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New research: Does work mean something different to men and women?


A new study titled, 'Does work mean something different to men and women? An empirical examination of the psychological contract in the workplace across two countries' published in the Journal of Psychological Research has found that men and women view work very similarly, with shared meaning and importance derived from it.

The research challenges common assumptions that there is a fundamental difference in how the genders approach and derive meaning from their jobs.

Dorota Bourne, Professor of Leadership and Change Management, was part of the team of researchers that examined the psychological contracts - the unwritten expectations and beliefs people hold about their work environment - of 40 financial services employees in the UK and Czech Republic.

Through interviews, participants shared about their work experiences and relationships. The results showed men and women in the sample similarly construed the meaning of work – there were shared concerns around aspects of work like organisational culture, team dynamics and their social interactions.

Commenting on the findings, Professor Dorota Bourne said:

"We were struck by just how similar the male and female participants were in the types of things they found important and meaningful in their work.

In recent years, it has been accepted that women and men have different definitions, approaches and emanating perspectives of work. This research suggests this assumption is empirically false."

The study found that women did tend to place slightly more emphasis on work-life balance and personal considerations compared to men. However, these gender-based differences were relatively small compared to the shared values held by both genders.

Importantly, the researchers also found that the underlying cognitive complexity involved in how participants construed the meaning of work was only marginally higher for women than men. This challenges the notion that women have inherently more nuanced or elaborate perceptions of their jobs and workplaces.

The findings have implications for organisational development, particularly for the development of leaders within organisations. The past trend supporting the development of female leaders has been driven by the underlying assumption that women lack personal qualities and competencies necessary in leadership such as negotiation skills or decision-making.

Interventions aimed at developing women’s basic skills and competencies have been used as a sticking plaster by businesses. Instead, work needs to be done to address the larger problem embedded in power structures and gender-biased organisational cultures.

Professor Dorota Bourne

Professor of Leadership and Change Management

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