Surprising Research Shows How Gender Helps Us At Work

This article was originally published by Forbes.


I recently came across a study about women in the workplace that left me positively giddy.

In my work on overcoming gender bias, I write and speak a lot about how women can use gender norms to our advantage in the ways we engage with other people.

Research from Shira Mor and her colleagues shows that our own view about how our gender affects career impacts our professional success. Mor and her colleagues studied the idea of identity integration and found that women who see their gender identity and their professional identity as compatible rather than in conflict are more effective negotiators.

In the study, they found that if you believe that being a woman is totally compatible with being a kick*** businessperson/engineer/computer scientist/whatever, not only will you be a better negotiator, but the authors hypothesize that you’ll be more likely to be successful in your career.

Across five experiments, women who had “integrated identities” were more likely to advocate for themselves, saw better negotiation outcomes, and didn’t see negative consequences or social backlash as a result.

Even cooler – for women who may have a hard time fully integrating their identities on their own, the researchers were able to get similar results by encouraging or “inducing” identity integration. Here’s how that works:

In one experiment, they provided the female participants prompts about how they were supposed to engage with their counterpart “Chris.”

The prompt said, “You decided that your winning tactic with Chris is to combine a relational, warm and caring approach with an assertive, persistent request.” The authors provided examples of the tactic:

  • Be tough yet friendly with Chris.
  • Focus on building a relationship while maintaining your interest as a priority.
  • Listen to Chris’ concerns, yet be persistent about what you want.

Sounds like what Mary Sue Coleman, former president of the University of Michigan, describes being "relentlessly pleasant," combining niceness with insistence. She balances strongly advocating for her position with friendliness communicated by pleasant or reassuring demeanor and nonthreatening tone.

In her article about the study in the Harvard Business Review, Mor references Coleman’s style as well as Sallie Krawcheck’s. Krawcheck, is widely known as among the most senior women of Wall Street. Mor explains she is “renowned for a management style that draws on both gender roles.”

Rather than focusing on the potential ways women can see disadvantages professionally, the study’s authors suggest women “spend time reflecting on how being a woman is compatible with being an excellent professional.” They go on to suggest that we can view our “gender identity as a resource rather than a liability at work.”

While it’s important to understand the ways bias can impact our experience, effective women’s empowerment programs should also help you recognize the ways that your gender is actually beautifully aligned with being a successful professional.