The punishment gap: how workplace mistakes hurt women and minorities most

women 2019

(Abhishek Parajuli, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Abhishek Parajuli


We all make mistakes. But do we all pay the same price for them? Or are some of us hurt more than others? Research points to a disturbing answer: women and minorities are often punished more harshly for the same mistakes compared to others. There is a punishment gap, and it is both pernicious and pervasive.

Let’s start with finance. Mark Egan at Harvard Business School looked at what happens when financial advisors make mistakes. They found that female financial advisors are 20% more likely to be fired for misconduct compared to men. They are also 30% less likely to find another job in the industry. Ethnic minority men were also punished more harshly for their mistakes than others.

And this punishment gap goes all the way to the top. Vishal Gupta, at the University of Alabama, and colleagues looked at CEOs dismissed between 2000 and 2014. They found female CEOs were 45% more likely to be fired.

It is not just finance. Another economist at Harvard looked at what happens when doctors make mistakes. It turns out when a female surgeon loses a patient there is a 34% fall in future referrals. But when a male surgeon loses a patient, there is no long-term decline in referrals. What is more, when the female surgeon makes a mistake, other women in that specialty also pay a price. But for male surgeons, the buck stops with the individual.

If there is any field where mistakes are ubiquitous, it is politics. A study by Adam Berinsky at MIT used an ingenious design: he got about 500 people to read a fictional article about a candidate involved in a sex scandal. Half the readers were told the candidate was Barack Obama. The other half were told it was John Edwards – a white Democratic candidate in 2008. Even though the sex scandal was exactly the same, those who read the article with Obama as the candidate were more likely to punish him.

This result is not unique. Researchers from Poland to Kentucky have found that women are often punished more harshly for scandals. My own research at Oxford is also starting to find that females involved in sex scandals are less likely to be forgiven than men.

But perhaps the most heartbreaking examples of the punishment gap come from education. Young girls and minority kids often fall victim to the punishment gap as well, and the effects can linger for a lifetime.

Federal civil rights investigations in the US have found evidence that minority students are punished more harshly for mistakes than their non-minority classmates even when the mistakes are exactly the same. Another study found that black students in particular were more likely to be suspended and even referred to law enforcement.

Why is this? Two studies show Americans see black boys and girls, as young as five, as being less innocent and more mature than kids from other backgrounds. As a result, they shoulder more of the blame for mistakes. We simply do not give these kids them the same assumption of innocence that all children deserve.

The punishment gap: watch the TEDx talk

So, the punishment gap is real and its pernicious effects can be felt from classrooms to boardrooms. In fact, this gap in punishment may help explain a puzzle pestering almost every organization in the world.

If you look at most corporate pyramids, they are now fairly diverse at the bottom. Over the last few decades, we have made real progress in welcoming women and minorities into organizations that were male and pale for centuries.

But, when you start going up that corporate pyramid, the diversity leaks out. For most women and minorities, corporate pyramids are really corporate plateaus. You can see this clearly if you look at, for instance, law firms in the UK: data shows about 48% of all lawyers are women. But, only 29% of partners at large law firms are women. A similar leakage of diversity can be seen across professions and countries.

 

Perhaps one reason why women and minorities struggle to climb the corporate ladder is the punishment gap: They fall further when they fail. If this is true, we must do more to level the playing field. People in positions of judgement – line managers, promotion committees and disciplinary boards – need to know about the punishment gap, so they can judge people fairly.

In the UK, at the current rate, it will take 60 years to achieve gender pay parity. That’s about two generations. I simply don’t think it is morally acceptable for us to wait that long. Focusing on the punishment gap can help us achieve a fairer world, faster. The conversations we have started having about the gender and ethnic pay gaps are very encouraging, but we must mind the punishment gap, too.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

COP25 climate talks: What just happened, and what lies ahead?

