Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 69, No. 2, 2013, pp. 341--366
Workplace Mistreatment of Middle Class Workers
Based on Sex, Parenthood, and Caregiving
Jennifer L. Berdahl∗
Joseph L. Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto
Sue H. Moon
College of Management, Long Island University
Research suggests that women, but not men suffer negative professional conse-
quences if they have children. These unequal consequences can be attributed to
stereotypes about women’s and men’s roles as caregivers and breadwinners for
their families, respectively. Two field studies of workplace mistreatment among
middle-class employees examined whether fathers who violate these gender stereo-
types by actively caregiving for their families suffer negative consequences at
work. Study 1 (N =232) examined not man enough harassment (being derogated
as insufficiently masculine) and Study 2 (N =451) examined general forms of
mistreatment. Results showed that caregiving fathers experience more harassment
and mistreatment than traditional fathers and than men without children. Women
without children experience more harassment and mistreatment than mothers,
and mothers who spend less time on caregiving experience more harassment and
mistreatment than mothers who spend more time on caregiving. We discuss impli-
cations for theory and practice.
Plenty of anecdotes exist about men getting teased and put down if they
take leave, exercise flexible work options, or signal in other ways that they take
care of children. An employee at a public utility company who took 3 weeks off
when his second child was born explained, “Comments were made and my work
∗Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Jennifer L. Berdahl, Associate
Professor, Joseph L. Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON M5R 1P2,
Canada. Tel: (416) 978-4273 [e-mail: email@example.com].
This research was supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research
Council of Canada. The authors thank Shelley Correll, Sheri Levy, and an anonymous reviewer for
their suggestions on an earlier version of this manuscript, and H. Colleen Stuart for her assistance with
2013 The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues
342 Berdahl and Moon
wasn’t being covered. . . It made me feel like I wasn’t a ‘man’ if I choose to stay
home and take care of the kids. This same attitude manifests when I ask to take
time off so I can take the kids to the doctor” (Berdahl, Magley, & Waldo, 1996).
An MBA student told us that when he took leave to care for his newborn after
his physician wife took hers, he received phone calls and emails throughout the
day from coworkers who expected him to keep working. His wife had not faced
such expectations during her leave. In academic circles, we hear men, but not
women, faculty derided for taking parental leave: Men are suspected of using their
leave to avoid teaching and to concentrate on writing and publishing instead of
caring for their child(ren), whereas women’s leave-taking tends to be viewed as
legitimate. Over dinner a corporate executive shared his experience of receiving
raised eyebrows and looks of derision when announcing he could not attend an
after-hours meeting because he had to be home to care for his three children.
If men and women face such different reactions to taking family leave and
caring for their children, this suggests a form of sex discrimination that may be
uniquely harmful to men. We know already that professional women with children
face drastic career penalties: Working mothers are “mommy tracked,” stereotyped
as incompetent, and passed over for promotions, regardless of their qualifications
or performance (Correll, Benard, & Paik, 2007; Crosby, Williams, & Biernat,
2004; Cuddy, Fiske, & Glick, 2004; Dodson, 2013; Fuegen, Biernat, Haines, &
Deaux, 2004; Stone & Hernandez, 2013). Fatherhood, on the other hand, generally
appears to not harm (Correll et al., 2007; Cuddy et al., 2004), and even to benefit
(Fuegen et al., 2004), professional men. This fatherhood benefit can be attributed to
the stereotype that men become even more dedicated to work after having children
because they are breadwinners for their families (Hodges & Budig, 2010).
But what if a man does not behave like a traditional father, and instead
actively takes care of his children? Does he experience backlash at work that
traditional fathers do not? Is he treated as badly as a working mother, or does
he face worse, or unique forms of, backlash? Preliminary evidence from vignette
experiments suggests that fathers who take leave might be especially stigmatized
at work (Allen & Russell, 1999; Butler & Skattebo, 2004; Rudman & Mescher,
2013; Vandello, Hettinger, Bosson, & Siddiqi, 2013; Wayne & Cordiero, 2003). A
recent analysis of national longitudinal data shows that men who quit work or were
unemployed for family reasons ended up earning significantly less later on than
other men (Coltrane, Miller, DeHaan, & Stewart, 2013). We seek to establish how
working fathers who are not on leave but are active caregivers at home get treated
in the workplace. We conducted two field studies of middle-class employees to
gain insight into the contingencies faced by most working women and men, as
most studies to date have focused on managerial and upper-class professions (e.g.,
Blair-Loy, 2009; Correll et al., 2007; Cuddy et al., 2004; Fuegen et al., 2004;
Vandello et al., 2013; Wharton & Blair-Loy, 2006; see Dodson, 2009, 2013 for
Workplace Mistreatment 343
We focus our analysis on common acts of social mistreatment, such as being
teased, put down, or excluded by coworkers. Such acts provide the most immediate
and informal feedback to employees about their social approval and status at work
(Duffy, Ganster, Shaw, Johnson, & Pagon, 2006). We expect that a close and
systematic look at everyday acts of mistreatment experienced by employees in
their work environments will reveal that these social contingencies at work serve
to pull men out of the home and push women into it (Blair-Loy & Wharton, 2002;
Stone, 2007; Williams, 2010; Williams, Manvell, & Bornstein, 2006).
Our first study focused on a specific form of mistreatment aimed at men who
violate traditional gender roles: Not man enough harassment, which involves dero-
gating a target for being insufficiently masculine or too feminine (Berdahl et al.,
1996; Berdahl & Moore, 2006; Waldo, Berdahl, & Fitzgerald, 1998). We surveyed
unionized employees about their experiences of not man enough harassment and
examined whether men experienced more of it as the amount of childcare they
performed at home increased. We conducted a second study to broaden our lens
on more general forms of mistreatment. We surveyed public service employees at
a large organization about their experiences of a variety of forms of mistreatment
at work, and examined whether this mistreatment varied as a function of employee
sex, parental status, and domestic chores. We present our studies after reviewing
the literature informing our hypotheses.
