Women want to be seen as less career-driven when men are watching.
That appears to be the finding of a Harvard study (first spotted by Quartz), which asked MBA students to answer questions about their ideal jobs, in terms of salary, hours worked, and travel.
Titled ‘Acting Wife,’ the researchers divided single women questioned into two groups: One was told their responses would be discussed by their peers. The other was told that their answers would be anonymous.
They found that those who were having their answers shared in front of men displayed less ambition than those answering questions on an anonymous basis.
The ‘public’ group of single women said they wanted $US18,000 (£14,000) less pay per year, to travel seven fewer days a month, and work four hours less per week than their anonymous counterparts. They also said they would take an 18% cut in pay for working 8% fewer hours, suggesting they would prioritise home life over a bigger salary.
In a separate experiment conducted by Harvard researchers, they divided participants into all-female and mixed groups. They asked the participants if they would prefer a job with long hours and a big salary or a low-paying job with shorter working hours.
Some 68% of single women in the all-female groups wanted the high salary, compared to just 42% when men were around. Furthermore, 79% of those in the all-female group would choose a career that had a fast-track to promotion, compared to just 37% in the group where men were listening.
This dramatic difference was only seen in single women, not women in relationships or men of any relationship status. Whether conscious or not, single women appeared to be making themselves come across as less ambitious.
The researchers couldn’t say what the specific reason for this was. One explanation they offered was that women are constantly aware of whether they are attractive to the opposite sex, regardless of whether it is detrimental to their careers.
“Single women shy away from actions that could improve their careers to avoid signalling undesirable
personality traits to the marriage market,” the study said.
The researchers said they hope that future studies explore the long-term consequences of this trade-off, to find ways of mitigating the effects on women’s careers.
“Our results suggest that obscuring certain actions could affect gender gaps,” the study added.
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