Conflict resolution, rewards and the gender composition of the workplace

Support for gender differences has been found in studies of conflict resolution. Men and women in similar managerial positions are likely to employ different strategies when dealing with conflict (Holt & DeVore, 2005). Males tend to use direct and more aggressive resolution tactics, while women prefer indirect or communication-dominant tactics (Ting-Toomey, 1986). A recent meta-analysis by Holt and DeVore (2005) also found that

women are more likely to compromise in a conflict than their male counterparts. Though these findings are not universal, and some studies have found evidence to suggest opposite relationships in certain contexts (Muir, 1991; Rahim, 1983), gender does appear to explain some inherent differences in how men and women behave in an organization’s culture and value system.

One of the most salient ways in which an organization can interact with gender is based on values and rewards systems. It is common for traditionally male behaviours and characteristics (e.g., competitiveness, long working hours) to be rewarded in organizations (Morgan, 1986). Women that possess traditionally feminine characteristics are then less likely to be viewed as capable or competitive leaders and attempts to embrace ‘masculine’ characteristics may backfire (Mills, 1988).

Organizations can also shift the identity of its employees through socialization tactics. Starting at the recruitment stage, organizations may have embedded expectations for employees to act in stereotypical or traditional ways (Barron & Norris, 1976). Gender then becomes a defining characteristic and accomplishments or failures are viewed through the lens of employees’ masculinity or femininity. These gender-based values can lead to discrimination against females in the workplace, as males have typically been viewed as the prototypical worker.

In order for culture to have a positive or advantageous effect on women, many researchers have suggested that organizations should embrace more ‘feminine’ or non-traditional values. Bajdo and Dickson (2001) examined organizational culture and the advancement of women in organizations. They found that, controlling for national culture, organizational cultures and climates that were high in humane orientation, gender equity and performance orientation were related to women’s advancement in an organization. Organizations that were low in power distance (i.e., had a culture of shared power and collaboration) were likely to provide more opportunities for women’s advancement. Bajdo and Dickson (2001) also found that the strongest predictor of a woman’s advancement was the number of other women who already held managerial positions. This suggests that social norms regarding gender equity in the workplace may be the biggest cultural obstacle to overcome. Organizations still struggle to increase their female management demographic and create a culture of gender equity, and many face the risk of inadvertently creating a culture that views female executives as simply filling a quota or as unqualified for the role (Ragins, 1995).

Research has also examined men’s reaction to women in male-dominated workplaces. Kvande and Rasmussen (1994) identified four categories of responses to female workers in male-dominated industries: those higher up in the organization who do not see women as competition; those at the same level in the organization who see women as potential competitors in promotion opportunities; those who are lower in the organization and do not currently see the need to compete with women; and those who see their success as dependent on what they do rather than whom they must compete with. These authors also suggest that there are two types of structure and culture, static hierarchy and dynamic networks, which set the context for female workers climbing up the career ladder. Unlike static hierarchies, dynamic structures allow the flexibility for young employees, both men and women, to take on more responsibilities and opportunities to develop, which allows them to move up in the organization.

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