Mothers and Fathers at Work
People tend to assume that women and men play stereotypical roles when it
comes to parenting: Women are expected to take on the majority of caregiving
responsibilities for children, consistent with the traditional role of homemaker,
and men are expected to put career first to maximize their income, consistent with
the traditional role of provider or breadwinner. Terms like “mommy brain” reflect
the idea that women’s attention is scattered after having children because they can
no longer focus solely on their work, or be counted on by their employer(s) to be
there when needed, due to women’s primary responsibility for meeting children’s
needs. Terms like “breadwinner” and “provider” are often applied to fathers, who
are assumed to have a wife who manages the care of his children at home while
he focuses on his work and provides the family’s income.
Consistent with such stereotyping, laboratory experiments show that profes-
sional mothers are evaluated as less competent and worthy of hiring, promotion,
and salaries than professional fathers who have identical qualifications and levels
of performance (Correll et al., 2007; Cuddy et al., 2004; Fuegen et al., 2004). Court
cases suggest the motherhood penalty is both real and costly. For example, Kelly
Voelker, vice president at Deutsche Bank, returned to work after a maternity leave
to consistently receive higher performance ratings than her male peers. Despite
this, Voelker was passed over for promotion for 13 years as lower-performing
344 Berdahl and Moon
men were promoted within 3–5 years. Seeing no other way out of her conundrum,
Voelker sued for sex discrimination, attributing her lack of promotion to her status
as a mother (Stempel, 2011). In another high profile case, the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission sued Bloomberg LP for discriminating against pregnant
women and new mothers. The suit included insulting quotes about working moth-
ers made by senior officials at Bloomberg, which allegedly fired, demoted, or
failed to promote women once they became mothers.
Another way of looking at the motherhood penalty and the fatherhood benefit
is to compare mothers and fathers to women and men without children. One
study showed that mothers are especially disadvantaged compared to women
without children, who are seen as the most competent employees of all (Cuddy
et al., 2004). Women without children may be seen as particularly driven and
dedicated to their career—willing to forego the personal fulfillment of parenthood
for the ambition of professional success. This may also be why this same study
showed that professional women without children are viewed as interpersonally
cold. Fathers, on the other hand, were evaluated as more competent, warm, and
fit for promotion than men without children. Such laboratory studies, able to
hold employee qualifications and performance constant, clearly demonstrate the
penalty to women who become parents compared to men who do and to women
and men who do not (Correll et al., 2007).
Changing Family Roles
Increasingly, traditional assumptions about mothers and fathers are likely to
be incongruent with reality. In the United States, women now earn a majority
of Bachelor’s, Master’s, and even Doctoral degrees (U.S. Department of Educa-
tion, National Center for Education Statistics, 2011) and women’s representation
in traditionally male-dominated professions and ranks, including medicine, law,
politics, management, and academia, has increased significantly. In contrast to
upper-class households, during the past few decades the real income gains of
middle-class households have been small (Feller & Stone, 2009), necessitating
dual-income households and changes in work/family arrangements among men
and women. During the recent recession, almost three men lost their job for every
woman who did, largely as the manufacturing sector declined and the service
sector grew (Hymowitz, 2012). Although women are still significantly underrep-
resented at the top of companies (Catalyst, 2013), women recently made up a
larger proportion of the workforce than men for the first time in American history
These trends contribute to the fact that 22% of married women in the United
States now earn more than their spouse, compared to 4% in 1970 (Pew Research
Center, 2010). Forty percent of wives in dual-earner households earn as much or
more than their husbands (Bond, Thompson, Galinsky, & Prottas, 2003; Freeman,
Workplace Mistreatment 345
2000). The majority (71%) of women with children under 18 participate in the
labor force, and most work full time (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor
Statistics, 2011). Consistent with economic incentives, families tend to maximize
their highest earner’s work opportunities, with lower-earning spouses covering
more of the domestic chores at home (e.g., Gupta, 2007). These shifting gender
economics mean that fathers are increasingly staying home, taking leave, or work-
ing flexibly to care for their children, while mothers are increasingly working long
hours in demanding jobs.
Childcare and housework, however, is still viewed as low-status “women’s
work.” In a culture that valorizes masculinity and its components—such as indi-
vidual ambition and credit, and institutional power and earnings—taking time out
of one’s day or career to care for children is dismissively framed as a “choice”
or a “luxury” that few can afford. Traditionally performed by unpaid wives or
low-wage workers, childcare and housework are not activities that are recognized
with a company title or upon a r´
e. Childcare in particular appears to be
low in status. Earnings for childcare workers are lower than earnings for work-
ers who perform other tasks traditionally covered by housewives, such as cooks,
taxi drivers, janitors (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011),
house cleaners, and even dog walkers (see PayScale, 2012). Research suggests that
this is because childcare is a particularly gendered, or feminized, task (England,
Budig, & Folbre, 2002). The vast majority of child caregivers are women, whereas
cooks, taxi drivers, and janitors tend to be men (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau
of Labor Statistics, 2011).
Like a man who wears feminine attire, a man who engages in the highly
feminized activity of caring for his children may be disrespected and teased for
being insufficiently masculine. Men who are judged to be less masculine are
accorded lower status and respect than men who are judged as more masculine
(e.g., Heilman & Wallen, 2010; Kimmel, 2007; Moss-Racusin, Phelan, & Rudman,
2010; Rudman & Mescher, 2013; Vandello, Bosson, Cohen, Burnaford, & Weaver,
2008; Vandello et al., 2013). Traditional fathers may enjoy a fatherhood benefit
in the workplace because they conform to traditional notions of masculinity,
but fathers who actively care for their children may be viewed as insufficiently
masculine and be less likely to enjoy the status perks that fatherhood affords men.
The most immediate feedback about how those in our work environments
view us is how they treat us. When others ignore or exclude us, tease or insult us,
or threaten or bribe us, they convey dislike or disrespect. Such mistreatment serves
as a warning sign that our status at work is in peril, and that we may suffer loss of
reputation, assistance, promotion, or even employment. Workplace mistreatment
is often used to punish those who have transgressed unwritten social rules or who
346 Berdahl and Moon
have violated valued norms and identities (e.g., Berdahl, 2007a; Brodsky, 1976).
For these reasons, employees are sensitive to and aware of being mistreated in their
work environments, and are motivated to do what they can to avoid mistreatment.
