June 05, 2012 Practice Points

Marriage Structures—Predictor of Gender Discrimination in the Workplace

By Amber Pershon

Women attorneys still face a lot of resistance in the workplace, but the source of that resistance is often debated. A new study entitled Marriage Structure and Resistance to the Gender Revolution in the Workplace suggests that the source of some resistance may be indicated by one’s choice of marriage structure. The study, featured in Are Women Held Back by Colleagues’ Wives by Lauren Stiller Rikleen, compared the attitudes of men in both traditional and modern marriages and found “married male employees who have stay-at-home wives” generally posed more resistance to the presence and advancement of women in the workplace.

This study found a consistent pattern of results that men in traditional marriages “are more likely to exhibit attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that are harmful to women in the workplace.” Specifically, these men “tend to (a) view the presence of women in the workplace unfavorably, (b) perceive that organizations with higher numbers of female employees are operating less smoothly, (c) find organizations with female leaders as relatively unattractive, and (d) deny, more frequently, qualified female employees opportunities for promotion.”

Based on the study, Rikleen suggests marriage structures “affect how people view gender roles and how they categorize others.” She states that “this can happen even unconsciously” as demonstrated by the Center for Work-Life Policy HBR Research Report which found that “only 28% of men, compared with 49% of women, see gender bias as still prevalent in the workplace.”

It may be that strong and talented women in the workplace are perceived, even if only subconsciously, as a challenge to personal beliefs about marriage roles. Rikleen states that in her own research many male colleagues claimed that “the success of married women as equity partners invalidated” their own marriage choices. The answer to this conflict for Rikleen is “increased awareness,” as well as “better training so everyone understands how their own experiences might affect their perceptions about their colleagues’ fitness for leadership.”

Keywords: woman advocate, litigation, partners, business development, women, men, gender, bias

Amber Pershon works at Phoenix School of Law in Phoenix, Arizona.

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