By Liz Warren-Pederson
Using data from New York City advertising agencies over a 13-year period, associate professor of management Joe Broschak and coauthor Lisa Cohen of McGill University find that the number of newly created managerial jobs first filled by women increases with an agency’s proportion of female managers. New managerial jobs, titles that previously did not exist in organizations, represent new career opportunities for men and women managers.
“We don’t try to show whether managers are exhibiting a preference for assigning new jobs to men or women, or whether men or women want to have new jobs in firms where there are people like them,” Broschak said.
Instead, the researchers demonstrate a new finding which challenges existing theory: “Where most theories of gender inequality in careers presume that men and women are hired or promoted into different jobs in fixed organizational structures, we find that men and women’s access to new managerial jobs varies with the proportion of female managers in a firm, and that the effects of the proportion of female managers matters differently for men and women managers.”
For women, the chances of receiving new managerial jobs increase with women’s increasing representation in management – the strength in numbers argument. “And we argue that this result is not strictly the result of homophily, the tendency to prefer others like ourselves. Rather, we suggest it is possible that in firms with many female managers, women may actually want to differentiate their jobs from the jobs of other women,” Broschak said. “Having a large proportion of female managers simply gives women both the means and opportunity for doing so.”
In contrast to these results, the researchers find that the effect of the proportion of female managers on the number of new management jobs filled by men is positive initially, but then plateaus and turns negative.
“This suggests to us a different process is at work; for men the effects of the proportion of female managers are most pronounced in settings where women are a small but identifiable minority, where turbulence and intergroup conflict between male and female managers are highest. Assigning new job titles to men in these settings is a way to separate male and female managers and preserve the status of men in these organizations,” Broschak said.
The work represents a step forward for research on understanding the consequences of the demographics of organizations. “Demographic diversity – the proportion of female managers – doesn’t just influence the attitudes, behaviors, and career patterns of men and women,” he said. “It also influences changes in the structure of organizations, and the kinds of positions that exist for men and women to hold.”
If the researchers’ conclusions are correct, Broschak said it is possible that other important organizational activities, such as the number and type of market relationships a firm has with customers and suppliers, the types of markets firms enter, and their overall market strategy, may be influenced by the demography of a firm’s managerial workforce.
“Up to this point, researchers have always assumed the causal process between these organizational activities and who gets hired and promoted went in the other direction,” he said.
Business man and woman waiting on a sofa in a lobby photo courtesy Shutterstock.