Despite the remarkable increase of female participation in education, the labor market and political life that has taken place over the past several decades, women are on average still paid less than men and are largely underrepresented in supervisory, managerial and executive positions. As research has shown, firms profit from establishing gender balance throughout their workforce for several reasons, for example, through promoting a more cooperative work environment.
Another positive effect of having women in leadership positions was highlighted in a new IZA Discussion Paper by Claudio Lucifora (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore and IZA) and Daria Vigani (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore), which investigates the association between female leadership, work organization practices and perceived gender discrimination within firms.
The female boss effect
The authors use data for 30 European countries for the period 1995-2010 and find that having a female boss is associated with lower overall gender discrimination at work. When investigating the underlying mechanisms that shape gender imbalances within firms, Lucifora and Vigani find evidence of a “women helping women” pattern, along with its associated spill-over effects, which leads to a reduction in discrimination toward women.
A better balance between work and life, a supportive work environment, and flexible working time, particularly for women in high-skilled jobs, are shown to be effective in reducing gender discrimination. There are several implications of the above findings for gender equity at work:
First, promoting a higher presence of women in leadership positions all along the occupational spectrum is an effective way of reducing gender bias and discrimination toward women in workplaces. This has a direct (causal) effect as well as an indirect (spill-over) effect on female subordinates in predominantly female jobs. While there is evidence of an adverse effect on male employees in predominantly female jobs, it is difficult to say whether this is the result of a reversal of (taste or statistical) discrimination against women or a genuine behavioral effect of women discrimination toward men.
Second, the results show that when there is a gender bias in the way work is organized (long working hours, rigid working-time schedules and low work-life balance), women are more likely to be penalized. Thus, promoting family-friendly work practices such as part-time work, flexible working time and parental leave arrangements is another effective way to better balance work and life across gender, particularly for women (and men) with caring responsibilities.
Changing work culture
Whether these changes should be implemented through company provided benefit schemes, through public subsidies for part-time work and child care facilities, or both is yet to be assessed. Conversely, any company or public policy that disproportionately rewards long and inflexible working time schedules, either through company bonuses or tax-breaks on overtime work, will make it more difficult for women to gain higher management positions.
The same is true for career concerns that are centered on high work intensity and rank-ordered tournaments, which are likely to reduce opportunities for women in organizations as well. While affirmative action and mandatory quotas for women in executive boards may reverse the general pattern in top positions, the results suggest that female leadership itself can have a welfare improving effect on gender discrimination all along the occupational hierarchy.