Power of Haas Ideas

Working for the Woman

Female managers do not reduce the gender wage gap, study finds

Working women are “leaning in” and supporting more females in leadership roles, but a new study finds that having a female manager doesn’t necessarily equate to higher salaries for female employees. In fact, women can sometimes take an earnings hit relative to male colleagues when they work for a female manager.

In “Agents of Change or Cogs in the Machine? Re-examining the Influence of Female Managers on the Gender Wage Gap”(American Journal of Sociology, May 2015), Haas Assistant Professor Sameer B. Srivastava and doctoral student Eliot L. Sherman examined how the salaries of both male and female employees changed when they switched and reported to a manager of a different gender.

Whereas most previous research has suggested that female managers are “agents of change” who act in ways that reduce the gender wage gap, this study found no support for this assertion. In fact, a subset of switchers—low-performing women who switched to working for a high-performing female supervisor—fared worse financially than their male colleagues making a comparable switch.

According to Srivastava, this effect can occur when people see themselves as part of a valuable group but worry that others won’t see them that way. “A high-performing woman might, for example, worry about being devalued because of her association with a low-performing female subordinate,” he explains. “This might lead her to undervalue the subordinate’s contributions.”

Srivastava and Sherman analyzed 1,701 full-time U.S. employees working for a leading firm in the information services industry between 2005 and 2009. They looked at salary, reporting structure, annual performance evaluations, and demographic information. The average age of employees was 43, average length of employment was 8.85 years, and merit increases ranged from 3 to 5 percent.

The authors concluded that it may be wishful thinking to assume that the gender wage gap will automatically close as more women take management positions. For fundamental change to occur, they argue, the increasing number of women managers must be matched by an organizational culture that is keen on gender equality, fostering initiatives to reduce tokenism and encouraging women to positively identify with their gender in the workplace. —Pamela Tom

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Assistant Professor Sameer B. Srivastava Assistant Professor Sameer B. Srivastava