Having more authority in the workplace comes with many rewards – including greater forms of job control and higher earnings. However, according to new research out of the University of Toronto, the benefits are not evenly distributed for women and men.
Sociologist Scott Schieman, lead author of the study, found key differences between men and women in both the levels and implications of greater job authority. First, roughly 24 per cent of men report managerial authority compared to only 16 per cent of women. Moreover, the association between managerial authority and job autonomy is stronger among men compared to women. In other words, men who achieved the highest levels of structural power– within a broad range of different occupations–are more likely to perceive their jobs as more autonomous and influential. When they shared the same high level of authority in the workplace, men are more likely than women to feel they have decision-making freedom and greater influence about what happens on the job.
The study also replicates the long-standing pattern that, at the same level of managerial authority, women tend to earn less income than men. By contrast, the authors did not find any evidence that the rewards of job authority differed for older versus younger workers.
Schieman and his colleagues Markus Schafer and Ph.D. student Mitch McIvor measured a range of work conditions using data from the Canadian Work, Stress, and Health Study (CAN-WSH), a large national survey of Canadian workers. To assess levels of job authority, they asked study participants: "Do you supervise or manage anyone as part of your job?" "Do you influence or set the rate of pay received by others?" and "Do you have the authority to hire or fire others?" Workers with both supervisory and sanctioning responsibilities were classified as having "managerial authority."
"Forms of job control – especially job autonomy – are highly coveted resources for many workers," says Schieman. "We know that job resources like authority and autonomy or income tend to bundle together. And yet, our research suggests that the bundling of these job rewards continue to differ for women and men." Their analyses ruled out the possibility that differences in occupation level, job sector, work hours, job stress, and marital or parental statuses might be producing these differences.
Schieman sees these findings as relevant for the current debate stirred up by Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead "Our findings shed new light on an age-old question: Who benefits more from authority in the workplace? The patterns we discover suggest that even when women 'lean in' and attain greater authority at work, the structural features of power have different consequences for the subjective experience of autonomy and influence in ways that favour men. This corroborates Sandberg's claims about the differential distribution of access to, and the rewards of, higher-status positions."
Explore further: Decoding ethnic labels
More information: The study, The Rewards of Authority in the Workplace: Do Gender and Age Matter?, is published in the Spring 2013 issue of the journal Sociological Perspectives. www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/sop.2012.56.1.75