Men may feel threatened by female bosses and act more assertively towards them than male supervisors, new research says.
The study published in the journal Society for Personality and Social Psychology said that such behaviour by male employees working with female managers could disrupt the workplace with struggles over power dynamics.
“The concept of masculinity is becoming more elusive in society as gender roles blur, with more women taking management positions and becoming the major breadwinners for their families,” said lead researcher Ekaterina Netchaeva, assistant professor of management and technology at Bocconi University in Milan.
“Even men who support gender equality may see these advances as a threat to their masculinity, whether they consciously acknowledge it or not.”
In an experiment with 76 college students (52 male, 24 female) at a US university, participants were told they would negotiate their salary at a new job in a computer exercise with a male or female hiring manager.
After the negotiation, participants took an implicit threat test where they guessed words that appeared on a computer screen for a fraction of a second.
Participants who chose more threat-related words, including “fear” or “risk,” were judged to feel more threatened.
Male participants who negotiated with a female manager exhibited more threat and pushed for a higher salary ($49,400 average), compared to men negotiating with a male manager ($42,870 average).
The manager’s gender did not affect female participants, Netchaeva said.
The same results were reflected in two other experiments.
Self-assertive behaviour by men toward female bosses could disrupt the workplace dynamics, stifle team cohesiveness and negatively affect team performance, Netchaeva said.
In such cases, female supervisors may want to appear more proactive and less power-seeking to maintain smooth relationships in the workplace.