Glass ceiling: Women to blame?

A new study tells women that the difficulties they encounter advancing in the corporate world could be, at least partially, self-inflicted. No, you don't need to brace yourself for a Larry Summers-style remark. Rather, this is a situation of untapped potential.

Female managers are three times more likely than men to underrate how they think their bosses view their performance, according to a paper presented at the Academy of Management's annual meeting in Chicago. Simply, women are turning in stronger workplace performances than they realize, but their own perceptions are keeping them from advancing. In women over age 50, the divergence is even greater.

In the study conducted by Scott Taylor, an assistant professor at the University of New Mexico Anderson School of Management, 251 male and female managers from across industries assigned themselves ratings and were evaluated by peers, subordinates and supervisors. Each subject also had to try to predict the ratings he or she would receive.

The dimensions measured in the study were: communication ability, initiative, self-awareness, self-control, empathy, bond-building, teamwork, conflict management and trustworthiness.

The men tended to overestimate how their bosses would rate them, albeit slightly. Women, on the other hand, low-balled their bosses' perspectives by an average of 11 percent. Taylor believes this means that managers should learn more effective ways to interact with female employees -- to help them understand the value they provide to the organization. This is especially true of older female employees, who have generational perspectives that make it more difficult to understand how well they're performing.

Ultimately, the fact that women tend to undervalue their performances in the workplace could be a factor in wage disparities and the fact that fewer of them rise to the top of large companies. As of 2008, Census Bureau findings indicate that women earn 78 percent of what men pull in for equivalent jobs.

So, you'd think a study like this would generate plenty of chatter, right? The blogs should be on fire, either with indignation at the disparity or resignation at the fact that what hasn't changed yet isn't likely to move anytime soon. Instead, we're met with apathy. Women on the Web simply rehashed the story (not that I'm throwing stones, here), but I expected a rich collection of comments. Only three appeared, one of which simply confirmed Taylor's observations.

Another commenter, Belinda Joy, observes, "I think it is because to a great extent we want it both ways. We want to be viewed as equals to men, yet treated differently." She continues, "I believe it is so important that we teach our young ladies today not to buy into the comparing yourself to other women thing that we do." Yet, the best advice comes from the third commenter: "remember that a revolution takes generations."

Fortunately, there's a lot more action over at "The Juggle," a Wall Street Journal blog focused on the trade-offs associated with work and family. Sarah Sabin capitalizes her views on the inequity of the system, claiming that "GIRLS ARE RAISED TO THINK MEN ARE GODS–SOMETIMES LITERALLY. BOYS RECEIVE HIGHER GRADES FOR POORER ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE. WOMEN ENTER THE WORK FORCE ERRONEOUSLY ASSUMING THAT MEN WORK HARDER AND SMARTER THAN THEM."

Generally, though, the commenters decided to dive into the numbers and specific cases, rather than address the broader trend identified by Taylor's study. In the end, though, pay does matter, but not as much as job satisfaction (which was not measured by the study). Says one commenter about her transition from the not-for-profit world to Corporate America, "I just felt underpaid and grumpy [in the not-for-profit space]. In corporate I just feel grumpy :)."

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