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In What Ways do Gender Relations Affect Work Organization and Management? sample essay

With the influx of women into the workforce during the last 20 years, there has been increased attention to comparisons between men and women on a number of work-related attributes and behaviors. With this increased attention, there has also been some confusion about whether women and men differ to a significant degree, how much they differ, and whether these differences truly are meaningful regarding behavior at work. The principal goal of this work is to consider gender issues that affect work organisation and management.

The discussion of gender and work which is included in this paper is selective in focusing mainly on recent research, in which the topic has been considered explicitly. The cases considered provide useful examples of the role of gender in work. The discussion uses definition of gender as ‘a system of culturally constructed identities, expressed in ideologies of masculinity and femininity, interacting with socially structured relationships in divisions of labour and leisure, sexuality and power between women and men’ (Nicolson, 1996. p. 54).

Although women and men have always engaged in purposeful activity, the set of activities that many people consider work or employment is not always clear. Historically, men and women worked side by side together in the fields. Today, however, a distinction is made between paid, public work external to the family and unpaid, private work in the home. Each of these spheres of work has come to be sex-typed, with paid work being viewed by many as the domain of males and unpaid work in the home the domain of females. These perceptions are changing but are still deep-seated in many respects (Nicolson, 1996).

Stereotyping involves generalizing beliefs about groups as a whole to members of those groups. For example, if you believe that older people are more likely to resist change than younger people, you may infer that an older person you have just met is likely to be rigid and to have a hard time adapting to changes. Through stereotyping, we can categorize people into groups on numerous demographic bases, including gender, race, age, religion, social class, and so forth, and our perceptions of specific individuals will be influenced by what we know or think we know about the group as a whole. Gender stereotypes are socially shared beliefs about the characteristics or attributes of men and women in general that influence our perceptions of individual men and women (Nicolson, 1996).

The stereotype literature suggests that our general beliefs about groups of people can affect our assessments of individual group members (Biernat, 1991). Stereotypes can contribute to shared misperceptions of coworkers, job candidates, performance, and credentials (Haworth 90). Stereotypes not only affect the decisions we make about men and women but also affect self-perceptions, decisions, and choices made by those men and women. Furthermore, gender stereotypes can create a self-fulfilling prophecy, in the sense that both men and women may feel pressure to behave in ways that correspond to gender stereotypes. Thus, stereotypes can affect both how men and women behave in the workplace and how their behavior is perceived.

In recent years, the influx of women into the workforce in general, and into nontraditional occupations in particular, has led to increased attention in the popular media. One result of the recent profusion of books, magazine articles, and newspaper stories dealing with these topics is an increasing level of confusion about whether there are, in fact, sex or gender differences between women and men; or if there are such differences, in what ways (i.e., personality, skills, leadership, intelligence, etc.) men and women differ, how much they differ, and whether the differences really mean anything (Nicolson, 1996).

Given our social expectations of men and women based on gender stereotypes, it is not surprising to observe some differences between men and women in numerous domains at work. For example, men and women differ in their expectations for success on specific tasks, and these expectations are related to achievement motivation on the task. This finding has been interpreted as meaning that women have lower expectations for success than men, and that is why they do not attempt new tasks or perform as well as men on subsequent tasks.

However, an equally plausible explanation is that women face more barriers than men on the job, especially sex discrimination, and are less likely to be successful due in part to biased evaluations. Furthermore, women may take this into account when forming their expectations about occupations that do not require lengthy training programs or extensive time commitment. That is, success expectations for a woman may include an implicit assessment of the sexism within her current environment as well as an assessment of her ability to perform a given task (Haworth, 2004).

There is evidence (from studies conducted in the 1970s and again in the 1990s) suggesting a small but consistent impact of gender stereotypes on work-related decisions and on men’s and women’s self-perceptions of their behavior, performance, and worth (including expectations for pay).However, the observed differences must be interpreted with much caution.

