Want to save this page for later?

NextGen Magazine


Research Finds Men Penalized at Work If Deemed Insufficiently Masculine

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Oct 9, 2018

While men are generally advantaged in the workplace over women, those who benefit the most are specifically men who conform to normative masculine behavior, as several studies have found that men perceived as more feminine face career penalties that can limit their professional advancement, according to the Harvard Business Review. The article points to several research findings indicating that masculinity—conformance with certain behaviors expected of contemporary men that are believed to uphold traditional gender roles—is valued more than maleness by itself. 

For example, studies have shown that men are penalized for asking for help, disclosing weakness, expressing sadness (particularly if they cry at work), being self-effacing and advocating more for their team than for just themselves. Numerous studies have found that men who do these things are evaluated by their employers as less competent, less likely to get hired and more likely to get fired. 

Studies have also found that men who are friendly and agreeable make less money, 18 percent across multiple industries, and were evaluated as having less management potential. Another study found that, in general, the more feminine men are perceived to be (particularly if they explicitly identify as feminist), the more likely they are to be targeted for harassment, and to be seen as poorer workers. 

This overall dynamic can be seen when it comes to men taking time off for family.  A 2013 academic study found that men are perceived as more feminine when asking for time off for such tasks and are more likely to be seen as poor workers. It reported that, "compared with control targets, male leave requesters were viewed as higher on weak, feminine traits (e.g., weak and uncertain), and lower on agentic masculine traits (e.g., competitive and ambitious). Perceptions of weakness uniquely predicted greater risk for penalties (e.g., being demoted or downsized) and fully accounted for the effect of poor worker stigma on male leave requesters’ penalties." 

The Center for WorkLife Law, meanwhile, observed that men who take time off to perform what's seen as more masculine parenting activities, such as coaching a sports team, were viewed as good fathers and would get raises and better career opportunities, with the idea that it would make them a better breadwinner. This courtesy is not extended, however, to men who take time off for more nurturing-type parental activities such as taking care of sick children or elderly parents. These men, by contrast, actually get penalized in a similar manner to women. 

The author of the Harvard Business Review article laments this state of affairs, saying that, among other things, it discourages men from behaving in ways that benefit their teams and their own careers. He suggests that businesses should celebrate men who engage in positive behaviors, train more broadly about gender stereotypes, and avoid gender policing.