NEW YORK – New research from Columbia Business School finds that emphasizing a company’s social mission and purpose could be one advantageous and differentiating strategy to closing the gap in gender employment parity. This is because women place a higher value on ‘job meaning’ than men and that a company’s social purpose – the pursuit of social good over maximizing profits – heavily influences their definition of ‘job meaning.’ While there are many characteristics that influence the gender gap – from discrimination and bias to wage penalties and lack of flexibility – the authors of the research find that preference for meaning at work spans across geography, education, and income levels, and thus can be an under-appreciated factor in recruiting and retaining the best and brightest female talent.
“As the world grapples with the challenge of gender inequality in the workplace, business leaders who want to motivate more women to join their companies need to create programs that offer employees more than just a salary – but also a chance to have an impact on the world,” said Columbia Business School Professor Vanessa Burbano. “Today’s employees have much larger relationships with their jobs, extending beyond income and job description. When choosing a job, women – particularly those with higher levels of education – expressed that they really care about who they are working for, what they are doing, and how they are doing it.”
In the study – Gender Differences in Preferences for Meaning at Work – Vanessa Burbano, Assistant Professor of Management at Columbia Business School, Stephan Meier, the James P. Gorman Professor of Business and a Chazen Senior Scholar at Columbia Business School, and recent PhD graduate Nicolas Padilla, show that finding meaning in work is a key driver for motivating women to stay engaged in work. They posit that businesses should invest in corporate social responsibility programs if they wish to attract women to join their ranks, increasing the representation of women in their jobs and industries and, thus, narrowing the gender wage gap. The authors use their findings to call on companies – particularly those in high-paying industries including finance – to increase meaning-inducing job attributes.
“As long as businesses ignore that there is a difference in what women and men seek to gain from their jobs, gender segregation will continue,” said Columbia Business School Professor Stephan Meier. “Everyone cares about salaries and potential for growth. That is not the question. But as companies fail to act to provide opportunities for employees to find meaning, they will also fail to address the rising challenges that the gender gap poses.”
The researchers examined worker preferences on job meaning through two sources of data: an international survey of 110,000 individuals in 47 countries as well as a sample of 491 incoming MBA students. Using the survey, the researchers proved universality amongst the results, finding that while men and women both care about their job’s everyday tasks and responsibilities, women care more about their company’s mission and how their job fits into it. And this difference in preference only grows more pronounced with higher levels of education and economic development, which suggests that these gender differences will likely increase over time. From their sample of MBA students, the authors discerned that this difference in the value of meaning at work impacted gender segregation, influencing important student decisions ranging from the classes they choose to the industries they select for internships and full-time jobs.
To learn more about the cutting-edge research being conducted at Columbia Business School, please visit www.gsb.columbia.edu.
About the researchers
Vanessa Burbano is the Sidney Taurel Associate Professor of Management in the strategy area at Columbia Business School.
Burbano researches the...Read more.
Stephan Meier is currently the chair of the Management Division and the James P. Gorman Professor of Business at Columbia Business School. He...Read more.