Friday, August 05, 2005

Does it pay to be a flirt?

According to CNN the answer is no. Unfortunately, that article doesn't give enough information to identify whether it's true or not. The only data cited in the article is this:
The respondents who said they never engaged in such activity earned an average of three promotions, versus two for the group that had employed sexuality. Those who said they never used sexuality were, on average, in the $75,000-$100,000 income range; the other group fell, on average, into the next range, $50,000 to $75,000.
That's way less than enough information to come up to this conclusion:
Women who cross their legs provocatively, wear short skirts or massage a man's shoulders at work get fewer pay raises and promotions
The appropropiate comparison isn't between women who flirt and women who don't flirt. You need to know how well the women who flirted would do if they didn't flirt. And you need to know how well the women who didn't flirt would do if they did. In other words, they haven't controlled for a variable. The explanation of the data may very well be that the women who didn't flirt didn't need to in order to advance their careers and the women who did flirt needed to.

Of course, I don't think that this type of behavior is appropriate at the office, but from the data presented, I don't think the conclusion can be drawn that it's ineffective. My problem is with the methodology of this study. I think they missed something. Or (hopefully) it was misreported.

My personal opinion is that it's likely that the conclusion of the story is true. If I'm a male manager concerned about profits, then I would think that a woman who feels the need to use sexual behavior is signaling her incompetance. In other words, if she uses this type of behavior it means she thinks its the only way to advance herself. In other words, she believes that her skills alone are insufficient to advance her careeer. On the other hand, she may be so convinced of sexism in the workplace. She may very well believe that her skills are sufficient, but that there's a glass ceiling for women and the only way to break it is to use sex. Personally, I don't know.

What I'm convinced of is that the article really sucks. There's not nearly enough information in it to even suggest the conclusion much less conclude it.

Update: The original article in USA Today is not much better. But it does have an interesting quote:
"Our story is really a feminist story, because we argue that there are negative consequences for women who use sexuality in the workplace," Brief says.
This strikes me as research with an agenda, but I'd like to read the entire paper before I decided that was true.

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