A new study shows that female whistleblowers often face more workplace backlash than men do.
This situation is just one example of the gender inequalities that exist in the US where, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 40% of women work in male-dominated workplaces.
Discovering gender disparities
In 2023, researchers from the Universities of North Carolina and Pennsylvania conducted a study to see if women who report problems at work suffer more retaliation from their coworkers than men do. They had participants work together on a project using a group chat. They also created fictional characters named Kevin and Kate to raise moral concerns related to the group’s activities.
When Kate raised concerns, the participants were rude to her, even when she held a position of power in the organization. But when Kevin said the same things about the group’s behavior, people were more willing to listen. They accepted Kevin’s complaints, even when he had the same job title and used the same words as Kate.
In another part of the study, both Kate and Kevin did not mention ethics or morality. Instead, they said that the group’s behavior was not good for the company. When they talked about the issue in this context, people were more accepting of their reservations about the members’ conduct.
The study’s authors, Timothy Kundro and Nancy Rothbard, suggest that organizations should teach their employees to reframe problems in terms of the company rather than ethics. They also recommend that people consider their own biases when evaluating complaints.
By following suggestions based on these researchers’ findings, organizations can foster a culture where people can report problems without worrying about retaliation, regardless of their gender.