Recent Publications


How Masculinity Contests Undermine Organizations, and What to Do About It

Harvard Business Review, November 2018

Why do companies get caught up in illegal behavior, harassment, and toxic leadership? Our research identifies an underlying cause: what we call a “masculinity contest culture.” This kind of culture endorses winner-take-all competition, where winners demonstrate stereotypically masculine traits such as emotional toughness, physical stamina, and ruthlessness. It produces organizational dysfunction, as employees become hyper competitive to win.

J. L. Berdahl, P. Glick & M. Cooper

Work as a masculinity contest

Journal of Social Issues, September 2018

J. L. Berdahl, M. Cooper, P. Glick, R. Livingston & J. C. Williams

We propose that a key reason why the workplace gender revolution has stalled (England, 2010) is that work remains the site of masculinity contests among men. In this paper we outline a theoretical framework for thinking about work as a masculinity contest, beginning with a brief review of scholarship on masculinity and exploring how the workplace is a context in which men feel particular pressure to prove themselves as “real men.” We identify different dimensions of masculinity along which employees may compete and how the competition may differ by work context. We propose that organizations with Masculinity Contest Cultures (MCCs) represent dysfunctional organizational climates (e.g., rife with toxic leadership, bullying, harassment) associated with poor individual outcomes for men as well as women (e.g., burnout, low organizational dedication, lower wellbeing). We discuss how papers in this special issue contribute insight into MCCs and end with a discussion of the contributions made by conceptualizing work as a masculinity contest, and directions for future research.

Development and validation of the Masculinity Contest Culture Scale

Journal of Social Issues, September 2018

P. Glick, J. L. Berdahl & N. Alonso

We developed and validated a 20-item Masculinity Contest Culture (MCC) scale as a workplace culture assessment. Participants indicated agreement or disagreement with workplace norm statements beginning with a common stem (“In my work environment…”). Exploratory (Study 1) and confirmatory (Study 2) factor analyses yielded four MCC sub-factors: Show No Weakness, Strength andStamina, Put Work First, and Dog Eat Dog. CFA and reliability analyses supported a second-order factor (with four sub-factors), consistent with an overarching (though multi-faceted) masculinity contest construct. Across two studies in which individuals rated their work environments, the MCC correlated with: (a) negative organizational dynamics (e.g., poor culture and toxic leadership), (b) dominative coworker behaviors (e.g., bullying and harassment), (d) negative individual work attitudes (e.g., burnout, turnover intentions), and (e) poor personal wellbeing. Results were generally consistent across studies and participant sex, suggesting that masculinity contest norms harm organizations and the men and women within them.

Beyond Work-Life "Integration"

Annual Review of Psychology, 2016

J. C. Williams, J. L. Berdahl & J. A. Vandello

Research on the work-family interface began in the 1960s and has grown exponentially ever since. This vast amount of research, however, has had relatively little impact on workplace practice, and work-family conflict is at an all-time high. We review the work-family research to date and propose that a shift of attention is required, away from the individual experience of work and family and toward understanding how identity and status are defined at work. Several factors enshrine cherished identities around current workplace norms. The work devotion schema demands that those who are truly committed to their work will make it the central or sole focus of their lives, without family demands to distract them. Importantly, the work devotion schema underwrites valued class and gender identities: Work devotion is a key way of enacting elite class status and functions as the measure of a man—the longer the work hours and higher the demand for his attention, the better. Advocating change in the way work is done and life is lived meets resistance because it places these cherished identities at risk. Resistance to these identity threats keeps current workplace norms in place. This is why even the business case—which shows that current practices are not economically efficient—fails to persuade organizations to enact change. What is needed now is sustained attention to the implicit psychological infrastructure that cements the mismatch between today’s workplace and today’s workforce.