Image courtesy: Canva.

“Old boys’ clubs” — a moniker used to describe social advantages men have over women in professional settings — could be responsible for a third of the corporate gender gap, according to a new study by Zoe Cullen of Harvard Business School and Ricardo Perez-Truglia of UCLA.

“We find that when male employees are assigned to male managers, they are promoted faster in the following years than they would have been if they were assigned to female managers,” reads an excerpt from the study.

“Female employees, on the contrary, have the same career progression regardless of the manager’s gender. These differences in career progression cannot be explained by differences in effort or output. This male-to-male advantage can explain a third of the gender gap in promotions.”

Ten fiscal quarters after transferring to a male boss, male employees’ salaries were about 13 per cent higher than that of those who had only worked with female managers, according to the paper. 

The authors posit schmoozing is a factor because pay advantages were only present in situations where males worked closely with male bosses. 

Taking breaks with a male boss appeared to help as well, as did smoking: employees of all genders climbed the corporate ladder faster when they smoked with their boss.

The study, which is awaiting peer-review, has been published as a working paper via the National Bureau of Economic Research. It draws data on 14,736 employees at a large commercial bank in Asia between 2015 and 2018.

Other factors contributing to racial and gender gaps in leadership

While the paper doesn’t touch on racial gaps, the findings may help explain why, in 2018, there were only 3 black CEOs in charge of Fortune 500 companies. The research aligns with the results of a September study which suggests people prefer to work with colleagues similar to themselves, even in institutions that value diversity and inclusion. In a statement, the authors say this could help explain why the “typical manager still tends to be white and male”:

“The results showed a significant difference in how people select colleagues for themselves versus for other people,” the authors say.

Another issue is a lack of support and retention efforts for minority workers, especially in areas dominated by a specific race or gender. A recent survey suggests that 43 per cent of Canadian women feel unwelcome in the male-controlled tech industry, and an October paper in JAMA Network Open on California’s Central Valley region found an inability to recruit and retain health care workers who identify as female, non-white, and/or LGBTQ+. Current and former employees cited numerous instances of “widespread harassment” and workplace abuse, including negative comments, vandalism, and loss of professional privileges. The toxicity was appeared to be consistent regardless of the health care institution or level of occupation in the area.