By Durward Stone
Researchers at Cornell University have found there is significant income difference between agreeable and disagreeable males in the workplace, but the same can’t be said for women. There are distinct financial advantages to work as a slightly obstinate male, whereas the advantages to labor as an oppositional female are quite minimal.
Employers, many without realizing it, penalize employees for displaying behavior that is a contrast to the stereotypes of their gender. If you’re a woman, your supervisor could subconsciously expect nurturing, understanding, and passivity from you just because you’re a woman. But if you’re a man displaying these same attributes, your superiors, and perhaps some of your coworkers could begin to observe you as malfunctioning or deviating equipment, so to speak.
These findings may seem a bit surprising or unbelievable to us common folk, but for many in academia, the income effects of attitude relative to gender in the workplace are old news. Researchers combined results from four different studies all concluding, that the less agreeable an employee is the more likely he or she will be paid more than their agreeable co-workers. But why?
When it comes to selecting a new hire, on the surface it may seem as if employers only seek individuals who can accurately execute tasks. But under an objective lens, what employers truly look for are laborers who will not only be an appreciator of invested capital but also, and maybe even more importantly…a vanguard.
If an employer gets the sense an employee won’t protect his or her own self-interest’s, then how can that individual be trusted to guard the company? An employee may assume doing things like coming to work every time they’re called in on a day off is an endearing quality to the boss, but over time this unfettered devotion may leave the worker looking passive, impressionable, and not so clever overall. But the employee’s gender can make all the difference in how the employer interprets and compensates such a high level of agreeableness.
Gender bias can manipulate the entire structure and hierarchy of an organization. If assertiveness is taken as a sign of uniformity or ambition in a male but seen as divergence or being “bitchy” in a female, pay and rate of advancement will vary drastically between them. Men who are passive are deviants, while compliance in women is understandable and expected. So, boardrooms get filled with stereotypical males while the counter-stereotypical are assigned to whatever positions are leftover.
Researchers define agreeableness as the level at which a person displays trust, straightforwardness, altruism, compliance, modesty, and tender-mindedness (Costa & McCrae, 1992). Disagreeableness is not defined as hostility but more so a worker’s ability to remain assertive during a disagreement. Agreeable men still earn more than agreeable women, but the pay gap between disagreeable men and disagreeable women is ocean wide.
There is also some evidence that naturally disagreeable women may choose to exhibit agreeableness due to an expectation that being counter-stereotypical is likely to yield a negative effect on income or minimal pay increases at best.
The report gathered data from four different studies and/or surveys from 1993-2008.
• The ‘National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth’ took place from 1997-2008. In its first-year, the 560 participants were 12-16 years old. As the survey matured, participants had to work a minimum of a 1,000 hours a week, could not be a full-time college student or work at home.
• The ‘Mid Life Development In The United States Survey’(MIDUS) took place from 1995-1996. 1,681 participants ranging in ages from 25-75 were selected at random for phone interviews and email surveys. Individuals selected were all English speaking and living in the United States.
• The Wisconsin Longitudinal Study(WLS) included 1,691 individuals and lasted from 1992-1993. The study included participants who had full- time jobs and acquired positive income annually. Participants answered questions on what value they put on pay and relationships.
• Southeastern University: 460 undergraduate business management students reviewed assessments of 8 entry-level applicants and were asked to make determinations on which candidates were better suited for growth within the company. The 8 candidates were either male or female and differed in level of agreeableness.
Business owners, managers, and supervisors should be careful not to establish pay and promotional structures reflective of gender bias. If employees notice low levels of agreeableness are rewarded with advancement and higher rates of pay, the entire workforce could become disagreeable to become promotable. Pressuring workers to treat the job more like a poker table than a legitimate place of business.