(WOMENSENEWS)--Jenn Hoffman believes that, sometimes, working for other women ought to be avoided.
The 27-year-old reality TV contestant believes some women unconsciously construct a "pink ceiling" in workplaces, which holds all women back.
"It seems to be almost a sport among women," said Hoffman, a former contestant on "The Apprentice Los Angeles" who was fired from the show by New York real estate magnate and host Donald Trump on March 4. "Women can become very aggressive and judgmental about your weight, your hair, your dress, whether you have the latest Prada bag. Battle lines are drawn between who is friends with who and your friendships directly affect which projects you work on. Now I think women are holding back other women more than the old boys' club mentality."
Hoffman has been using the spillover media attention from her "Apprentice" participation to promote the idea of the pink ceiling. Her public relations firm has contacted press and she hopes to speak on college campuses and in workplaces to warn women against the dangers of building pink ceilings.
Hoffman said working on a team dominated by women on the television show--who competed against another team with a member of the losing team fired by Trump at the end of each episode--made it difficult for any of the women to succeed because of female infighting.
In her off-screen life, Hoffman works for Orca Communications, a female-dominated public relations firm in Phoenix in which the publicists work from home "to curtail the water-cooler gossip."
The idea of the malevolent female manager--and the toxic female-dominated work environment--is riding a pop-culture wave.
Hoffman's pink-ceiling charges come on the heels of "The Devil Wears Prada," the 2003 book and 2006 film chronicling a young woman's first job as an assistant to a cruel and demeaning female fashion magazine editor, and arrive ahead of the September debut of the movie "The Nanny Diaries," based upon the 2002 book about an upper-class couple's maltreatment of their child's female nanny, in which the mother is a particularly nasty employer.
Steering Away From Perceptions
While movies and TV move in one direction, however, social-science data is going in another, with recent research suggesting that women, in fact, often make great bosses for other women.
"When the Boss Is a Woman," a 2006 survey of studies by the American Psychological Association, concludes in a summary analysis that "women are slightly more likely to be 'transformational' leaders, serving as role models, helping employees develop their skills and motivating them to be dedicated and creative."
Last August, meanwhile, researchers who studied data representing 1.32 million U.S. workers in 1,318 industries reported for the first time that women benefit financially from working in industries in which women have reached the ranks of senior management. Sociologists Philip N. Cohen of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Matt L. Huffman of the University of California, Irvine, found that while women generally earned 81 cents for every dollar earned by men, the number rose to 91 cents in industries in which women had reached the ranks of senior management.
"Our data certainly suggests that if you had more senior managers, the gap would close," said Huffman. But Huffman said the small number of industries with large numbers of women in senior management makes it impossible to know for sure.
The study found that in industries in which women had only reached the ranks of general management, the wage gap narrowed slightly but not as significantly as when women reached senior management, a finding which Huffman said may not be statistically significant.
Wage Gap Widens for Older Women
Women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, according to 2005 Census Bureau data. Huffman said his study found a narrower wage gap because it studied only workers aged 25 to 54 and narrowed Census data in other ways such as by removing self-employed workers. According to the Labor Department, the wage gap is narrower among younger workers.
Hoffman, the reality show contestant, said Huffman's findings are compatible with her theory because "the women who break through the glass ceiling and rise to great, powerful positions are not part of the pink ceiling" and will automatically pay women the same as men.
There are two types of women, she said: alpha women, who are strong and work well with other women, and alpha-beta women, who hold themselves and other women back because of their lack of confidence.
Research showing that women are better compensated when they work with other women does not necessarily debunk the idea that women have difficulty getting along on the job. But Huffman said that when women are accused of displaying characteristics such as cattiness in the workplace, their behavior may be misidentified.
"Women are in a double bind," he said. "The kinds of behaviors expected of managers, like a go-get-'em attitude and being tough, are at odds with normative expectations about how women are supposed to behave."
The Stereotype Effect
Evelyn Murphy, author of the 2005 Simon and Schuster book "Getting Even: Why Women Don't Get Paid Like Men--and What to Do About It," agreed. "We carry a lot of these stereotypes over from a time when very few women held management positions," Murphy said. "I would attribute the wage gap--practically all 23 cents of it--to unequal treatment at work. The longer we give this stereotype validity, the longer it continues to exist and it continues discrimination which is not only wrong but illegal."
Murphy said there are not studies to back up the claim that women have difficulty getting along in the workplace. Such stories, she said, are largely anecdotal.
"And there are just as many stories about male managers having anger management issues."
Michele Leber, chair of the Washington-based National Committee on Pay Equity, which launched Equal Pay Day in 1996, said Cohen and Huffman's study refutes the idea that women hold each other back in the workplace.
"Clearly women who have become senior managers have been supportive of women working for them in terms of wages, and I would suspect in other ways as well, such as promotions and perhaps mentoring," Leber said.
Equal Pay Day is observed in April, to mark the number of extra days in a year that women need to work to match the wages of men in the previous year.
This year, it has been set for April 24 and organizers encourage all women to wear red to symbolize that women's salaries are "in the red" compared to those of the men.
Kara Alaimo is a New York-based writer.
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For more information:
"Women's Labor Faces Uphill Battle for Parity":
"'Devil Wears Prada' Puts Heat on Boss-Women":
American Psychological Association, "When the Boss is a Woman":
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