The representation of women in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and maths) is increasing, albeit more slowly than many observers would like. But a focus on this issue has begun throwing up head-scratching anomalies, such as Finland, which has one of the larger gender gaps in STEM occupations, despite being one of the more gender equal societies, and boasting a higher science literacy rate in its girls than boys. Now a study in Psychological Science has used an international dataset of almost half a million participants that confirms what they call the “STEM gender-equality paradox”: more gender-equal societies have fewer women taking STEM degrees. And the research goes much further, exploring the causes that are driving these counterintuitive findings.
You may have seen the recent viral TV interview in which the Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson claimed that an important part of the reason there are fewer women than men in leadership positions is to do with personality differences between the sexes. Specifically, he said that women on average score lower than men on traits, such as assertiveness, that are known to be associated with reaching senior roles, and higher on others that work against promotion, especially agreeableness and emotional sensitivity.
While these observations are largely backed byevidence, what’s far less clear – because the question simply hasn’t been studied much before – is whether women who reach senior management tend to share the traits of men in these positions, or if instead female bosses have a contrasting personality profile, indicative of an alternative, “feminine” route to the top.
These are pertinent questions for any one who would like more gender diversity in leadership roles because the findings could point to clues for how to ease the promotion path for women. For a new paper in Journal of Vocational Behaviour, a team led by Bart Wille at the University of Antwerp has investigated.
Although criminal investigation has been transformed through technological developments in DNA, phone tracking, and online data, the way a detective works through a crime has remained much the same. The first suspect is often the true perpetrator, but not always, and snowballing biases continue to lead to miscarriages of justice. Proficient detectives need the ability to generate and evaluate different explanations and keep an open mind. New research in the Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology investigates whether it’s possible to use established tests of reasoning ability to identify who has the skills necessary for thinking this way.
Do you see stress as helpful or harmful? If you recognise that it can have upsides – by sharpening your focus and boosting your motivation, and that stressful challenges can offer learning and achievement opportunities – then you have a positive stress mindset (conversely, if you see stress as unpleasant, debilitating and threatening, then you have a negative stress mindset).
A new diary study in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology has explored the implications of stress mindset for the workplace – surprisingly, one of the first investigations to do so. The researchers, led by Anne Casper at the University of Mannheim, found that anticipating a large workload on a given day was associated with employees upping their performance that day, taking more proactive steps to meet the challenge, and ending the day feeling more energised, but only if they had a positive stress mindset.
If you’re a psychopath who’s good with numbers, you could make the perfect hedge fund manager. Your lack of empathy will allow you to capitalise blithely on the financial losses of others, while your ability to stomach high-risk, but potentially high-return, options will send your fund value soaring…. Well, that’s the story that’s been painted by popular media, folk wisdom and Wall Street insiders alike. The problem, according to a new paper in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, is that hedge fund managers with psychopathic tendencies actually make less money for their clients.
“She upset me.” Such a natural way to describe things, using the same causal language we use to talk about a racket striking a tennis ball. But is this the right way to frame our reactions to social situations? Unlike a ball, we have a say in how we swerve when struck, and what we bring to a social situation influences how it affects us. Case in point, from a US-based team headed by Andrew Woolum of the University of North Carolina Wilmington: in research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology they show how people perceive more workplace rudeness when exposed to notions of rudeness at the start of the day.
There are certain situations where it’s advantageous for an introvert to take charge. For instance, perhaps they are better qualified than their extroverted peers. The trouble is, most introverts tend to shy away from seizing informal leadership opportunities when they arise (psychologists call this “emergent leadership” – when someone takes charge in a team without a formal hierarchy).
A new study in Personality and Individual Differences suggests this might be because introverts expect to find group tasks and situations unpleasant, which inhibits them from displaying the kind of behaviours required to take charge of their group. By helping introverts to realise they may enjoy leadership more than they expect, Andrew Spark and his colleagues at Queensland University of Technology say it may be possible to encourage more introverts to step up to the plate.
When we find our work meaningful and worthwhile, we are more likely to enjoy it, to be more productive, and feel committed to our employers and satisfied with our jobs. For obvious reasons, then, work psychologists have been trying to find out what factors contribute to people finding more meaning in their work.
Top of the list is what they call “task significance”, which in plain English means believing that the work you do is of benefit to others. However, to date, most of the evidence for the importance of task significance has been correlational – workers who see how their work is beneficial to others are more likely to find it meaningful, but that doesn’t mean that task significance is causing the feelings of meaningfulness.
Now Blake Allan at Purdue University has provided some of the first longitudinal evidence that seeing our work as benefiting others really does lead to an increase in our finding it meaningful. “These results are important both for the wellbeing of individual workers and as a potential avenue to increase productivity,” he concludes in the Journal of Vocational Behaviour.
A new analysis of elite tennis performance in the Journal of Economic Psychology is consistent with this account. Based on the outcome of thousands of games played across the four tennis Grand Slams in 2010, the researchers led by Danny Cohen-Zada at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, found that men were adversely affected by high pressure by about twice as much as women. Extrapolating to the world of work, Cohen-Zada and his colleagues said this casts doubt on the argument that the gender pay gap is due to women’s inability to compete under pressure, though they acknowledged there are caveats to this conclusion.
As the first cohort of women leaders began pushing up against the glass ceiling, many hoped it would shatter… but it only cracked. Today fewer than 10 per cent of Fortune 500 companies are led by people from ethnic minority groups and women combined, and although the reasons are manifold, blame has been laid at the feet of the early pioneers themselves.
The accusation is that successful people from underrepresented groups act as gatekeepers, keeping out others to maintain their special status and to identify with the dominant majority (the most famous example being the Queen Bee syndrome where a female boss undermines other women). But new research from the Academy of Management Journal suggests a different and very understandable reason that minority members are cautious to show enthusiasm for increasing diversity – because they know it could spell disaster for their own career if they did.