Bias against female-female conflicts at work

Are two women more unlikely to patch up than two men?

Women fighting

A new study from the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business suggests that there is an inherent bias about workplace conflicts between two women.

“Our research shows that when it comes to workplace conflict, women get a bad rap,” says PhD candidate Leah Sheppard, who conducted the study with Prof. Karl Aquino. “We show how the negative stereotyping around so-called ‘catfights’ carry over into work situations.”

As per the study, published in the journal Academy of Management Perspectives, the researchers asked participants to assess one of three workplace conflict scenarios, all identical except for the names of the individuals involved: Adam and Steven, Adam and Sarah, or Sarah and Anna.

The results showed that when the scenario depicted female-female conflict, participants saw more negative implications than the male-male or male-female conflict.

Participants estimated the likelihood of two managers repairing a sour relationship approximately 15 per cent lower when both managers were female, as compared to scenarios when both were male or when one was male and the other was female. Participants also felt that those involved in all-female conflicts were more likely to let the argument negatively influence job satisfaction than male-female or male-male quarrellers.

And this is not just the opinion of male participants. Even female participants had a similar view.

“This study suggests there’s still a long way to go when it comes to the perception of women in the workplace,” Sheppard says. “Hopefully, our findings will help to increase managers’ awareness of this bias, so they don’t let stereotypes guide their decisions on how they staff teams and leverage the full talent of female employees.”



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