Sisterhood Blog

Do Women Behave Differently At Work?

By Elissa Strauss

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Barnard president Debora Spar.

In her new book “Wonder Women,” Barnard president Debora Spar claims that, despite what feminists have long-argued, women do have inherent differences from men when it comes to workplace behavior.

As Spar explains in an excerpt in Salon:

In the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, however, a renegade, slightly retrograde view has started to emerge. What, some observers have wondered publicly, if women in the workforce don’t behave exactly like men? What if women leaders, in particular, don’t lead exactly like men? And what if those characteristics, rather than consigning women to domestic chores, actually made them highly prized members of social organizations?

Clearly, this is dangerous ground to tread. Because if it’s acceptable to claim that women are different in a good way, then it’s just a hop, skip, and jump back toward defining them as different in a bad way. If we attribute any particular characteristics to women as a group, aren’t we just reducing them to the same sorts of social stereotypes that feminism so successfully toppled?

Spar refers to a group of studies to prove this point, including research by Georgetown University professor Deborah Tannen who found that “men in group settings strive generally to preserve status, while women try to gain intimacy and closeness,” as well another set of studies that suggests “organizations run by women tend to be more cautious than those run by men.”

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