“From early in childhood, girls form relationships with same-sex peers of equal status more than boys do, whereas boys are more willing to cooperate with same-sex peers of differing status levels. This occurs both in language use and cooperative activities,” explained study authors Joyce Benenson and Henry Markovits, of Emmanuel College and the Université du Québec à Montréal, respectively.
Testing these findings among adults, researchers discovered the same behavior difference exists among women and men:
In three studies of 187 male and 188 female participants, the researchers found that high status men were more invested in a cooperative partner than high status women.
“Women need to learn to be more generous with lower-ranked females,” Benenson and Markovits said. “These young people in our study who were not influenced by a particular institutional culture nevertheless exhibited the same sex-differentiated patterns that have been found before. This suggests that female newcomers are at a disadvantage if they rely on higher-ranked females to get ahead compared to male newcomers.”
The study's authors do offer a note of caution regarding the results:
“Our study is very limited in that the setting is completely experimental and artificial and no other same-sex peer was present,” the researchers explained. “More research in real settings needs to be conducted. If the results are replicated, it behooves human resources professionals to make female leaders and other high-ranked female professionals more aware of this bias.”