Stanford University Study Examines Why Some Women Avoid the Spotlight at Work

A new study by researchers at Stanford University in California, examines why some women tend to avoid the spotlight at work and therefore risk opportunities for advancement.

In interviews with a large group of women who participated in a women’s professional development program operated by a nonprofit organization, researchers found that many of these women chose a workplace strategy that they named “intentional invisibility,” that was risk averse and avoided conflicts.

While women in the study recognized that being less visible in the office could hurt their odds of a promotion or other career opportunities, they acknowledged that violating feminine norms – like being assertive or authoritative when they are expected to be nice, collaborative and communal – could have the same effect.

“To craft careers that felt rewarding, women sought to reduce the chances for interpersonal conflict and to increase opportunities for friendly relationships within their work teams,” the researchers wrote.

The researchers also found that remaining behind the scenes was a particularly common strategy for women caring for children at home. Staying out of the spotlight at work helped these women maintain both professional and personal stability.

Swethaa Ballakrishnen, the lead author of the study who earned a Ph.D. in sociology at Standford and is now a faculty fellow on the Abu Dhabi campus of New York University, stated that “organizations should realize that asking women to be visible without recognizing the toll that such visibility takes is not really leveling the playing field. To be truly equal workplaces, organizations need to rethink the ways in which they assign and reward visibility.”

The full study, “Intentional Invisibility: Professional Women and the Navigation of Workplace Constraints,” was published on the website of the journal Sociological Perspectives. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/StudyWomen's Studies


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