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Interdisciplinary Committee on Organizational Studies - ICOS pres.

Masculinity Contest Culture

Peter Glick, Lawrence University

Cultural norms prescribe “real men” to prove their masculinity by dominating others, fostering a Masculinity Contest (MC), a perceived zero-sum competition to prove masculinity. The newly developed and validated Masculinity Contest Culture (MCC) scale assesses four norms: (1) Show No Weakness (e.g., showing “soft” emotions, seeking advice, or admitting doubt are seen as weak), (2) Physical Strength (e.g., preferring “jocks” even in white collar jobs, valorizing work stamina), (3) Put Work First (e.g., working extreme hours, not letting family “interfere” with work), and (4) Dog Eat Dog (a hypercompetitive environment where coworkers cannot be trusted). Factor analyses show the four norms as distinct, though correlated subfactors that represent facets of an overarching latent construct (MCC). Items on the MCC scale do not specifically reference masculinity or male gender, with the notion that MC norms are legitimized simply as “the way we do business,” their origins in masculinity obscured. As a result, both female and male employees may be judged by how well they fit MCC prescriptions, creating obstacles to women’s leadership. The more strongly respondents (both male and female) viewed their work environment as fitting MCC norms, the more dysfunction they reported, from the organization to individual level. Specifically, MCC scores correlated with (a) poor organizational climate and leadership (e.g., toxic leaders, sexist climate, low psychological team safety), (b) negative behaviors (e.g., bullying, gender and ethnic harassment), and (c) poorer individual outcomes (burnout, job dissatisfaction, turnover intentions, lower organizational dedication, poorer psychological health). Although the evidence is correlational, 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. I suggest that mission-based interventions can mitigate MC norms by focusing instead on more productive ways to work.
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