Jan 13, 2022
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Men behave inappropriately if colleagues doubt their courage

When male employees feel their gender status is at risk, they are more likely than their female counterparts to engage in deviant behavior such as lying, cheating or stealing in the workplace. They also become less helpful to colleagues and less willing to cooperate, according to American and Canadian researchers.

The authors point out that gender threats arise when a person’s status as a typical representative of the gender with which he identifies himself is called into question. In many cultures, masculinity is seen as a status to be earned and maintained, while femininity is generally seen as stable.

For men, prescriptive gender behavior tends to focus on individual strength, assertiveness, and the pursuit of achievement. At the same time, for women, gender-based behavior may include sensitivity or service to others, experts specify.

Scientists have tried to understand how a typical male response, known as the social proof reflex, is associated with bad behavior in the workplace. To study this problem, they conducted a series of studies.

The first study involved 186 men and women from different industries. They filled out questionnaires in which they talked about the perception of gender threats in the workplace. Those who reported that their gender had been threatened were significantly more likely to report deviant behavior as a response. Moreover, this effect was much more pronounced in men than in women.

In the second study, 194 participants were randomly assigned to write about events in their lives, such as dinner the night before, or times when their gender status was threatened. After the written exercise, they participated in the negotiations. Compared to people who wrote about ordinary activities, men who recalled a time when their gender was questioned were significantly more likely to lie to gain an advantage in negotiations.

In the third study, experts observed 131 employees of an industrial equipment factory. Every morning for six days, the staff were randomly assigned tasks to memorize notes from the second study. At the end of each working day, men and women reported their good deeds, such as helping colleagues, and negative deeds, such as mistreating others or deliberately idleness.

The results showed that men behaved worse with colleagues and were less likely to help on days when they felt that their gender status was undermined. These gender differences did not show up in response to other types of threats at work.

“Research in the psychology of motivation has generally shown that people have key needs: to feel autonomous and in control, to feel competent and to connect with others. We found that for men, gender threats undermine their sense of autonomy, which in turn encourages them to demonstrate their independence from rules and others,” said Lei Zhu, Associate Professor at the School of Business. Schulich at York University and one of the paper’s co-authors.

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