Stanford University Study Finds Women-Made Products in Male-Dominated Industries Suffer From Gender Bias

A new study from a team of researchers at Stanford University suggests that gender stereotyping significantly impacts the way we evaluate products, and, in traditionally male-orientated markets, such as beer, power tools, and automobile parts, products made by women can stack up very negatively.

“Our research suggests that customers don’t value and are less inclined to buy traditionally male products if they think they’ve been manufactured by women,” says co-author Sarah Soule, the Morgridge Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. “There’s an assumption that your woman-made craft beer, screwdriver, or roof rack just won’t be as good.”

For the first part of their study, the researchers surveyed people and asked them to rate consumer products in terms of how masculine or feminine they believe the items to be. Using these insights, the researchers focused in on two products: craft beer and cupcakes, which were seen as equally masculine and feminine, respectively. Then, the researchers asked volunteers to assess a craft beer label, changing only the name of the brewer in each case, to see if gender affected their perceptions. They also conducted a similar experiment with cupcakes.

With the craft beer experiment, the results found that when consumers believe the brewer was woman, they claimed they would pay less for the beer and had lower expectations of taste and quality. However, with the cupcake experiment, there was little noticeable difference in attitudes toward producers who were women versus men.

“What we’re seeing here is that woman-made goods for sale in male-typed markets are being penalized for no reason other than the fact they are made by women,” said Dr. Soule. “The same isn’t true for man-made products that target women. So the result is that across the board, identical products are cumulatively disadvantaged purely because they are woman-made.”

Despite this inequity, the survey found some encouraging discoveries. When the researchers told the consumers that the woman-brewed beer had won an award, the participants rated it just as high as if it was brewed by men. Additionally, the gender-bias was not seen among individuals who were very familiar with the product, suggesting that those with some kind of expertise about a product will only care about its features not the gender of the manufacturer.

The research team believes that companies should be mindful of the effect gender bias has on a consumer’s decision-making process. They stress that firms build specific expertise in things like employee evaluation and hiring process. Additionally, they believe that award committees should make sure prestigious awards are given proportionally to eligible men and women.

“We’re not recommending awards ‘quotas’ per se,” said Dr. Soule, “but these organizations need to understand the important and helpful role they can play in changing perceptions and driving us forward toward a society where the odds are not quite so stacked against women.”

Dr. Soule is a graduate of the University of Vermont where she majored in sociology. She holds a master’s degree and Ph.D. both in sociology from Cornell University.

The full study, “Gender Inequality in Product Markets: When and How Status Beliefs Transfer to Products,” was published in the journal Social Forces. It may be accessed here.

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