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Remote work may kill male employees’ schmoozing advantage

March 30, 2021, 12:15 PM UTC
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A new study found that male employees were promoted faster when they had a male manager.
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Good morning, Broadsheet readers! A new ad targets Mary Barra, Amari Avery is a name you should know, and new research delves into workplace schmoozing and the gender gap. Make the most of your Tuesday!

– Ya schmooze some, ya lose some. As we try to better understand why men dominate the upper, higher-paying ranks of corporations, men’s workplace bonds with one another are a factor that frequently comes up. A new episode of NPR’s The Indicator drew my attention to recent research that dove into that topic and found that, yes, social interactions at the office are contributing to the gender gap.

Economists Zoe Cullen and Ricardo Perez-Truglia studied administration and survey data from before the pandemic from a large financial institution where managers rotate from team to team. They discovered that when male employees were assigned to male managers, the pair socialized more and the male employees were promoted faster than when male employees were assigned to female managers. Female employees, meanwhile, socialized with their manager at the same rate and saw the same career progression no matter the manager’s gender.

“These differences were not accompanied by any differences in effort or performance, and they explain a third of the gender gap in promotions at this firm,” the authors wrote.

In the interview with NPR, Cullen underscored an interesting point: For this advantage to develop, face-to-face time between male employees and male manager was “pivotal.”

“If we were to look at the types of positions where male managers end up being at a distance from their employees, this kind of advantage doesn’t occur. So when there’s just physical separation we can shut down this male-to-male advantage and you’ll then see that female employees and male employees have similar career progression irrespective of the gender of their manager,” she said.

That suggests that a permanent shift to more remote work may go a long way to snuff out this phenomenon. “I think the remote positions we’re seeing today look a lot like the positions we studied in our paper where there’s reasons for this physical distance,” she said.

The study highlights the downside of workplace socialization, but the past year of remote or social-distanced work has—for many of us—underscored the value it can add to our lives, whether it’s frivolous chitchat or the foundations for deep, lifelong friendships. Cullen is sympathetic to that point.

“I totally agree that there are two sides of the coin when it comes to friendships at work both because it makes work both enjoyable and motivating and also tends to distort what we think of as the fair thing in the workplace,” she said. “[I]t’s important for workers in settings that are quite social to recognize that not everyone has access to the powerful individuals making decisions, and as a result, we might be overlooking some really talented folks.”

Claire Zillman

The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Emma Hinchliffe


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-Alondra Nelson, deputy director for science and society at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, explaining why the Biden administration is investigating "Trump-era political interference in science across the government"