Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Does Gender Matter?

Gender does matter in the workplace, according to the results of a new study co-authored by CEIBS Associate Professor of Management and Co-Director of the CEIBS Centre on China Innovation Han Jian. The study explores the role of gender and trust in shaping organizational behaviour, and the researchers found that gender composition plays a crucial role in trust, job attitudes and behaviours.

The goal of the study was to understand the factors that contribute to the effectiveness of women as supervisors and subordinates in the manufacturing sector. It found that a supervisor’s gender makes a difference in certain behaviours of female subordinates. Specifically, the results show that men tend to be more proactive in engaging in so-called helping behaviours, regardless of whether their boss is a man or a woman, whereas women are more likely to show helping behaviours when their boss is a man. When they have a female supervisor, the results showed that women are unlikely to take the initiative to engage in these helping behaviours unless they have a high level of what academics call affect-based trust with their supervisor. This is the interpersonal or relationship-based trust that usually develops between people over time. The researchers believe the reason for this difference is that women tend to value the emotional investment of developing a relationship with others, and when their boss is a woman this emotional investment often becomes a motivating factor for them to take the initiative to go the extra mile in their work.   

For the study, Professor Han Jian and her co-authors used survey data from a group of supervisors and their subordinates employed at five state-owned manufacturing companies in Southwest China. The respondents were full-time employees involved in product management, engineering, production, quality assurance, general affairs, accounting or customer service. The subordinates were asked to respond to questions designed to measure their affect-based and cognition-based trust in their supervisor. Cognition-based trust is the trust you have in another person based on their professional credentials and performance. Supervisors were asked to assess their subordinates’ responsibility and knowledge sharing behaviours, as well as their organizational citizenship behaviours, which are behaviours that go beyond the scope of their job description and benefit their team and the company.

Their findings have practical implications for the training and development of female supervisors in the manufacturing sector. Women in supervisory positions need to learn how to develop strategies for increasing trust among their female subordinates in order to encourage them to share responsibilities and collaborate in exchanging information and knowledge. These types of exchanges help teams to maintain a high level of job performance and to innovate; without trust, a supervisor’s team may have a lower team performance. The findings also suggest that women in the manufacturing sector will do better in leadership positions when they supervise a mixed-gender team.

The results can be found in the study “Does Gender Matter? A study of trust and its outcomes in the manufacturing sector in mainland China” which was published by Gender in Management: An International Journal. Professor Han Jian’s co-authors are Louise Tourigny of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and Vishwanath V. Baba of McMaster University.

Read the paper here.

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