Women face a double
bind when they are in leadership positions. They are expected to be competent
and authoritative, but others often see their authoritative behavior as overly dominant,
and a violation of gender stereotypes. In other words, women face a “dominance
penalty” when they act authoritatively, but they face questions about their
competence when they do not act authoritatively. Research has documented this
double bind in a number of settings, but these studies have by and large
focused on white women.
Recent research challenges the universality of the dominance penalty, and suggests that race and gender intersect to shape reactions to authoritative behavior. For example, recent studies have shown that in a professional workplace context, black women who demonstrate high levels of competence face less backlash when they behave authoritatively than do comparable white women or black men.
Access to stable housing is critical to the wellbeing of individuals and families. As rents have risen and wages have not kept pace, finding affordable housing in the U.S. has gotten harder. This is especially true for low-income families, who often spend more than half their income on rent.
The U.S. has a number of housing policies, like Housing Choice Vouchers, to help low-income families find and afford housing, but only about 25% of eligible households get assistance. Housing vouchers can also be challenging to use when landlords refuse to accept them. This led us to consider whether a different policy – the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) – might help improve families’ housing situations. We wanted to know whether making the EITC more generous for low-income families might be another way to address the housing affordability crisis.
“The question I have is: do we really have a problem? Does [our company] have a problem? From the data I’ve seen, I don’t think so. I think the industry and this country potentially has a problem.”
This is what one high-level executive, Mike (pseudonyms used throughout), told me when I asked him about the causes of gender inequality in the technology industry.
In new research to be published in Gender & Society, I report on a year-long case study of a Silicon Valley technology company implementing a gender equality initiative. I explore how high-level executives’ explanations for inequality impact the change efforts they pursue. I find that executives tend to attribute responsibility to the broader society (as Mike does), or to individuals, rather than the organization.