Research shows that gender “deviants” are subjected to significantly higher
levels of workplace mistreatment than gender conformers. Women in gender
atypical occupations (Berdahl, 2007b; Fitzgerald, Drasgow, Hulin, Gelfand, &
Magley, 1997; Glomb, Munson, Hulin, Bergman, & Drasgow, 1999; Gruber, 1998;
Mansfield, Koch, Henderson, & Vicary, 1991), women with gender atypical
personalities (Berdahl, 2007b), and individuals with gender atypical sexual pref-
erences (Konik & Cortina, 2008; Waldo et al., 1998) are significantly more likely
than others to be sexually harassed at work. Most research has focused on women’s
experiences of sexual harassment, but research on men suggests that men are
harassed at work by having their courage, strength, sexuality, or some other aspect
of their masculinity questioned (Berdahl et al., 1996; Waldo et al., 1998). Court
records support the idea that men who do not conform to masculine stereotypes or
ideals are subjected to severe forms of harassment at work (Franke, 1997; EEOC v.
The McPherson Companies, Inc., 2011). There is also evidence that more general,
or nongender-specific, forms of mistreatment are levied against those who violate
gender roles, such as sabotage against individuals who excel at gender atypical
tasks (Rudman & Fairchild, 2004) and general mistreatment of employees with
gender atypical personalities (Berdahl, Ramarajan, & Moon, 2013).
In short, workplace mistreatment functions to penalize workers who do not
stay within the confines of traditional gender roles at work (Berdahl, 2007b). What
about the failure to conform to gender roles outside of work? Gender atypical
activity in the home may not be as immediately obvious to coworkers as having a
gender atypical job or personality. Because prior research shows that parental status
can influence evaluations of an employee, however, knowledge of an employee’s
parental status and caregiving activities at home may influence perceptions of that
employee and therefore how he or she is treated at work.
Ideal Men, Ideal Women, and Ideal Workers: Predictions for Workplace
As a penalty for violating valued identities and roles, most mistreatment
should target employees who violate injunctive gender and work norms. For
men, these norms are congruent; for women they are not. Men, like employees
in general, tend to be evaluated according to their professional dedication and
competence; women, on the other hand, tend to be evaluated according to their
personal warmth (e.g., Bem, 1974; Spence & Helmreich, 1978; Townsend, 2002).
Because men and workers are judged based on competence, and competence
elicits respect (Fiske, Cuddy, Glick & Xu, 2002), we posit that the main
Workplace Mistreatment 347
Tab l e 1. Predictions for Workplace Mistreatment at Work as a Function of Gender and Childcare
Child caregiving Male employee Female employee
No children Good worker but mediocre man Good worker but failed woman
Somewhat disrespected Respected but very disliked
Moderate mistreatment High mistreatment
Low caregiving Good worker and good man Mediocre worker and bad woman
Respected Somewhat disrespected and disliked
Low mistreatment Moderate to high mistreatment
High caregiving Bad worker and failed man Bad worker but good woman
Disrespected Disrespected but liked
High mistreatment Moderate mistreatment
Note. Ideals for workers and for men are based on competence. Competence elicits respect. Workers and
men are therefore judged based on perceptions of their competence and the result of these judgments is
respect. Ideals for women, however, are based on warmth. Warmth elicits liking. Women are therefore
judged based on perceptions of their warmth and the result of this judgment is liking.
determinant of social approval and treatment for working men is respect. Men
who are respected should enjoy social approval and positive treatment, whereas
men who are disrespected should receive disapproval and mistreatment. Because
women are judged based on perceptions of their warmth, and warmth elicits
liking (Fiske et al., 2002), we posit that the main determinant of social approval
and treatment for women is whether they are liked. Women who are liked should
enjoy social approval and positive interpersonal treatment (even if they are
evaluated as less competent), whereas women who are disliked should experience
disapproval and mistreatment. Our predictions are summarized in Table 1.
Predictions for Men
Traditional fathers. Being a “real man” means being heterosexual, virile,
dominant, and competent (Connell, 2005). Having a family at home establishes
a man’s heterosexuality and virility. Focusing on work rather than spending time
caregiving signals his economic dominance at home and establishes him as a
dedicated and reliable worker. Therefore, employed men with children who spend
little time on childcare or domestic chores are likely to be seen both as good men
and as good workers, and to be respected and well treated at work. These traditional
men should experience particularly low rates of mistreatment (see Table 1).
Other of employees—men who take care of children, men without children,
women with children, and women without children—fail to meet gender ideals,
worker ideals, or both. These employees should therefore experience higher levels
of mistreatment than traditional men.
348 Berdahl and Moon
Caregiving fathers. Employed men with children who spend a relatively
large amount of time caring for them violate ideals for men as well as for workers.
Men who do the low-status “feminine” work of childcare and housework are likely
to be seen as failed men. They are also likely to be seen as having their dedication
split between work and home, and therefore as bad workers. Though as fathers
these men have established their heterosexual virility, they are likely to be seen as
“wimps” who are not sufficiently dominant at home to have a woman doing most
or all of the caregiving. Insulting terms for such a man includes “henpecked” and
being told his wife “wears the pants” in the family (i.e., plays the traditional male
role). Even comedies like “Daddy Daycare” (2003) and “What to Expect When
You’re Expecting” (2012) make fun of men who, through accident or misfortune,
end up being primary caregivers to children. In addition to being seen as failed
men, caregiving fathers are also likely to be seen as bad workers. Like working
mothers, they should be suspected of having split devotions between work and
family and seen as unreliable and incompetent. We therefore predict that caregiving
fathers experience high levels of social disrespect and mistreatment in their places
Men without children. Men who do not have children are likely to fall
between traditional fathers and caregiving fathers in terms of their masculine
performance. On the one hand, men without children have not proven their het-
erosexual virility by becoming fathers, but on the other hand, they also have not
lowered themselves to the stigmatized role of caregiver. They should therefore
be seen as mediocre, rather than as good or as failed, men. We predict that men
without children are viewed similarly to traditional fathers in terms of their stand-
ing as workers because their attention and time can be devoted entirely to their
workplace responsibilities. Therefore, men without children are likely to be seen
as good workers but as mediocre men, and therefore to be somewhat disrespected
and mistreated in the workplace, falling between the high level of respect given to
traditional fathers and the low level directed at caregiving ones.
