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Discussion: Men, Women, and Work


Workplace culture and demographics have changed considerably over the past few decades. Increased opportunities in education and employment have seen more women join the workforce and traditionally masculine professions than ever before. However, despite these remarkable strides, they are still underrepresented in top executive positions. Old stereotypes that equate masculine traits with effective leadership, limited growth opportunities for females, and subtle gender biases may account for this disparity. More importantly, achieving a work-life balance may be a challenge for women leaders when the workplace lacks flexibility and promotes the old gendered roles.

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Gender Role and Opportunity in the Workplace

Traditional and modern gender roles stem from an interaction between sociocultural and economic factors. The biosocial model explains how gendered roles are constructed and promoted in the workplace. Socially imposed limitations and opportunities reflect sex differences in physical and reproductive roles (Zhu & Chang, 2019). In industrial societies, roles were ascribed to men and women based on perceived sex-specific constraints and aggressive competitiveness. Men were seen as providers and thus undertook skilled activities available in emerging industries, while women attended to domestic duties. Because of gender-typed roles, males achieved a higher economic status and created patriarchal systems (Zhu & Chang, 2019). This socio-historical factor explains the low social stratification of women and the gender inequality that persists even today.

Although equal opportunities have been provided in most organizations, males still dominate top positions and earn more than women. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates reported by Semega et al. (2020) show that females earned 82% of what males earned in 2019. Women are also significantly underrepresented in managerial and executive positions. The gender gap of 32% occurs in economic participation, education, health, and politics (Semega et al., 2020). These disparities may be attributed to old stereotypes persisting in modern workplaces. Gender stereotyping is a barrier to female progression in managerial occupations because of patriarchal expectations (Tabassum & Nayak, 2021). Highly valued leadership traits, such as being assertive and strong, are negatively perceived as pushy and domineering when expressed by women.

Working Flexibility and Spending Time with Family

Flexible working arrangements are a growing trend in the workplace as more millennial generation join the workforce. Work flexibility is a progressive step for employees, especially women, to attain work-life balance. They have an opportunity to adapt workplace tasks to family obligations, achieve the required work hours after giving birth, and stay in labor-intensive roles despite high domestic demands (Tabassum & Nayak, 2021). Therefore, unlike traditional models, working flexibility will allow women to spend more time with family and achieve a work-life balance.

The pre-existing gendered roles will potentially creep into new models of working. Men who are not likely to be weighed down by traditional domestic tasks will work more hours and receive higher compensation than women working from home or remotely (Chung & van der Lippe, 2020). This scenario will evolve into a work-family conflict for male workers. On the other hand, flexible working arrangements will allow women to expand their responsibilities within the family, which may cause work-family conflict (Chung & van der Lippe, 2020). However, compared to men, female workers engaged in flexible working models will not be rewarded because of the difference in gender role expectations.

Women’s Responsibility and Gender Roles

The traditional gendered roles have, over time, fixed different responsibilities for males and females. From the biosocial model, social norms dictate that women play homemaking and caregiving roles in society, while men should perform the task of protecting and providing for the family (Zhu & Chang, 2019). These gender relations are constructed early in life and account for differences in labor participation between men and women. Families expect mothers to clean the house, cook, do laundry, and care for their children (Collica-Cox & Schulz, 2021). In the workplace, women are assigned activities congruent with their social roles. These ingrained sex-typed stereotypes make hiring managers not recruit women into leadership positions, as they lack the ‘masculine’ traits needed for success.

Segregation and Workplace Roles

Segregation along masculine-feminine lines stems from gender identity construction in childhood that affects career choices later in life. Children are socialized through interactions with same-sex peers; thus, they grow in separate cultures (Breda et al., 2020). The separation and divisions along gender lines are reflected in academic performance, influencing career choices. Hustad et al. (2020) found that Swedish women are disproportionately represented in people-oriented occupations such as customer care, while men dominate fields with high numerical demands like engineering, but this trend is changing. Gender stereotypes may account for the early segregation, which impacts career choices and the kind of workplace roles men and women do.

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Reasons for Gender Differences

Differences in career choices between men and women are reflected in a vertical or horizontal concentration of either sex in a given sector. Horizontal segregation occurs when male or female workers are disproportionately represented in an occupation, while vertically segregated systems have unequal hierarchical distribution of the sexes (Risman et al., 2018). Educational and employment structures help explain differences in the concentration of men or women in occupations. Makarova et al. (2019) note that an education system that disadvantages girls will result in fewer females graduating in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) areas. As a result, they will be underrepresented in high-paying careers, creating a gender gap in earnings.

