Prof. Adrian Furnham Thursday, September 26, 2019

It is the courageous or misguided men that talk or write about sex differences at work.

However much political correctness and the threat of litigation have reduced the quality and quantity of research in the area of gender differences at work. There remains a great deal of popular debate about such things as the glass ceiling, cliff, escalator and the “sticky” floor all of which imply career opportunities are quite different for men and women.

Inevitably there are two competing, opposite forces: those who stress the biology of difference and those who stress the sociology of similarity. There are those who want to argue that well-established sex differences in abilities, personality and values inevitably leads to both different occupational choices as well as adaptation to those jobs. Others want to stress social forces that for a variety of ideological reasons have pre or pro-scribed gender differences at work that do not exist.

Clearly the issue is complicated. The effect of gender may be moderated by gender roles. Socio-economic conditions shape educational and job opportunities (Weisgram, Dinella & Fulcher, 2011).

 However strident voices in Western, democratic, psychological and sociological case for gender equality at work. Wittenberg-Cox and Maitland (2008) make the following case:

  • Women in senior government and business positions (from CEOs to prime ministers/presidents) have more than proven their worth-ability.

  • Women have for too long been an underused talent.

  • Board rooms are happier, healthier and more effective if they have both men and women.

  • Women contribute just under half of the developed world’s GDP but they make most of the families spending decisions.

  • Male run companies tend to be progressive, neutral or essentially reticent on gender issues. Some advocate gender management bilingualism and proactive gender management, the empowerment.

  • Seven steps need to be followed:

  1. Awakening the leadership team to this issue

  2. Defining the business case for female empowerment

  3. Allowing for the expression of dissent, disagreement, resistance

  4. Make it a business issue, not a women’s issue

  5. Make some real changes before making a noise

  6. Don’t mix up messages: this is not work-life balance, child-care.

  7. Give the process at budget, not just volunteers.

Women’s natural strengths at networking, building coalitions, communicating and dealing with all stakeholders can be most usefully exploited.

Research into gender differences in job satisfaction has been done in many countries (from Australia, Greece, Iran and Korea to Turkey) and on different professions including doctors, judges, oil rig workers and civil servants (Anley & Mack, 2009; Antonckas & Mironaki, 2009; Burke, Koyuncu & Fiskenbaum, 2009; Burke, Matthiesen, Eienarsen, Fiskenbaum & Soiland, 2008; De Rijk, Nijhuis & Alexanderson, 2009; Karinu, 2009; Kim, 2005). There is considerable literature on the topic over a forty year period. Inevitably some studies have shown women more satisfied than men, some the reverse, but most no difference. Does this depend on what men and women want at work? Again the literature is equivocal: in some studies, men show a strong preference for extrinsic rewards (compensation, promotion, prestige) over intrinsic rewards (personal development, social relationships) but some the reverse; and some no difference at all.

So does it depend on other factors like a person’s level, or personality or the culture in which they live?

When examining sex differences in job satisfaction most researchers have focussed on different facets of job satisfaction from the highly intrinsic (i.e. nature of the job, autonomy) to the more extrinsic (pay and conditions) as well as overall satisfaction. Others have distinguished between job behaviours (i.e. hours worked); work outcomes (satisfaction, intention to quit) and engagement (dedication, absorption) as well as the quality of life and psychological well-being (Burke et al., 2009). Overall the results show the following:

  • There are few sex differences in satisfaction with the general nature of the work (content, challenge, level of responsibility).

  • Males express more satisfaction with control/autonomy and opportunities/progression than females.

  • Convenience/life-work balance issues as well as relationships are more important to women and can vary enormously with different jobs.

  • Overall levels of satisfaction are surprisingly similar and stable over time.

Often satisfaction with salary emerges as important as much because women are often paid less than men in similar jobs (Antonakas & Mironaki, 2009).

Inevitably much of this literature has concentrated on things like the “return-to-work” process (De Rijk, Nijhuis & Alexanderson, 2009) and work-life balance (which goes under various titles like work-family interference). Most findings support the case that work-life balance is more important for females than males and has a greater impact on their overall life and job satisfaction (Karimin, 2009).

The fact that so many studies reveal so few sex differences in job satisfaction despite the fact that women often experience considerable discrimination in autonomy, pay and promotion have led many to ponder this paradox. There appear to be three standard answers to this. First, women have lower expectations and therefore satisfied with less. Second, women and consistently taught not to express their discontent. Third, women and men, value quite different things from work. Of course, all three could be operating at the same time.

Kim (2005) has argued that differences that exist in job satisfaction can best be explained by sex-linked value differences. The discrepancy between what is desired and what is wanted is the best predictor of job dissatisfaction (and vice versa). The problem, for this approach, is what predicts the value difference in the first place? Why do men value extrinsic rewards so much and female’s extrinsic rewards? To what extent could/should one explain this socio-biologically through evolutionary theory or the socialisation children experience from the moment of birth?


Anleu, S., & Mack, K. (2009). Gender, judging and job satisfaction. Feminist Legal Studies, 17, 79-99.

Antonakas, N., & Mironaki, A. (2009). Gender differences in job satisfaction, satisfaction with society and satisfaction from their salary. In T. Simca & G. Maroulia (Eds.). Computational Methods in Science and Engineering, Vol 2. Washington: AIP, pp. 922-926.

Burke, R., Koyunca, M., & Fiskenbaum, L. (2009). Gender differences in work experiences, satisfaction and well-being among physicians in Turkey. Gender in Management, 24, 70-91.

Burke, R., Matthiesen, S., Einarsen, S., Fiskenbaum, L., & Soiland, C. (2007). Gender differences in work experiences and satisfactions of Norwegian Oil-rig workers. Gender in Management, 23, 137-147.

De Rijk, A., Nijhuis, F., & Alexanderson, K. (2009). Gender differences in work modifications and changed job characteristics during the return-to-work process. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, 19, 185-193.

Karimi, L. (2009). Do female and male employees in Iran experience similar work-family interference, job and life satisfaction? Journal of Family Issues, 20, 124-142.

Kim, S. (2005). Gender differences in job satisfaction of public employees. Sex Roles, 9/10, 667-681.

Wittenberg-Cox, A., & Mattand, A. (2008). Why Women Mean Business. London: Wiley.