Predictions for Women
Caregiving mothers. Women employees who take time out of their work
schedules or day to care for their children are likely to be seen as good women
but as bad employees. Professional women with children are viewed as warm,
and therefore as likeable, but are also judged to be incompetent, and thus are
disrespected (Cuddy et al., 2004). Being liked may protect women who care for
their children from mistreatment, but the disrespect caregiving mothers are likely
to elicit as workers should result in moderate levels of mistreatment, especially
when compared to the low levels directed at traditional men.
Workplace Mistreatment 349
Nontraditional mothers. Women employees with children who do rela-
tively little childcare or housework are likely to be more respected as workers
than women who do more childcare and housework, but nontraditional mothers
also likely to be disliked as women (Benard & Correll, 2010). Employed mothers
who signal a primary devotion to work by spending little time with their children
or on domestic chores are likely to be seen as bad mothers and as bad women.
This, in turn, should cause them to be viewed as cold and to be disliked. Non-
traditional mothers are also not likely to be fully respected as workers because
they are mothers (Correll et al., 2007; Cuddy et al., 2004; Fuegen et al., 2004).
Therefore, these nontraditional mothers should experience relatively high levels of
Women without children. Finally, working women who do not have chil-
dren may be viewed as ideal workers but are also likely to be viewed as failed
women if they are of typical childbearing age or beyond. Throughout history,
derogatory terms like “old maid,” “spinster,” and “barren” have been applied to
women who do not marry or have children. Today, professional women without
children may be viewed as relatively competent but also quite cold (Cuddy et al.,
2004), and are therefore likely to be respected as workers but disliked as women.
We therefore predict that working women who do not have children are subject
to particularly high amounts of mistreatment in the workplace compared to other
The bulk of prior research has examined perceptions of hypothetical, or “paper
thin,” workers, and how these perceptions depend on a worker’s sex, parental
status, and in some cases leave-taking. In real world settings, employees who work
together over time are likely to have much more information than this, including
information about their personal lives. Employees may share stories about what
they do in the evening and on weekends, and information about time spent with
family and children. We propose that knowledge of an employee’s caregiving
activities may be even more important than knowledge of that employee’s parental
status, as caregiving activities may be especially relevant to establishing gender
and work identities.
We analyzed data from two field studies to test our hypotheses. Both samples
involved middle-class occupations that typically require a high school diploma
or some university but not a graduate degree. We surveyed union workers at
various organizations in Study 1 and public service workers in Study 2. Both
studies took place in the same major metropolitan area in the northeast. In Study
1 we asked employees about their experiences of not man enough harassment,
which seemed the most likely form of mistreatment to be levied against men for
violating traditional gender roles. In Study 2, we broadened our lens to include a
wide variety of forms of mistreatment to see whether workplace mistreatment in
general is primarily directed against nontraditional men and women.
350 Berdahl and Moon
Study 1: Not Man Enough Harassment against Union Workers in a
Procedure and Participants
A union mailed our survey to the home addresses of about 750 of its mem-
bers who worked in various organizations (ranging in size between 50 and 150
employees) in the same major metropolitan area. The mailing included a let-
ter from the union explaining the study and encouraging the workers to com-
plete the survey and mail it to the independent academic researcher in a pread-
dressed and postage-paid envelope. Workers were assured that their responses
would be anonymous. Those returning a completed survey were paid $20 for their
Just under one third (232) of the union members returned completed surveys.
This represents a good response rate for voluntary mail-in surveys (Fox, Crask, &
Kim, 1988; Krosnick, 1999) and for surveys that address negative interpersonal ex-
periences such as workplace harassment (e.g., Berdahl & Moore, 2006; Fitzgerald,
Weitzman, Gold, & Ormerod, 1988; Low, Radhakrishnan, Schneider, & Rounds,
2007; Schneider, Hitlan, & Radhakrishnan, 2000). Of those who completed the
survey, 33% were men, consistent with the proportion of men who were mailed a
survey (35%). Modal income was $30,000–$45,000 per year. Most workers were
30–39 years (31%) or 40–49 years old (35%), or of child-rearing age. Half of the
sample (51%) had children at home: 48% of the women and 52% of the men.
Modal tenure was 10–19 years. The largest ethnic group was White (48%), fol-
lowed by Asian (28%), Black (16%), and 5% or fewer identifying another group.
See Table 2 for sample descriptive statistics.
Tab l e 2. Study 1: Means, Standard Deviations, Correlation Coefficients, and Reliabilities of
Variables NMSD 1234567
1 Education 226 3.66 1.63 –
2 Tenure 232 3.76 1.41 −.36*** –
3 Non-White 232 .52 .50 .17*−.20** –
4 Man 232 .33 .47 −.13 .55*** −.14*–
5 Kids at home 232 .49 .50 −.07 .05 .11 .03 –
6 Childcare per week 232 2.07 2.89 −.09 .02 .02 −.02 .43*** –
7 Not man enough harassment 232 .50 .65 .05 .04 .17*.05 −.03 .01 (.61)
Note. Reliabilities are shown along the diagonal in parentheses.
*p<.05, **p<.01, *** p<.001.
Workplace Mistreatment 351
Sex. Respondents indicated whether they were male (1) or female (0).
Children at home. Respondents indicated whether they had children living
with them at home (0 =no,1=yes).
Caregiving. Respondents indicated how many hours (1 =0hours,2=
1–3 hours,or3=4ormore hours) they spent caring for the children in their
home on an average workday (M=2.97, SD =1.28) and on an average day off
(M=3.60, SD =1.43). Workday and day off hours were highly correlated (r=
.72, p<.001) and were therefore combined to compute average hours spent on
childcare per week. Based on the typical work week of 5 workdays and 2 days
off, we multiplied average workday hours by five, average day off hours by two,
added these products together, and divided their sum by seven.
Not man enough harassment. Respondents indicated how often they ex-
perienced four forms of harassment in their work environment in the past 2 years,
from 0 =Never,1=Once or twice,2=A few times,3=Several times,to
4=Most of the time: (1) Made you feel like you were not tough enough (e.g.,
assertive, strong, or ambitious enough) for the job, (2) Made you feel you needed
to act more tough and aggressive to be respected, (3) Made it necessary for you
to sacrifice family or personal time to be respected at work, and (4) Made fun of
you for being soft-spoken or shy. Responses to the four items were averaged to
measure harassment (M=.50, SD =.65; α=.61).
