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A gender-biased future? Gender’s influence on mental representations of and responses to the future of work

We cordially invite you to DIZH Exchange, a virtual talk with Prof. Dr. Lauren C. Howe on Tuesday, November 16, 11:00 – 12:00.

The future of work is a topic receiving increasing societal attention. A key concern is re-skilling individuals for future job opportunities, particularly in ways that increase gender equality. In management, there is scattered research on topics related to the future of work, but absent from the literature is an understanding of how women and men envision the future of work and whether there are gender differences in reactions to and preparation for the future of work. We theorize that since the future of work is inherently uncertain, men and women’s mental representations of the future of work influence how they feel about, prepare for, and thus ultimately shape the future. We propose that, given dominant narratives about the future of work, default representations of this future will be stereotypically masculine in that they focus on the future value of technical skills while undervaluing social and emotional skills that are stereotypically feminine. Further, drawing on insights from social role theory and expectancy-value theory, we theorize that this stereotypically masculine, tech-heavy representation of the future of work will prompt women to 1) feel less positive about the future of work compared to men, yet ironically to 2) prepare for the future of work by training technical skills. Across a series of archival, survey, and experimental studies, we find general support for our theorizing. Our research suggests that without intervention, society may unwittingly create a future of work that falls in line with masculine stereotypes and risks undervaluing women’s contributions.

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