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New Study Suggests Some Moms OK With Being CEO of Home

When mom is the boss at home, she may have a harder time being the boss at work. New research suggests that women, but not men, become less interested in pursuing workplace power when they view that they are in control of decision-making in the home. This shift in thinking affects career choices without women even being aware.

“Women don’t know that they are backing off from workplace power because of how they are thinking about their role at home,” says Melissa Williams of Emory University. “As a result, women may make decisions such as not going after a high-status promotion at work, or not seeking to work full time, without realizing why,” explains Williams who will be presenting her findings Jan. 18 at the Society of Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) annual meeting in New Orleans.

Her new study is one of several at the SPSP meeting that will explore a continued gender gap in workplace power, including how women versus men view their roles in the home;  how gender stereotypes form at a young age; and how these attitudes affect women’s likelihood of pursuing careers in science and math. “Even as we see great gains made by women in the workforce, we continue to also see disproportionately larger numbers of women leaving successful careers, or diverting their career paths to ones with fewer hours and greater flexibility, but that also hold less status,” says Bernadette Park of the University of Colorado Boulder.

Women  are often seen as being decision-making experts or power-holders in the home setting — for example, it is expected that men will defer to their wives’ decisions regarding clothing. But while people intend these references to be complimentary to women, Williams says, “such language may have a negative effect on the decisions they make about their lives outside the home, without them being aware of it.”

To test this effect, Williams and colleagues first surveyed people to gauge their views of power in household decision-making. Both men and women perceived power over household decisions as being desirable.

They then asked men and women 18 to 30 years old to imagine that they were married and had a child in one of three conditions: they make many of the decisions; they make decisions together with their spouse; or they perform most of the household tasks with no mention of household decision-making power. Women were less interested in pursuing work goals when they had household power, compared to sharing equal power with a spouse. Men’s interest in work goals, however, was unaffected by their household power.

Also, women’s interest in workplace power did not change simply by imagining that they were performing household tasks. “It is only when such tasks are described as involving power that they negatively affect women’s motivation to pursue workplace power,” Williams says. “We think this is because referring to women’s household role as involving power puts a positive spin on women’s traditional role on the home, and makes it seem more appealing.”

“It is one thing for a woman to choose to stay at home if she wishes her primary role be that of wife and mother,” Williams says. “But when the language we use to talk about household chores makes such a role unconsciously more appealing to women, without the same effect on men, this is not what most people think of as making a free choice”…

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