Controls. We controlled for tenure in the organization (1 =less than 6
months,2=6 months to 2 years,3=2–5 years,4=6–9 years,5=10–19 years,
6=20 years or more), level of education (1 =some high school or less,2=
high school diploma or equivalent,3=high school diploma plus some technical
training or apprenticeship,4=some university, no degree,5=graduated from
university [BA, BS, or equivalent], 6 =some graduate school, and 7 =graduate
or professional degree [e.g., MA, MS, JD, MD, EdD, PhD]), and ethnic minority
status (0 =White,1=Non-White). These variables are likely to relate to formal or
informal status in the organization and thus employees’ likelihoods to be harassed.
Masculinity harassment by sex and children. We first conducted an anal-
ysis of covariance (ANCOVA) to test whether there was an interaction between
sex and having children for predicting the amount of harassment experienced
352 Berdahl and Moon
Fig. 1. Masculinity harassment by sex, children, and caregiving.
by the workers. This interaction was not significant (F(1,225) =.16, ns). There
was no main effect for sex (F(1,225) =1.30, ns) or for having children at home
(F(1,225) =1.19, ns). The only control variable that was significant was ethnic mi-
nority status: Non-Whites reported significantly more not man enough harassment
than Whites (F(1,225) =7.77, p=.006).
Harassment by sex, children, and caregiving. With a second ANCOVA,
we added amount of childcare (median-split, where 0 =below median childcare,
1=above median childcare) as an independent variable to see if the relative
amount of childcare performed by those with children predicted the amount of
masculinity harassment they experienced at work and compared to workers without
children. Amount of childcare is a continuous variable, making regression a more
fine-tuned approach than ANCOVA for analyzing its effects on mistreatment.
However, results for regression and ANCOVA analyses were similar and the latter
are more straightforward to plot and interpret. There was a significant three-way
interaction between sex, children, and childcare (F(1,225) =3.86, p≤.05). As
Figure 1 shows, fathers who engaged in a high amount of childcare experienced
significantly more harassment (M=.88, SD =2.71) than other men, and especially
more not man enough harassment than traditional fathers who did little childcare
(M=.39, SD =1.95) (Cohen’s d=.20). Also consistent with our predictions,
women without children experienced more harassment (M=.67, SD =2.86) than
other women, especially compared to mothers who performed a high amount of
childcare (M=.30, SD =1.65) (Cohen’s d=.28).
Workplace Mistreatment 353
The results of this study largely support our predictions. Caregiving fathers
were subjected to the highest rates of not man enough harassment, followed by
women without children. Caregiving fathers experienced more not man enough
harassment than men with no children and traditional fathers; women without
children were harassed more than mothers.
This sample primarily involved workers at female-dominated organizations
and examined a particular form of mistreatment that may be specifically designed
to derogate men: not man enough harassment. Prior research has shown that
women experience masculinity this type of harassment as well (Berdahl & Moore,
2006), but it may be especially pertinent to men who violate traditional gender
roles (Berdahl et al., 1996; Waldo et al., 1998). We observed that not man enough
harassment experiences among employees in mostly female-dominated jobs gen-
erally fit our predictions for mistreatment, suggesting that women as well as men
perpetrate this form of harassment and tend to target it at men and women who
violate gender roles for caregiving.
To see whether these results generalize to male-dominated organizations and
to mistreatment in general, we conducted a second study of employees in a male-
dominated occupation and examined their experiences of a variety of forms of
general mistreatment. Combining different forms of mistreatment provides a big-
ger picture of negative social treatment employees may experience at work. When
mistreatment in general is examined, different patterns of mistreatment by sex,
parental status, and caregiving may be observed.
Study 2: General Mistreatment of Public Service Workers in a
Procedure and Participants
Surveys were delivered by internal mail to employees at a large, male-
dominated public service organization in the same metropolitan area as the sample
in Study 1. Only employees above entry-level (i.e., level 2 or above in a 9-level
organizational hierarchy) were included to ensure they had sufficient time at the
organization to comment on their treatment at work. A letter from the head of
human resources accompanied the survey, in which he expressed his support for
the survey and encouraged employees to complete it. The letter assured employees
that the survey was entirely voluntary and confidential and was being conducted
by a team of independent academic researchers. A monetary reward of $1,000 was
given to the unit of the organization with the highest response rate to purchase a
354 Berdahl and Moon
Tab l e 3. Study 2: Means, Standard Deviations, Correlation Coefficients, and Reliabilities of
Variables NMSD1234 567
Education 434 3.97 1.28 –
Tenure 450 22.95 7.62 −.05 –
Non-White 435 .11 .32 .06 −.17*** –
Man 446 .81 .39 −.07 .19*** .07 –
Parent 406 .91 .28 −.02 .11*−.03 .21*** –
Domestic chores 422 4.54 3.22 −.03 −.28*** .06 −.09 .15** –
General mistreatment 449 .42 .73 .04 −.03 .07 −.16** −.02 .05 (.91)
Note. Reliabilities are shown along the diagonal in parentheses.
*p<.05; **p<.01, *** p<.001.
collective gift, and everyone who completed the survey was entered into a lottery
for one $100 gift certificate.
Among the 1,310 surveys delivered, over one third (451) were completed and
mailed directly to the researchers in the addressed and postage prepaid envelope
provided. This response rate was higher than the organization had expected based
on prior surveys its employees had been asked to complete, which had yielded
response rates of 10–15%. Our response rate was also quite good for a mail-in
survey and for surveys that address negative interpersonal experiences such as
workplace harassment (e.g., Berdahl & Moore, 2006; Fitzgerald et al., 1988; Fox
et al., 1988; Krosnick, 1999; Low et al., 2007; Schneider et al., 2000). Of those
who completed the survey, 81% were men, reflecting the highly male dominated
composition of this workforce. The average age of respondents was 46.55 (SD =
7.69). Most of the employees (91%) had children (77% of the women and 94%
of the men). A majority of the sample had attended “Some university” (28%)
or earned a “Bachelor degree” (31%). The average tenure of respondents in the
organization was 22.95 years (SD =7.62). Most respondents identified themselves
as White (88%), approximately 6% identified as Asian, 3% as Black, and the
remaining 3% identified another category. See Table 3 for sample descriptive
Sex. Respondents indicated whether they were male (1) or female (0).
