By Rebekah Peterson
Senior managers, have you ever had a challenging job assignment and weren’t sure who you wanted to give it to? Something like:
“Eeny meeny miny mo…who should I give this project to? Oh, of course, he would be great for this!”
It seems that managers tend to assign challenging job assignments to their male subordinates over their female subordinates—and academic research proves it.
In 2009, researchers Irene De Pater, Annelies Van Vianen, and Myriam Bechtoldt randomly selected 39 senior level supervisors at a pharmaceutical company to participate in a study about job task allocation behavior.
The supervisors answered a questionnaire that consisted of three parts. Participants were asked to:
- Give the initials of six subordinates along with their age, gender, and how long they have worked under their supervision; they were given five descriptions of challenging tasks and asked to rank on a scale 1 (not at all) to 5 (very much) the extent they would assign a task to each subordinate.
- Answer questions about their subordinates ambition and job performance: they ranked on a scale of 1 (not applicable) to 5 (fully applicable) the extent to statements such as “this employee seek managerial positions” applied to each subordinate.
- Additionally answer questions regarding perceived similarity to their subordinates because it would play a major factoring in giving out tasks; on the same 1 to 5 scale, they were asked to rank the extent to statements such as “the things I value in life are similar to the things this employee values.”
As discussed in an earlier post about the first part of this study, the results showed that women do indeed get fewer challenging job tasks than their male co-workers, and now part two shows they aren’t receiving these tasks because of their gender. These results were consistent, even after being examined for whether the subordinates’ gender could explain supervisor’s willingness to assign them challenging tasks—beyond the number of years the subordinate worked under their manager, their ambition, job performance, or even supervisor perception of personal similarity to each subordinate.
So, bosses, before you play eeny meeny miny mo for who should get the next challenging job tasks…
- Recognize if there is a problem. Have you been assigning your male employees more challenging tasks? If not, great! Continue with your equal gender task allocation.
- If there seems to be a problem, the hardest part is acknowledging it and putting in a system to help address any bias. So next time you need to assign an employee to a challenging tasks, use a system that can help you track your subordinate’s years at the organization and their levels of ambition and job performance to decided more fairly who should get the task.
Or, another idea: make a list of promising subordinates for this tasks and schedule 5 minute meetings with each. See which subordinate has to right management style and ideas to bring to the project.
Make assigning tasks fair for everyone and come up with your own system to ensure that this happens. So from now on, don’t fall into the eeny meeny miny mo game…pick the right person for the challenging task.