Wide-ranging reforms needed to ensure Italy’s economic recovery

Finding calm in the COVID-19 chaos 

Eurozone: The cycle of deficits, debts and austerity revisited

Lockdown is the world’s biggest psychological experiment – and we will pay the price

Gas pipeline in the European Union. (Copyright: EU, 2012 / Source: EC - Audiovisual Service / Photo: Ferenc Isza)

EU Investment Bank approves € 1.5bn loan for Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP)

Approaching the challenges of COVID-19 vaccination

This is how AI can unlock hidden talent in the workplace

Brexit effect: Public opinion survey shows that EU is more appreciated than ever

State aid: Commission approves UK schemes to support SMEs affected by coronavirus outbreak

Parliament and Council agree drastic cuts to plastic pollution of environment

Junker for Commission President: What were the stakes in this affair

This Central Asian lake is a stark reminder of the impact we have on the planet

In polarized America, a new divide looms

Linking HIV prevention with SRHR

4 ways media and entertainment could be more equitable and diverse

On World Health Day, new report says the world needs 6 million more nurses

The world’s largest bus system is starting to go electric

Climate justice is also a local health issue. These 4 grassroots solutions are tackling both

A supercomputer is helping to reduce traffic jams, saving time and money. Here’s how

The age of influence: why digital platforms must come clean about political ads

Password managers aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Here’s why

Consumer protection: Commission welcomes political agreement by Council on the Representative Actions Directive

MEPs endorse EU citizens’ call for gradual end to caged farming

Single European Sky: MEPs ready to start negotiations

Available mental health services: is it only about professionals or institutions?

Humanitarian Aid: EU allocates €55 million in Sudan

5 ways Denmark is preparing for the future of work

European Public Prosecutor’s Office: EU Prosecutors take their oath at the European Court of Justice

A new European Research Area: Commission sets new plan to support green and digital transition and EU recovery

Finnish Prime Minister calls for a more united EU of concrete actions

The creation and maintenance of smoke-free public spaces in the UK

‘A global measles crisis’ is well underway, UN agency chiefs warn

Better outreach to citizens needed to improve effectiveness of European Commission’s public consultations, say Auditors

From violence to dialogue: as land conflicts intensify, UN boosts efforts to resolve disputes through mediation

‘Bicycle Kingdom’ makes a comeback, as China seeks solutions to tackle air pollution crisis

“The Belt and Road Initiative should be mutually beneficial for EU and China and every participating country”, Vice-President Papadimoulis of the European Parliament underscores from European Business Summit 2018

International Women’s Day 2019: women’s power in politics

European Youth Event 2020: giving a voice to young people to influence EU policy

WEF Davos 2016 LIVE: “You just don’t know if the oil price will be 20$ or 100$ in the next 2-3 years!” top Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff underscores from Davos

‘Ticking bomb’ health warning over deteriorating conditions facing Cyclone Idai victims

Europe’s dirty air kills 400,000 people every year

Warmongers ready to chew what is left of social protection spending

An analysis of the impacts of climate change on human health

Parliament approves the “rule of law conditionality” for access to EU funds

Commission welcomes agreement on additional financial support for the most deprived under REACT-EU

Commission welcomes European Parliament’s approval of Recovery and Resilience Facility

The European Union’s road to sustainability – how each EU state is doing

Approving most of EU’s accounts, EP requests new measures to protect EU spending

Close to final agreement on the EU Banking Union

Tackling Youth Unemployment

To flourish in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we need to rethink these 3 things

Why cybersecurity should be standard due diligence for investors

South Sudan’s peace process ‘precarious, but progress in being made’, Security Council hears

South Sudan: ‘Outraged’ UN experts say ongoing widespread human rights violations may amount to war crimes

Population in crisis hit EU countries will suffer for decades

Poland: attacks on media freedom and the EU legal order need to stop

After Brexit and Grexit, Brussels to deal with Poloust

Neelie Kroes at the European Young Innovators Forum: Unconvention 2014

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: