Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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© 2017 by Idan A. Blank

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Going Into Your Mind

The Brain, Revealed. Cutting-Edge Research. For Everyone.


The inspiration for the first paper I post here came from Inbal Orpaz, an Israeli journalist who wrote a series of articles about the underrepresentation of women in the workplace, especially in high-power positions. We all know that discrimination and stereotypes (institutionalized, inter-personal or internalized) play a role in this phenomenon, but here is an interesting study of another factor: whether women view positions of power in the workplace as desirable.


This study, from Harvard Business School, reports: “We identify a profound and consistent gender gap in people’s core life goals. Across nine studies using diverse sample populations (executives in high-power positions, recent graduates of a top MBA program, undergraduate students, and online panels of working adults) and over 4,000 participants, we find that, compared to men, women:


  • Have a higher number of life goals

  • Place less importance on power-related goals

  • Associate more negative outcomes (e.g., time constraints and tradeoffs) with high-power positions

  • Perceive power as less desirable

  • Are less likely to take advantage of opportunities for professional advancement.”


Importantly, the authors note that “women view high-level positions as equally attainable as men do, but less desirable.”

MY TWO CENTS: It is very impressive that the authors replicate their findings across 9 experiments and big samples of participants; however, all but one of their effects are strikingly small. So, while the differences reported here between men and women are likely to be real, they are quite miniscule. Should we care about these differences?

​CITATION: Gino, F., Wilmuth, C.A., & Brooks, A.W. (2015). Compared to men, women view professional advancement as equally attainable, but less desirable. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(40), 12354-12359.


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