Children. Respondents were asked if they had children (0 =no,1=yes).
Caregiving. After providing information about children, respondents were
asked to indicate how many hours they spend on domestic-related tasks (childcare,
Workplace Mistreatment 355
household tasks, meal preparation) on an average workday and how many hours
they spend on these tasks on an average nonworkday. Workday and nonworkday
hours were highly correlated (r=.78, p<.001) and were thus combined to
compute average domestic chores. Based on the typical week of five workdays
and two nonworkdays, average domestic chores was calculated by multiplying
the number of hours on an average workday by five, the number of hours on an
average nonworkday by two, adding these two products, and dividing their sum
General mistreatment. To capture a variety of forms of general mistreat-
ment that employees can experience at work, 23 items were adapted from scales de-
signed to measure general forms of workplace aggression (Bj¨
& Lagerspetz, 1994; Keashly & Neuman, 2004; Rospenda & Richman, 2004),
incivility (Cortina, Magley, Williams, & Langhout, 2001), and bullying (Einarsen,
2000) (see Appendix). These items consisted of acts of exclusion (ignoring or ex-
cluding an employee), derogation (insults, slander, and humiliation), and coercion
(bribing, threatening, and pressuring). Respondents were asked how often in the
past 6 months they had experienced each form of mistreatment from someone(s)
at work (0 =Never,1=Once or twice,2=3 or 4 times,3=5 or more times).
This time frame was considerably shorter than the 2-year time frame given for not
man enough harassment in Study 1, allowing for more specificity about frequency
(e.g., “3 or 4 times” as opposed to “A few times” or “Several times”; Gutek et al.,
2004). It is easier to estimate what happened in the past 6 months than in the past
2 years, and therefore this time frame should have also provided more accurate
If respondents experienced a form of mistreatment at least once, they were
asked to indicate how negative (e.g., bothersome, stressful, irritating) the experi-
ence was for them (0 =not at all negative,1=somewhat negative,2=negative,
3=very negative). This allowed us to gauge how mistreated the employee felt,
rather than assuming the experience was equally mistreating for all employees.
General mistreatment was then calculated for each item by multiplying its fre-
quency (0–3) by appraisal (0–3), and these 23 products were averaged to measure
overall mistreatment (α=.91; cf. Berdahl & Raver, 2011).
Controls. As in Study 1, we controlled for education (1 =some high
school or less,2=high school diploma or equivalent,3=high school diploma
plus some technical training or apprenticeship,4=some university (no degree),
5=graduated from university [e.g., BA, BSc], 6 =some graduate school, and 7 =
graduate or professional degree [e.g.,MA,MS,JD,MD,PhD]), organizational
tenure (in years), and ethnic minority status (1 =Non-White,0=White), as these
variables are likely to relate to formal or informal status in the organization and
thus employees’ likelihoods to be mistreated.
356 Berdahl and Moon
Mistreatment by sex and children. Our first ANCOVA on mistreatment as
a function of sex and children revealed a significant main effect for sex (F(1,387) =
13.95, p<.001). Women experienced significantly more mistreatment (M=.78,
SD =2.17) than men (M=.27, SD =1.58) in this organization (Cohen’s d=
.37). The interaction between sex and children was also significant (F(1,387) =
4.33, p<.05). Women without children experienced more mistreatment
(M=.95, SD =3.74) than mothers (M=.62, SD =1.97) (Cohen’s d=.46), and
fathers experienced more mistreatment (M=.39, SD =0.79) than men without
children (M=.14, SD =3.15) (Cohen’s d=.32).
Mistreatment by sex, children, and caregiving. Our second ANCOVA on
mistreatment as a function of sex, children, and domestic chores (median split)
showed that the main effect for sex (F(1,304) =46.55, p<.001) remained
significant. Similar to the amount of childcare in Study 1, hours spent on domestic
chores in Study 2 is a continuous variable, making regression a richer approach
than ANCOVA for analyzing the effects of domestic chores on mistreatment.
Similar to Study 1, however, results for regression and ANCOVA analyses were
similar, and the latter are more straightforward to plot and interpret. All two-way
interactions (sex by children, sex by domestic chores, and children by domestic
chores) were also significant (F(1,304) =21.78, 12.02, and 27.10, respectively, all
p≤.001), as was the three-way interaction between sex, children, and domestic
chores (F(1,304) =28.54, p<.001). Plots of the estimated marginal means
(see Figure 2) show that women without children experienced by far the most
mistreatment (M=2.71, SD =5.94), followed by mothers who did few domestic
chores (M=1.16, SD =3.32), and mothers who did a lot (M=.46, SD =2.61)
(Cohen’s d=1.11). Fathers who did a lot of domestic chores experienced more
mistreatment (M=.39, SD =1.05) than fathers who did little (M=.33, SD =
1.05) and than men without children (M=.20, SD =3.32), who experienced the
least mistreatment of all (Cohen’s d=.09).
For men in this organization, being a caregiving father resulted in the highest
rate of mistreatment, just as being a caregiving father in Study 1 resulted in the
highest rate of not man enough harassment. Men without children, however, expe-
rienced slightly lower rates of general mistreatment in this Study, whereas in Study
1 they fell between traditional and caregiving fathers. In this organization, being
a father made a man more vulnerable to mistreatment than not having children.
For women in this organization, having no children resulted in higher rates
of mistreatment than being a noncaregiving mother, which resulted in higher rates
Workplace Mistreatment 357
Fig. 2. General workplace mistreatment by sex, children, and caregiving.
of mistreatment than being a caregiving mother. This is similar to the pattern of
harassment observed in Study 1: the more women violated notions of what it
means to be a good woman, the more women were mistreated at work. The key
difference between the two studies is that women without children experienced
the most mistreatment of all employees by quite a margin in Study 2, whereas
in Study 1 it was caregiving fathers who experienced more not man enough
harassment than other workers. Again, this is likely due to the fact that we studied
a male-dominated organization and measured general mistreatment. In sum, being
a mother, especially being a caregiving mother, made women less vulnerable to
mistreatment than not having children in both studies, while the opposite pattern
was observed for men.
