculine and more inclusive climate predicts lower turnover intentions and higher workplace wellbeing for men and women in an identical way: men and women do not value our measured workplace characteristics differently. Nor do faculty and staff: reducing masculinity and increasing inclusion benefits all in the same way. However, we find some evidence of equality efforts having unintended consequences: the focus on gender equality benefits men even more than women in terms of their workplace wellbeing.
As a whole, our paper suggests that reducing masculine cultures and increasing inclusion is much better than focusing on gender equality to promote women’s wellbeing and retention and have the additional benefit that they also benefit men.
How is Gender integrated in this Research
The data for this research paper was collected as part of E4E project. The outstated objective of this initiative is to contribute to increased gender equality in the European Research Area (ERA). This starts by identifying the multifaceted gender issues in this area. Amongst others, women still face higher barriers to recruitment, career progression and retention. Next, women are less included and represented in decision-making processes. Further, gender is still weakly integrated in research, teaching and innovation content. As such, the questions at the heart of the research aim to address persisting gender issues.
The research project is designed to take stock of and address negative gender dynamics in academia. The project is composed of multiple work packages aiming to improve gender equality. The following paragraphs focus on a specific package consisting of a survey distributed to staff and faculty in the 6 institutions. The latter assesses the prominence of negative norms and behaviours which may be particularly detrimental to women.
As a first step, members from across the E4E consortium collated relevant measures of workplace perceptions and their validated measurement scales. Notably, the research team consists of members from a broad range of backgrounds and disciplines. This variety ensured that important questions are not missed, and that the research reflects a broad range of experiences and perceptions. At this stage, the specific objective was for members to review recent literature on different workplace dynamics which may be impacting women’s propensity to remain or leave their institutions. This implied a literature review across several fields of research, referring directly and indirectly to gender dynamics. Indeed, considering workplace perceptions that may not explicitly be expected to affect men and women differently was equally important.
As a second step, the survey was designed to incorporate these main indicators of workplace perceptions. The survey also included a broad range of institutional and individual parameters expected to impact workplace perceptions and outcomes. These parameters were selected from the literature review as potential factors contributing to differences between men and women. For example, we include indicators of household composition to account for whether a respondent has a spouse, has dependent children, or is the main breadwinner, amongst others. Similarly, we account for institutional parameters, such as a respondent’s research department and tenure. Having a large panel of survey variables allows us to be confident in subsequently isolating the relation between gender, workplace perceptions and our outcomes of interest. We also include parameters that account for contextual differences between the institutions.
Finally, the survey was transposed to Qualtrics, tested and validated by all members of the institutions. Here, we ordered questions to avoid pre-empting participants’ thoughts and responses. We also aimed for the final formulation to be as neutral as possible and interpretable identically across male and female respondents.
The collection process rolled out over several months. Each institution sent out a survey link to staff and faculty, inviting them to participate in the study. The decision to survey both occupational groups was important as including staff respondents allowed us to increase the representation of women in our sample.
To encourage participation, the survey was preceded by a section explaining the voluntary nature of the research, the anonymity of the data collected, and the objectives of the research. Note, however, that in presenting these objectives, the gender dimension was slightly nuanced, such to avoid both male and female respondents from being biased by the idea of yet another “gender questionnaire”. Similarly, we explained that participants could skip any question they preferred to avoid and modify their responses at any stage of the questionnaire.
In total, we issued two email reminders to ensure maximum response. Once the Qualtrics questionnaire was closed, we collated all responses, from all institutions into a single dataset for analysis.
At each stage of the analysis, we considered respondents’ gender. First, we analysed missing responses and response patterns to ensure that both gender groups responded similarly to the survey. Then, we restricted our sample to complete cases representative of both genders.
Second, we conducted mean and regression analyses controlling for gender effects. We also developed interaction terms to control for differential gender dynamics in the two main occupational groups (staff and faculty). In other words, we explored our main research question on the relation between workplace perceptions and outcomes whilst consistently interrogating gender dynamics. Third, in writing up the results, we carefully reported both cases of gender differences and gender similarities. Indeed, the objective was not to fish for significant gender differences in our results, but to highlight cases where men and women react similarly and discuss the implications of these similarities. Indeed, we aimed for our research contribution to highlight acknowledge gender differences, but also to report instances where both men and women suffer equally from gendered dynamics in their workplace.
We are currently in the dissemination process. Given the multidisciplinary nature of the research team, the objective would be to disseminate results to as wide an audience as possible. In addition to conferences and seminars, we aim to present the results to internal stakeholders. Overall, we note the importance that our main results highlight the potential benefits, for both men and women, of improving workplace climates.
What could be done differently
It is likely that suggestions on how to improve the research design and analysis will emerge once we start disseminating our results. This said, we highlight some key learning points in the following paragraphs.
Key Learning Points
Challenge relating to the dissemination strategy is to ensure that the results are effectively communicated across the institutions. It is difficult to anticipate the extent to which these results will be transposed to institutional policies. How this is related to gender, also, is that men still hold more decision-making positions relative to female counterparts (this is also true beyond our 6 participating institutions). There is an imbalance between female-dominated research teams and male-dominated decision-makers. Perhaps one way forward would be to ensure, at the initial stages of the research, that key institutional decision-makers be made aware of the research and are committed to considering the findings, whatever they may be.