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April 25, 2002 Those old sex stereotypes are pretty accurate: business speaker



by Eleanor Brown

In the middle of crunching numbers, researcher Barry J. Babin was suddenly very, very scared that he was about to be forced to recommend that only men should be hired as managers.

“Stress has a more positive affect on performance for men,” reported Babin at his April 12 presentation as part of the John Molson School of Business’s Royal Bank Distinguished Professor Series.

Then the other high-heeled shoe dropped.

Companies looking for low turnover (the costs of continually hiring and training can be prohibitive) should target women as employees: “It takes more for a woman to quit.”
Dr Babin’s talk was titled “The Birds And the Bees in Business Relationships: Boys and Girls in Business Environments.”

“This was really a taboo subject for most of the ’80s,” said the associate professor of marketing at the University of Southern Mississippi. “Sex was seen as a nuisance variable. But in the mid-1990s, it’s gotten okay again. It may be stereotypical to draw these conclusions, but they’re basically true.”

After watching his own kids, Babin noticed that the boy liked war games, the girl preferred quieter pasttimes. “Despite attempts to the contrary, girls have no interest in action toys.”

Men are driven by “agentic goals,” which are about aggression and mastery. “Me caveman,” grunted Babin. Men are “driven by overall themes. Men are simpler.”

Women have communal goals, meaning they care more about relationships, whether those be with co-workers or family members. Women are detail-oriented. “Women respond to their emotions more than men do.”

Babin touched on what this means for workers and their bosses, and for retail store operators looking to snag shoppers.

Breaking rules for men is easier — if it means a goal will be reached, men will deal with consequences later. Women, however, will stop to think about how breaking this rule — such as when a clerk is trying to keep a customer happy — could affect harmonious relationships with other co-workers.

The audience in the J.A. DeSève Cinema was fascinated.

“It was a great presentation. He’s a great speaker and very dynamic,” said Susan Reid, a researcher in information processing within a business context. She added, “I think there’s a certain simplicity that probably needs to be debated.”

On the other hand, Reid is a mother, and has discovered that children’s interests vary, just as with Babin’s kids.

“I said I was going to treat my kids exactly the same way. Then I realized that we don’t choose [for them]. They choose.”

John Molson School of Business dean Jerry Tomberlin called the talk interesting. “It reminds us that culture is a multi-variant, and also age and gender.” He said that men tend to focus more on their work, often at the expense of their personal lives, but when a businesswoman is pregnant, her priorities change out of necessity.

In a later interview, Babin said that all stereotypes contain some small truth. “There is extensive literature on ‘social stereotypes’ and how they come to be and what functions they perform. These stereotypes exist for countless categories of people. They are real psychological/cognitive concepts. Indeed, our brain would suffer severe overload if we had to process every object we encountered without the help of such devices.”

Take car salesmen. Babin won’t say salespeople — precisely because the stereotype is of a man, overweight, dressed up but badly (and wearing a hideous tie), with a cigarette. And he’s pushy.

“Visit a car dealer and you sometimes find someone who shares some of these characteristics, although rarely is one so perfect as to share all. Your reaction (for example, skepticism) is determined in part by the extent to which the person matches the category.

“Likewise, there is certainly a category for absent-minded professor, teacher, lawyer, politician, Southerner, etc.”

He called his research “a simple attempt to describe reality” based upon the responses of hundreds of people interviewed by Babin, and the thousands interviewed by other researchers.