Women Get Little Help From Men in Workplace

Illustration by Edel Rodriguez

Every socioeconomic trend suggests women are storming the barricades of corporate America. But, two recent studies suggest, they aren't getting much help from men.

The first study, a multiyear survey of business-school graduates by the nonprofit research group Catalyst, finds that women are far more likely to help women advance than men are. Debunking the queen bee stereotype, in which female bosses are especially hard on their female subordinates, the study found that 73 percent of women who mentored colleagues helped other women, while only 30 percent of men did. "The biggest surprise for me was that men are doing so little for women, says Catalyst chief Ilene Lang. "I really thought that there were more men speaking up."

Not only are men not speaking up, some are holding women back. The second study, conducted by social scientists at Harvard, NYU, and the University of North Carolina, evaluated how men's domestic lives affected their treatment of women in the workplace. It found that those whose home lives are most traditional—married men with stay-at-home wives—were more likely to have retrograde attitudes toward women at the office. These men were more likely than their peers to deny women promotions, to be distrustful of female leaders, and to have negative views of workplaces with many female employees. One of the study's authors calls this attitude "benevolent sexism," where men see women as delicate creatures to be cared for and protected, not fierce professionals to be respected and obeyed. These are people who watch Mad Men and really relate to the office vibe.

All in all, the studies give reason to be optimistic about working women in generations to come. Certain men may be intractable, but as more women achieve leadership positions, they'll be better able to help others follow in their footsteps. Christine Silva, lead researcher of the Catalyst study, calls it "a virtuous cycle." A few years down the road, we could find ourselves addressing yet another study: how women with stay-at-home husbands treat their male colleagues at work.