One conclusion drawn from these differences is that women are deficient in some ways compared to men. It is easy to attribute the cause of such differences to internal, skill, personality, or biological explanations. The reliance on internal or person-based explanations inhibit and often precludes the search for equally compelling external, situation-based explanations for gender differences. Most behaviors that reflect gender differences are learned behaviors, and by labeling them as masculine and feminine, scientists may reinforce the association of that behavior with gender (Haworth, 2004).

The positive expectations associated with physical attractiveness generalize beyond interpersonal relationships such as dating and marriage into the work setting. Perceptions of attractiveness have a moderate effect on perceptions of the person’s intellectual competence. The link between attractiveness and perceptions of intelligence appears to be similar for both men and women.

However, attractiveness appears to have a stronger effect for women than for men on perceptions of job performance (Lewis & Bierlys, 1990). Applicants and employees with higher physical attractiveness are expected to do better work. Once completed, their work is evaluated more positively than identical work by less attractive individuals. In one study, highly attractive authors were evaluated as having better ideas, demonstrating better style, being more creative, and generally producing higher quality work.

In the interviewing setting, if an interviewer believes that physical attractiveness is an important job attribute, then being attractive is an advantage. There is extensive research evidence that attractiveness positively influences entry-level employment decisions. Other research has shown few significant effects.

Although there is some evidence to the contrary, physical attractiveness appears to interact with the sex-type of the job to influence work evaluations (Crompton, 1996. p. 8). Physical attractiveness is a positive feature for women when applying to lower level positions (e.g., clerical) but not for higher level positions (e.g., management), whereas physical attractiveness is advantageous for men in a wider range of positions. These advantages and disadvantages are similar for such work decisions as evaluations of applicant qualifications, hiring recommendations, starting salary, and rankings of hiring preferences (Nicolson, 1996. p. 68).

At work, physical attractiveness is usually an advantage for women and men, but for women, there are limits to these positive consequences. Attractiveness is most beneficial for women working in traditional feminine areas or just entering an organization. However, when women enter more traditionally masculine work, physical attractiveness can be a liability (Biernat & Wortman, 1991. p. 4). One interpretation of these findings is that because women who are physically attractive are also perceived as more feminine (Aaltio, 2002, p. 55), the negative female stereotype of being less intelligent or competent may be activated or salient. Especially in masculine occupations where competence is of great perceived importance, attractive women may face discrimination.

Workplace romance can influence organizational effectiveness in a number of ways, including the breakdown of the legitimacy of organizational promotions and structure, excessive transfers, and more terminations (Pierce et al., 1996). Especially when a romantic relationship involves a supervisor and a subordinate, it is likely to result in perceptions of favoritism and inequity concerning promotions among coworkers. When coworkers perceive such favoritism they can become both alienated from the work group (Pugh, 1997) and envious which can result in an imbalance of power within the organization (Grint, 2005).

Furthermore, when the power structure within an organization breaks down, channels for advancement become closed off and promotion and raise decisions become distorted and unpredictable. When one investigates the basis for promotions and who is promoted, it is important to examine the values, informal guidelines, and norms surrounding such decisions. Therefore, the relationship between workplace romance and promotion decisions may depend, in part, on the culture of the organization.

Should employees participating in a workplace romance be transferred or relocated? Managers appear to perceive job relocation as a reasonable intervention to workplace romance (Pierce, Byrne & Aguinis, 1996. p.7) especially when employees engage in such behavior against formal organizational policy. Furthermore, employees might expect such transfers as a consequence. Some experts (Andrews & Knoke, 1999) suggest that management should offer relocation as one option for couples to consider. However, female participants are more frequently relocated than males, and fewer of these women occupy top-level management or higher status positions. Therefore, organizational relocation decisions in situations of workplace romance may be discriminatory based on the employees’ gender or organizational positions.

The decision to terminate or dismiss an employee because of his or her involvement in a workplace romance may also be viewed as a detrimental managerial action, one representing a punitive form of organizational intervention. Yet employees are often dismissed for participating in a workplace romance.

