Archives for January 2010

Breaking the Glass Ceiling, One Bias at a Time

Although working women are piling up educational credentials and experience, in far too many organizations they are still butting up against a glass ceiling. These invisible barriers to upward mobility can come in various forms: lack of mentoring of women, gender stereotyping, and views that men make more effective leaders. In the U.S., women holding the titles of chairman, CEO, COO, and executive vice president remain at about 7 percent of the population of executives.

While many possible causes of the glass ceiling have been studied, one overlooked area is managers’ perceptions of women’s work and family demands. Researchers Jenny M. Hoobler, Sandy J. Wayne, and Grace Lemmon (U of Illinois at Chicago) designed a study to test two ideas: whether managers view women as having more difficulty than men executing their work roles due to family responsibilities; and whether women, based on this perception, are less suitable for promotion. The study was based on a sample of 126 female subordinates and 52 male and female managers from one midwestern-U.S. division of a Fortune 100 transportation firm.

The result was conclusive: “Even though female employees actually reported slightly less family-work conflict than their male counterparts,” the researchers write in the Academy of Management Journal, “their managers still perceived them as having greater family-work conflict, a perception that had significant implications for women’s organizational advancement.” (These biases held for both male and female managers.) Because of these perceptions, managers rated women lower on job and organizational fit and performance.

“We have uncovered a critical dimension of the social role expectations that play a key role in the upward progress of female workers,” the researchers write. “Furthermore, we feel that such stereotyping is quite significant, with strong ramifications for people and organizations, given that these perceptions affect important managerial decisions.”

If these results are a true reflection of what is going on in organizations, there are a couple of practical implications.

One, to reduce or eliminate the impact of gender on managers’ perceptions of family-work conflict, managers must be made aware of their potential to stereotype. This is not simply a male-female issue. As the investigators note, “Male managers have been said to be gatekeepers of the upper echelons of management, yet we found that female managers held family-work conflict stereotypes about female subordinates as well.”

Two, women who participate in company-sponsored programs that assist employees with managing family-work conflict may be signaling to their managers that they need help balancing home and work domains. Given prevailing stereotypes, this would likely kill their opportunities to be promoted.

Reference:

Hoobler, Jenny M., Sandy J. Wayne, and Grace Lemmon. “Bosses’ perceptions of family-work conflict and women’s promotability: Glass ceiling effects.” Academy of Management Journal 52, No. 5 (2009): 939-957

The Rise of Conglomerate Unions: Less Than Meets the Eye?

Trade union mergers in Europe and North America have been going strong since the Second World. It is almost always a question of survival: mergers or absorptions are thought to help unions maintain or grow membership to sustain their financial base and increase bargaining power.

While in the past mergers occurred among unions in the same industry or occupation, more recently unions from different parts of the economy have merged to create super-unions, such as ver.di in Germany and UNITE in the UK.

Across the pond in the U.S. starting in the 1980s, five unions led the way in multi-jurisdictional mergers: the Service Employees’ Union, the Union Food and Commercial Workers, the Communications Workers of America, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and the United Steelworkers of America.

You could understand their logic: the trade union movement saw the decline of master agreements, which led to decentralized bargaining and greater administrative costs. There was a sudden decline in organizing and subsequent loss of union revenue. “Mergers came to be seen as a potentially cost-effective alternative to organizing as a means of sustaining membership levels,” writes Kim Moody (Centre for Research in Employment Studies, U Hertfordshire) in the British Journal of Industrial Relations. “With smaller unions looking for mergers to survive, jurisdiction became less important for both those willing to be absorbed and those seeking more members.”

Moody took a detailed look at multi-jurisdictional unionism in the U.S. In particular, he assessed the three major arguments in its favour: that it improves the union’s finances, that it increases organizing capacity, and that it boosts union bargaining power.

Moody’s conclusion: Conglomerate unions “do not achieve notable improvements in these three areas, nor do they perform better than other large unions that have engaged in fewer mergers over time. All that can be said is that mergers may prevent even worse performance outcomes, hardly what the advocates of conglomerate mergers claim.”

Are multi-jurisdictional unions in better financial shape? One measure is the degree to which the membership itself finances the union through dues and fees. All the unions studied by Moody rely heavily on income from investments and the sales of assets to cover total costs. As well, bigger unions mean ballooning staff and administrative costs.

Do union mergers lead to increased organizing? “While greater resources could increase organizing capacity,” Moody writes, “a good deal of these resources appear to go on staff and administrative costs as the number of sectors and agreements proliferate.”

Do these unions have greater bargaining power? The reality is that strikes are more infrequent, real weekly wages have declined, and benefits won in earlier times have been rolled back. “As measured by the outcomes of wage agreements in the major jurisdictions of these unions,” writes Moody, “there is no evidence of improved or above average performance. In fact, many of these agreements fall short of the average increases for unionized workers generally and in their major economic sectors.”

References:

“The Direction of Union Mergers in the United States: The Rise of Conglomerate Unionism,” by Kim Moody; British Journal of Industrial Relations (47:4 December 2009 0007-1080 pp. 676-700)

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