The patterns of mistreatment by parenthood and domestic chores observed in
this study were highly similar to the patterns of not man enough harassment by
parenthood and childcare observed in Study 2—within sex. The overwhelmingly
higher level of mistreatment experienced by women in this highly male-dominated
organization shifted patterns for overall mistreatment. Including appraisals in our
calculation of mistreatment did not raise women’s scores relative to men’s, as
analyses with frequencies alone showed the same pattern. The gender shift in
Study 2 is likely the result of two things: First, that we measured general acts
of mistreatment—such as ignoring, exclusion, derogation, sabotage, threats, and
bribes—rather than limiting our analysis to harassment; and second, that we
studied employees in a male-dominated context, where women are more likely
than men to be mistreated (e.g., Aquino & Bradfield, 2000; Bj¨
358 Berdahl and Moon
ack, 1994; Cortina, et al., 2001; Gruber, 1998; Lim, Cortina, & Magley,
This is the first set of studies to show that workplace mistreatment is sys-
tematically related to employees’ gender performance outside the workplace and
inside the home. Our results showed that women who violated traditional gender
roles by not having children, or by not actively caring for them outside of work,
experienced more mistreatment than more caregiving mothers. Men who violated
traditional gender roles by actively caring for children outside the home, in con-
trast, experienced more workplace mistreatment than men who did not actively
care for children.
Rather than finding more evidence for a motherhood penalty and a father-
hood benefit at work, documented for discrete employment decisions in vignette
experiments and audit studies, we found almost the opposite pattern for employee
experiences of mistreatment at work. Rather than a motherhood penalty, we found
a motherhood benefit: Working mothers, especially those who did relatively high
amounts of childcare and housework in the home, experienced less mistreatment
than did women without children. Rather than a fatherhood benefit, we found
a fatherhood penalty for dads who did relatively high amounts of childcare and
domestic chores. These caregiving fathers experienced the most not man enough
harassment and mistreatment among men. Thus, the fatherhood benefit appears to
be limited to traditional fathers, who do relatively little caregiving in the home.
The key distinction between the current studies and prior research on the
motherhood penalty and fatherhood benefit is that our studies examined everyday
treatment at work among coworkers, rather than decisions about pay and promo-
tion. This research should not be interpreted as an indictment, or a contradiction,
to past research on the motherhood penalty and the fatherhood benefit. Working
mothers who are highly involved in caregiving in their homes may be treated with
relative kindness in their everyday work lives while at the same time less likely
than other employees to receive pay and promotions in recognition of their work.
Such mothers may be seen as good women, and thus treated kindly, but as bad
employees, and thus not promoted. Traditional fathers, who are likely to be seen
as both good men and good employees, may experience both good treatment and
promotions, while nontraditional fathers, who are neither seen as good men nor
as good employees, may experience both mistreatment and career stagnation.
A further distinction between the current studies and prior research is the focus
on middle-class workers. During the past few decades, the real income of middle-
class workers has not increased at the same rapid pace as income earned by elite
Workplace Mistreatment 359
professionals. Women have made significant strides in the general workforce,
but less so in jobs at the top of organizations (e.g., only 3.6% of Fortune 500
CEOs; Catalyst, 2012). Upper-class households may be able to afford (and choose)
to enact a clear division of work/family labor—typically a male breadwinner
and female caregiver—that middle-class households cannot. A qualitative study
comparing fathering by upper-class (physicians) and middle-class (emergency
medical technicians) men, for example, found that the middle-class men were
significantly more involved in the daily care of their children than their upper-
class counterparts (Shows & Gerstel, 2009). Those at the top of organizations
may disproportionately shape gender expectations and stereotypes (Fiske, 1993),
even if their experiences are increasingly at odds with most workers. The current
studies suggest that traditional gender stereotypes continue to shape the treatment
of middle-class employees.
The results of this research suggest that after one or two decades at an orga-
nization (the average tenure of employees in these studies), most employees are
systematically judged, and treated, based on how well they conform to traditional
family roles. Such contingent treatment is likely to be a powerful force of social
control. If men and women are punished with social disapproval and negative treat-
ment when they fail to conform to traditional family roles, they are likely to feel
pressured to conform to these roles to avoid mistreatment and protect their status
at work. If long-term career outcomes, such as raises and promotions, are based on
perceptions of an employee’s dedication to work, this social phenomenon is par-
ticularly likely to economically and professionally penalize women. If long-term
personal outcomes, such as having healthy and intimate personal relationships,
are based on spending time with family, this social phenomenon is particularly
likely to emotionally and personally penalize men.
Given changing trends in family economics and social mores, men are in-
creasingly expected to actively participate in the caregiving of their children. A
large majority of families with young children now have employed mothers, and
in a significant (and growing) proportion of these families, wives earn more than
their husbands. Fathers are thus increasingly needed to cover the childcare and
housework traditionally done by women in the home. Considering the mistreat-
ment fathers are likely to face at work if they are active caregivers in their homes,
however, men are now likely to perceive a trade-off between having a career and
having children that women have long perceived. This may be why men between
21 and 39 now list family-friendly work environments as more important than high
pay, prestige, and job security (Harvard Gazette, 2000). Unless the nature of these
trade-offs change, increasing numbers of employed men and women are likely to
opt out of having children, consistent with the declining birthrates of countries
in which women and men have similar professional opportunities but continue to
face traditional family role expectations (e.g., Joshi, 1998).
360 Berdahl and Moon
There are questions raised by this research that cannot be answered with the
current studies and that future research can address. In the female-dominated study,
for example, men who engaged in relatively high amounts of childcare experienced
the most not man enough harassment at work. We know that most harassment is
perpetrated by coworkers, so it seems likely that men’s female coworkers were per-
petrating not man enough harassment against them. Future research can establish
whether the sex of perpetrators of such harassment is disproportionately male or
female when controlling for organizational sex ratios. Theory would suggest that
individuals feel threatened by those who blur traditional boundaries between the
sexes one has benefited from, or sacrificed for, these boundaries (Berdahl, 2007a).
It is therefore possible that women feel threatened by men who violate traditional
family roles by taking on a significant amount of the caregiving of children and
the running of the household, which may account for harassment against men in
a female-dominated environment. In the male-dominated study, women without
kids, and women who did little caregiving, were especially likely to be mistreated.
