Profs tackle 'masculinity contest cultures'

A Wisconsin professor has designed a scale to measure “masculinity contest cultures” in businesses and organizations to analyze how these institutions reward “masculine behaviors and competitiveness.”

Peter Glick, a social sciences professor at Lawrence University, is an “expert witness on sex stereotyping” according to his faculty profile

Glick and two other academics, Professor Jennifer L. Berdahl of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, and Stanford University Professor Marianne Cooper, wrote about the concept of “masculinity contest cultures” in a November article published in the Harvard Business Review, titled, “How Masculinity Contests Undermine Organizations, and What to Do About It.”

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“This kind of culture endorses winner-take-all competition, where winners demonstrate stereotypically masculine traits such as emotional toughness, physical stamina, and ruthlessness,” the article explains. “It produces organizational dysfunction, as employees become hyper-competitive to win.”

To evaluate the “masculine qualities” present in workplace environments, the researchers presented a survey to “thousands of workers in the U.S. and Canada,” which rated whether or not “masculine qualities were highly prized in their workplace.”

Participant responses identified four common “masculine norms” that “highly correlated” with “organizational dysfunction.” These qualities include environments that demand confidence while suppressing vulnerability, the ability to work “extreme” hours, the ability to “put work first,” and lastly, environments “filled with ruthless competition.”

“What all of this means is that masculinity is precarious: hard-won, and easily lost,” the researchers surmise. “And the need to repeatedly prove manhood can lead men to behave aggressively, take unwarranted risks, work extreme hours, engage in cut-throat competition, and sexually harass women (or other men), especially when they feel a masculinity threat.”

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To combat MCCs, Glick and his colleagues suggest businesses “establish a stronger focus on the organization’s mission” and “dispel misconceptions that ‘everyone endorses this.’”

“Solving the problem requires meaningful commitment to culture change — to creating a work environment in which mission takes precedence over masculinity,” the researchers conclude.

Glick is scheduled to speak at the University of Michigan on Mar. 1 about the “cultural norms” that MCCs encourage.

“Although the evidence is correlational,” the UMich event description reads. “The MCC seems a likely culprit as a cause of organizational dysfunction, breeding toxic leadership and misconduct that, in turn, leads to poor individual outcomes for employees.”

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“MCCs both reflect and reinforce societal masculinity norms,” Glick told Campus Reform. “While societal norms influence the likelihood that MCCs happen in work organizations, it seems likely that work becomes the primary place where these norms play out in adulthood and when organizations reinforce the norms, they become more cemented into the culture more generally.”

“It takes real commitment for organizations to change the norms. That’s why we suggest that change will only happen when there is a compelling ‘business case’ that the norms need to change,” Glick explained when asked if his methods of counteracting MCC have ever been successful. “We think that mission-based reforms can really work, but without a serious commitment from the top down, they too will fail.”

UMich did not respond to Campus Reform’s request for comment in time for press.

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