Study sheds light on why professional women keep low profile at workplace

Xinhua
The researchers found that many women tended to adopt a strategy of "intentional invisibility," which is a risk-averse, conflict-avoidant approach to navigating unequal workplaces.
Xinhua

Stanford University researchers have found that professional women are adopting a less assertive strategy to keep a low visible presence at workplace to avoid conflict or balance work with family responsibilities.

A new study published in Sociological Perspectives said this week that many professional women have strong reasons to ignore recommendations that urge them to have a more visible presence at work.

The Stanford sociologists found that many women tended to adopt a strategy of "intentional invisibility," which is a risk-averse, conflict-avoidant approach to navigating unequal workplaces.

The researchers, Devon Magliozzi, Priya Fielding-Singh and Swethaa Ballakrishnen, spent two years on a women's professional development program at a large nonprofit organization in the United States.

Their research shows that many women were often struggling with such a dilemma: If they worked on the sidelines, they could be overlooked for job promotions. But if they adopted a more assertive presence at work, they feared that would backfire.

That's why professional women opted for a risk-averse approach and keep a low profile to avoid possible conflict in the office, the findings indicated.

The study also discovered that many women at work questioned the conventional norm that effective employees need to call attention to themselves. They did not like to appear with an aggressive, attention-seeking posture in the office.

Rather, they chose to quietly challenge conventional definitions of professional success by embracing a different, more authentic work style.

On the other hand, the study shows that women generally shoulder a disproportionate share of familial responsibilities, such as more time needed to care for children at home.

Staying out of the spotlight at work helped these women maintain both professional and personal stability, although it may cost chances of making big career moves for some women, according to the research.

In the face of evolving family needs, professional women often concluded that embracing a behind-the-scenes approach allowed them to be effective while staying out of the spotlight and avoiding negative backlash.

The Stanford researchers agreed that organizations, instead of the women who work for them, should adapt to create gender equality.

"To be truly equal workplaces, organizations need to rethink the ways in which they assign and reward visibility," Ballakrishnen said.

The research was conducted with support from Stanford's Clayman Institute for Gender Research.

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