Again, this could be due to their predominantly male coworkers’ feeling threat-
ened by nontraditional women. Experimental methodologies are better suited to
address the social psychological causes for such behavior (e.g., Dall’Ara & Maass,
1999; Maass, Cadinu, Guarnieri, & Grasselli, 2003; Siebler, Sabelus, & Bohner,
Our theorizing considered the consequences to men and women of violating
gender and worker ideals. We reasoned that men’s treatment at work is largely
based on how much others respect them as workers and as men, and that women’s
treatment is largely based on how much others respect them as workers and like
them as women. Our results suggest that gender performance drives mistreatment
more than work performance does, as women with no children, who are likely to
be seen as ideal workers who are highly competent and dedicated to their work
(Cuddy et al., 2004; Fuegen et al., 2004), were mistreated more than mothers,
who are unlikely to be seen as ideal workers but who are likely to be seen as
good women. An interesting goal for future research is to establish whether it
is primarily respect that determines social reactions to and workplace treatment
of men but primarily liking that determines social reactions to and workplace
treatment of women.
Though field research provides unique and real-world insight into what is
happening in the lives of working men and women, it is never without its limi-
tations. Our cross-sectional designs make causality something we can only infer,
not establish. For example, it is possible that caregiving fathers experience more
mistreatment than other men not because their caregiving incites mistreatment but
because workplace mistreatment causes them to caregive at home. That is, being
mistreated at work may drive men to seek refuge and buffer their identities with
more positive experiences and involvement at home (Barnett & Hyde, 2001). If this
were a general reaction to mistreatment, however, we would not expect women
Workplace Mistreatment 361
who experience the lowest levels of mistreatment at work to also be the most
actively caregiving mothers, which we observed. It is possible that this dynamic
works differently for women, so that women who feel supported and approved
of at work feel free to care for their children and do housework at home. These
explanations are less parsimonious and seem less likely than our theoretical one
based on a relatively large body of research establishing negative social reactions
to gender role violators. Nonetheless, these and other causal ambiguities result
from cross-sectional field research.
Another limitation of field studies such as those reported here is that they
rely on the voluntary completion of mail-in surveys, which typically do not yield
response rates above 25% or 30% (e.g., Berdahl & Moore, 2006; Fitzgerald et al.,
1988; Fox et al., 1988; Krosnick, 1999; Low et al., 2007; Schneider et al., 2000).
Attempts to increase this response rate require more coercive strategies, such as
exerting management pressure on employees to complete the survey or offering
disproportionate rewards for survey completion. These strategies, however, do not
qualify for ethical standards for research on human subjects and are likely to resort
in poor quality data as a result of disingenuous survey responses. In addition,
achieving higher response rates or correcting for sample composition bias also
does not appear to yield more accurate results (for a review, see Krosnick, 1999).
The employees who chose to complete our surveys may have been more (or less)
likely to experience mistreatment at work, or may have differed in some other way
from the employees who did not complete our surveys. Though demographically
similar, the experiences of one third of employees may not have reflected the
experiences of the other two thirds, and thus our results must be interpreted with
that potential limitation in mind.
A basic tenet of economic theory is that people tend to make rational de-
cisions that maximize their economic resources. A basic tenet of psychological
theory is that people tend to do what they are rewarded for doing and avoid
what they are punished for doing. For a growing proportion of workers, these
forces are increasingly at odds with one another. What may be economically
rational in a household that is primarily supported by a mother’s income, for
example, appears to be psychologically irrational given the social contingencies
individuals face in their work environments. At this point, neither organizations
nor their members are likely to fulfill the neoclassical and neoliberal ideals of
economic efficiency, meritocracy, equal opportunity, and individual freedom. We
encourage future research and policy to consider further how these dynamics
unfold so that we can build a better society that is free of family-based sex
362 Berdahl and Moon
General Mistreatment Items
(1) Prevented or discouraged you from expressing your opinion.
(2) Tried to silence you.
(3) Ignored or failed to respond to your communication (email, phone, in
(4) Paid little attention to your statement or shown little interest in your
(5) Treated you as nonexistent.
(6) Refused to speak with you or given you the “silent treatment.”
(7) Excluded you from important work activities or meetings.
(8) Excluded you from influential roles or committee assignments.
(9) Delayed action on matters that were important to you.
(10) Kept information from you that you should have known.
(11) Failed to warn you about impending dangers.
(12) Slandered you or spread damaging rumors about you.
(13) Tried to turn others in your work environment against you.
(14) Made comments about you to others that put you down.
(15) Humiliated or belittled you in front of others.
(16) Did things to embarrass you.
(17) Teased you in a hostile way.
(18) Called you something demeaning or derogatory.
(19) Flaunted their status or treated you in a condescending manner.
(20) Threatened or harassed you for “blowing the whistle” about activities at
(21) Offered you a subtle or obvious bribe to do something that you did not
(22) Pressured you to change your beliefs or opinions at work.
(23) Threatened to “get back at you” if you resisted doing something that you
thought was wrong or if you challenged things about the workplace.
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JENNIFER L. BERDAHL is an Associate Professor of Organizational Behaviour
at the Joseph L. Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.
Berdahl earned her PhD in Social, Organizational, and Industrial Psychology
and a Master’s degree in Labor and Industrial Relations from the University of
Illinois Champaign-Urbana. She studied childcare in the United States at the Urban
Institute in Washington, D.C. and examined occupational sex segregation and the
gender wage gap with Francine Blau at the University of Illinois. After that Berdahl
focused her efforts on understanding the social psychology of power and status in
small groups and in organizations, with an emphasis on workplace mistreatment
as a behavioral means of maintaining and reinforcing social hierarchies at work.
Berdahl serves as an expert witness on sex discrimination and harassment. Berdahl
is an Associate Editor of the The Academy of Management Annals and serves on the
editorial boards of the Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Organizational
Behavior, and Organizational Psychology Review.
SUE H. MOON is an Assistant Professor at the College of Management at Long
Island University (LIU), Post Campus. Moon studies gender, culture, family status,
and their impact on workplace outcomes. She teaches courses in Organizational
Behavior and Business Policy, and has provided human resource management
research for organizations in the private and public sectors.