DIVERSITY DIVA

One poll’s results might help explain another’s

Updated: 2013-09-10T02:55:30Z

By MICHELLE T. JOHNSON

Special to The Star

There are some poll results that leave me thinking, “They needed to take a poll on that? They could have just asked me.” Others get results that leave me wondering who the heck made up the group interviewed.

In the past few days, I’ve seen different polls on a related subject, with very different results.

In one, recent data from Gallup’s 2013 Work and Education survey found that 86 percent of women ages 18 to 49 said “no” to the question of whether they were passed over for a promotion or work opportunity because they were female. Of women over the age of 50, 83 percent gave the same answer.

I found that really hard to believe, based on the still-existing pay gap between women and men, and based on the comments I’ve heard from women for years while conducting my diversity work around the country.

But what I also found telling was that when I posted this article on my Facebook page and directly asked for female Facebook friends to respond, only one woman responded without my follow-up, and her answer mirrored what the majority of the Gallup poll said. (This meager response compares with almost 100 of my Facebook friends weighing in when I asked for suggestions on what to name a character in a new play I was writing.)

A day or so after reading the Gallup poll story, however, a friend posted an article much more in line with my observations of the workplace, and it shed some light on the Gallup poll.

“A May 2013 study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that women who work with men are far less likely to take credit for their work than those who collaborate with other women,” the article said. “Instead, women in mixed-gender work teams tend to give more credit than is necessary — or even true — to their male colleagues.”

The study went on to say that women are more likely to point to the negative aspects of themselves or their achievements rather than just accepting the praise.

That study resonated more with my personal observation than the Gallup poll did, and with data that has repeatedly indicated that the glass ceiling still existed.

Obviously, if such a high percentage of women questioned said they hadn’t felt the sting of sexism in their pay or access to promotion, who am I to say they are wrong?

But in light of the study results of women being less likely to toot their own horns when men are in the room, is there a possibility that a lot of women just don’t want to admit to feeling unfairly passed over? Or is there a possibility that many just choose to believe they are being treated fairly because they don’t have contrary, documentary evidence to make them think otherwise?

I believe that a Gallup poll that asks women whether they feel they failed to receive a job in the first place because they are female might reflect more of a tendency to see how sexism played a role.

People want to believe the best about their current situations. No one wants to believe that something as fundamental as pay or promotional opportunity at the workplace is affected by sexism.

But the fact that women have a psychological tendency to play themselves small makes me wonder whether that affects the ability of many to accept being undervalued as a norm.

I remember reading an article years ago in which a female executive admitted that she paid her male employees more than her female employees for the same job. When asked how she could be so flagrantly sexist she said it was because almost all male job candidates came through the door asking for more money than the female candidates. She just complied.

Send questions to Michelle T. Johnson on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/diversitydiva. Follow her at Twitter.com/divaofdiversity.

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