Furthermore, a female participant is more likely to be terminated than a male participant, the participant who is lower in status or less “valuable” to the organization is more often terminated, and extramarital affairs are more likely to result in employee termination as compared to other types of affairs. However, there is a need to identify managerial prejudices and inequitable decisions based on gender, so that if terminations are made within the context of workplace romance, an employee is terminated based on poor performance rather than gender or organizational status (Haworth, 2004).

Our personal physical attractiveness plays a tremendous role in our interactions with others in our work lives. There is evidence that attractiveness influences what people expect from us, how people respond to us, and what decisions we make are made about us. Yet many organizational texts do not address this topic. We believe that physical attractiveness is a pivotal factor in the development of relationships, friendships, and romances in the workplace. Furthermore, these relationships greatly shape men’s and women’s experiences of work (Haworth, 2004).

The physical attractiveness stereotype is generally, “What is beautiful is good.” This view appears to hold for younger and older persons and for men and women. Yet the stereotype is subtle, and often we deny its influence on our behavior. Attractiveness appears to influence the expectations we have about each other including intelligence, interpersonal skills, honesty, and guilt or innocence of a crime. Furthermore, attractiveness appears to influence a number of work-related decisions including hiring decisions, work evaluations, interview ratings, and salaries (Pierce, Byrne & Aguinis, 1996).

Physical attractiveness is a key factor in interpersonal attraction and liking as well as in the development of romantic relationships at work. Although such factors as propinquity, familiarity, attitude similarity, and reciprocity of liking are important, an attractive individual is more likely to engage in interpersonal relationships than a less attractive individual. Furthermore, interpersonal attraction is one antecedent of sexually intimate relationships including romantic relationships at work.

Workplace romances appear to be increasing among American workers. The rise seems to be associated with greater acceptance of office dating, especially among coworkers (less so between a manager and subordinate), and organizational cultures that convey more liberal attitudes about the appropriateness of such behavior. There are numerous outcomes or consequences of workplace romances, and such outcomes may depend, in part, on the type of romance occurring: true love, the fling, or a utilitarian relationship.

More negative coworker and organizational reactions occur with utilitarian relationships, followed by flings and true love. Although workplace romances can promote perceptions of inequity among coworkers and increased legal liability for the organization, these reactions are usually is associated with manager-subordinate romances and perceptions of sexual harassment (Pierce, Byrne & Aguinis, 1996).

The central argument of this paper is that gender relations are constitutive of the structure and practices of organizations and that this is key to understanding how men define and dominate organizations. These gendered processes operate on many levels, from the explicit and institutional to the more subtle, cultural forms that are submerged in organizational decisions, even those that appear to have nothing to do with gender (Crompton, 1996. p. 60).

They include the way men’s influence is embedded in rules and procedures, formal job definitions and functional roles. For example, the structure of a management career, based on men’s experiences, needs and life-cycle patterns, assumes a history of continuous, full-time employment. Or the way in which gender is mapped onto organizational authority resulting in a sexual division of labor whereby it is prescribed that women are better suited to personnel management than other management functions.


Aaltio, Iiris. (2002). Gender, Identity and the Culture of Organizations. Routledge: London.

Andrews, S.B. & Knoke, D. (eds) (1999). Networks in and around Organizations, Stamford, Conn.: JAI Press.

Biernat M., & Wortman C. B. (1991). “Sharing of home responsibilities between professionally employed women and their husbands.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61.

Crompton, Rosemary. (1996). Changing Forms of Employment: Organisations, Skills, and Gender. Routledge: New York.

Grint, K. (2005). The Sociology of Work, 3rd edn, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Haworth, John T. (2004). Work and Leisure. Routledge: New York.

Lewis K. E., & Bierly M. (1990). “Toward a profile of the female voter: Sex differences in perceived physical attractiveness and competence of political candidates”. Sex Roles, 22.

Nicolson, Paula. (1996). Gender, Power, and Organization: A Psychological Perspective. Routledge: New York.

Pierce C. A., Byrne D., & Aguinis H. (1996). “Attraction in organizations: A model of workplace romance”. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 17.

Pugh, D.S. (1997). Organization Theory: Selected Readings, 4 edn, thLondon: Penguin.

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