Having a male or female boss makes little difference in work satisfaction. Working in a gender-balanced environment matters more.

February 2, 2021

A gender-balanced workplace is a happier workplace. (Pixabay/David Mark)

Workers in gender-balanced workplaces are more fulfilled than those who work with predominantly men or women, and the gender of one’s immediate boss has no significant effect on job satisfaction, according to a new paper using data from 35 European countries. 

Researchers also found that, while men report being happiest when their coworkers are equally split between genders, women are equally happy in either gender-balanced or male-dominated workplaces. 

“We could find almost no evidence whatsoever of preferences for working with your own sex across Europe,” said lead author Andrew E. Clark, a labor economist at the Paris School of Economics. “So the best kind of job to be in is one that’s gender equal.” 

Clark wrote the paper, which will be published in the March 2021 issue of the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, alongside Conchita D’Ambrosio of the Université du Luxembourg and Rong Zhu of Flinders University in Australia. 

The researchers used a sample of 24,066 employees — 11,797 men and 12,269 women — who were surveyed as part of the European Union’s 2015 European Working Conditions Survey. The sample did not include an option for workers who did not identify as either a man or a woman. 

Subjects were asked respond on a five-point scale to six statements designed to indicate overall job quality, such as, “My job offers good prospects for career advancement,” “I generally get on well with my work colleagues,” and “Considering all my efforts and achievements in my job, I feel I get paid appropriately.” 

Respondents also indicated whether coworkers with the same job title were predominantly men, women or an equal balance. In addition, they were asked about the gender of their immediate boss. 

On average, male workers had worse job quality scores when they worked primarily with men or women than when they worked in a gender-balanced group. Female workers had better job quality scores in a gender-balanced group or with mostly male coworkers. 

The gender of one’s boss did not significantly affect the job quality scores for either gender of workers. 

“I was worried that we might find these kinds of evaluations of jobs that were much more negative for gender equal workplaces,” said Clark, pointing to the fact that women of his mother’s generation in the U.K. were often forced to leave their jobs when they got married. 

“I did wonder if there would be some echo of [sexism],” he said. “The implications are actually quite jolly for once.”

The researchers cautioned that their findings are correlational, not causal. However, the results did pass robustness checks for potential confounding variables, such as support networks from co-workers and unwanted sexual attention in the workplace. 

The study concludes that increased female participation in the European workforce does not lead to a decline in job satisfaction, and that men do not appear to have resentful attitudes toward women in leadership roles. 

“There's nothing we find in our data where men are saying, ‘Yeah, I don't like my job because my supervisor is a woman,’” said Clark. 

Increasing gender diversity in workplaces may not just be good for workers’ job satisfaction — it can save companies money, too. 

A study published in the Journal of Management in January found that an employee’s gender figures into about 4% of an average U.S. company's decision on whether or not to hire them. Such bias can lead firms to overlook talented applicants, leading to decreased productivity and revenue. 

Clark, who has also held positions at Dartmouth College and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, said much of his research examines the relationship between individual employees and their environments. 

“Very quickly, if you start working in this area, you get into the truth that no man is an island. It’s not just your wages and your hours or whatever that are important to you — it’s something more global,” he said. “One part of the context is the other people who work with you.” 

Clark said he would also be interested in examining the job satisfaction of workers in relation to other demographic factors like age and race. 

However, company-level data on race is exceedingly difficult to find, he said. 

“People aren’t asked about racial composition in the workplace,” said Clark. “This is really hard to do. You’d need to get firms’ personnel records.” 

The paper on coworker gender and job quality was among the fastest papers Clark has ever published, he said. The trio of researchers conceptualized the paper in early 2020, submitted a draft by October and completed revisions by the end of the year. Their paper was published online in January 2021. 

“This was remarkably quick,” Clark said. 

The paper, titled “Job quality and workplace gender diversity in Europe,” will be published in the March 2021 issue of the Journal of Economic Behavior & OrganizationThe co-authors were Andrew E. Clark of the Paris School of Economics, Conchita D’Ambrosio of the Université du Luxembourg and Rong Zhu of Flinders University in Australia. Clark was lead author. 

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