Job Engagement and Gender – Are We All Equal?

Do you like your job? Are you fully engaged in it? Though this question is one that may seem like it depends on your personality, there is a certain part of this that is hard-wired into your gender. Though it may seem like old-fashioned thinking, there is more and more evidence linking sex genes and the ability to fully engage yourself in certain tasks.

In the post-World War II era, the “typical” family dynamic had dad at work and mom at home. Though this was not always the way of the world, it was pushed to be the way things should normally be, for several reasons. The idea that women were best served as providers and should be caring for their family was often stated, and the man’s job to go out and work for the family’s income was expected.

These lines began to blur in the 1960’s and 1970’s, as the women’s lib movement pushed back, claiming the right for women to also work outside of the home, and shifting the cultural view to the idea that women can do everything that men can do, and should be expected to try.

Fast forward to the nineties and the turn of the twenty-first century, and the two-family income household had become the norm for married couples. Worker productivity and employee satisfaction became buzzwords, and companies began looking at efficiency consultants, who considered not just the best layout for a business to get the best product for its investment, but the corporate culture, and improving employee engagement.

This is a trend that has continued, and as genetics research continues to become a larger and larger factor in looking at how humans perform, gender-based accomplishment studies have come out. One of the things that has been suspected for a long time is that women are predisposed to be better multitaskers. A number of studies have confirmed this, showing that when asked to do several unrelated tasks in a short period of time, women vastly outperformed men. Men, however, are better at focusing on a single task to the exclusion of another. A famous study often quoted in psychology classes looks at men and women who were given two different stories that were simultaneously read to them, one in each ear. When they were asked to choose one story and listen to it, to the exclusion of the second, men were able to do so. Women were not.

So how do these natural brain differences translate to work engagement now? A lot of it depends on the kind of tasks that men and women are expected to do, and the varying skills needed to complete them. Traditionally, men at a management level were often required to perform many of the larger tasks, but have an assistant to help them perform the smaller, variable tasks that were expected. As the gender playing field has leveled more and more, the high-level jobs have been shown to be performed equally well by both men and women. An engagement survey would likely show equal satisfaction for both genders. Instead, the discrepancies have been shown to be more at the low income and education levels.

At the blue-collar level, there is still a gender bias when it comes to certain jobs. Technical service and repair jobs are more often chosen by men, and jobs like office manager are more often chosen by women. Though this has been partially dictated by the cultural history of these positions, the tasks expected in each job type dovetail nicely with what the brains of men and women are naturally best, and likely most fulfilled, at doing.
What do you think?  Is there a notable difference in engagement based on gender?  Is the difference more or less pronounced based on income and education level?


About the Author:  Louise Gregory is a human resources professional specialized in employment engagement analysis and pensions management at AON. When Louise isn’t working hard in the big smoke you will find her sunbathing on the East coast. She loves cooking, writing in her new blog and trekking with her family and Benson, the house dog.


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