The structure of cathexis is recognized as one of the social aspects influencing behavioral norms for the sexes within the theory of gender and power. In this regard, different social norms are imposed on people, where assertiveness or authority is a symbol of masculinity, while submissiveness is a valued feminine trait (Fleming et al., 2018). Thus, the structure of cathexis shape gender-power dynamics and create subtle biases that limit female employees from attaining leadership roles.

Gender differences in occupations may also be due to biological reasons. Dekhtyar et al. (2018) found disparities in cognitive ability, perceived self-efficacy, and pursuits between men and women. This psychological view has a basis in the social cognitive model, where males may generally perform higher in STEM subjects but lower in verbal tests than females. As a result, career choices will be different between men and women. Socialization may also account for gender differences in occupations or sectors. For example, the Swedish workforce is highly horizontally segregated due to women being socialized to enter sex-typed, people-oriented occupations in the 1990s (Hustad et al., 2020). Thus, gender norms ingrained in the social environment account for differences in occupation between the sexes.

Situation and Comparison Between Men and Women

Currently, women are underrepresented in executive roles compared to men. A high gender gap of 32% was found in education, health, and politics (Semega et al., 2020). Traditional gender stereotypes value leadership qualities, such as assertiveness, which are thought to be exclusively masculine. Females expressing similar attributes may not be viewed favorably in the workplace. Men also have more networks and mentorship opportunities than women (Lott, 2018). Thus, they are likely to advance in their career to occupy top positions. On the other hand, the lack of female mentors in male-dominated fields, discriminatory hiring practices, and inflexible workplaces may constrain women from achieving leadership roles.

Challenges Facing Work-Life Balance and Impact on Family

Work-life balance is critical to increasing female participation in labor. Some flexible working models are associated with increased work-family conflict, especially for women. Chung and van der Lippe (2020) found that working flexibly or part-time is likely to result in negative outcomes, such as reduced promotions and career growth opportunities, for mothers compared to men. Flexible work models are also associated with stigma and lower earning potential, as women attending to their domestic roles may not improve paid overtime hours. Chung and van der Lippe (2020) also found that an expansion of work due to workplace and household demands may destabilize work-life balance. Women’s domestic responsibilities are likely to increase when working from home. Thus, gender roles and stereotypes are a challenge to achieving work-life balance and female progression in their careers.

Flexible work systems will impact family, work-life balance, and gender stereotypes. Family care roles are likely to be enhanced at the expense of career progression. As Lott (2018) notes, domestic obligations are constraints that women must overcome to improve their career outcomes when working flexibly. Flexible working may also cause a reversion to traditional gender roles, where men should ideally work in offices and women do domestic tasks prescribed by society.


The workplace has changed significantly, with more women joining the workforce than ever before. Flexible working models have been adopted to enhance work-life balance and productivity and help women attain leadership roles. However, gendered roles have increased domestic burdens and caused negative career outcomes for female workers. Discrepancies in wages and career growth opportunities between the sexes have widened, hindering gender equality in the top leadership positions.

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Lott, Y. (2018). Does flexibility help employees switch off from work? Flexible working-time arrangements and cognitive work-to-home spillover for women and men in Germany. Social Indicators Research, 151, 471-494. Web.

Makarova, E., Aeschlimann, B., & Herzog, W. (2019). The gender gap in STEM fields: The impact of the gender stereotype of math and science on secondary students’ career aspirations. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 1-9. Web.

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Risman, B. J., Froyum, C. M., Scarborough, W. J. (Eds.). (2018). Handbook of the sociology of gender. Springer International Publishing.

Semega, J., Kollar, M., Shrider, E. A., & Creamer, J. (2020). Income and poverty in the United States: 2019. Web.

Tabassum, N., & Nayak, B. S. (2021). Gender stereotypes and their impact on women’s career progression from a managerial perspective. IIM Kozhikode Society and Management Review, 10(2), 192-208. Web.

Zhu, N., & Chang, L. (2019). Evolved but not fixed: A life history account of gender roles and gender inequality. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 1-12. Web.

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