How to identify and counter Masculine Defaults

As part of our e-learning journal club during spring and summer 2021, we critically discussed the review article “Masculine Defaults: Identifying and Mitigating Hidden Cultural Biases” by Sapna Cheryan and Hazel Rose Markus (2020). The authors describe a cultural bias called “masculine defaults”. Masculine defaults imply that characteristics or behaviours associated with men’s gender role are culturally valued, rewarded, or regarded as standard, normal, neutral, or necessary. 

One example of a masculine default is that in organisational contexts, characteristics associated with men’s gender role (e.g., dominance) are valued more than characteristics associated with women’s gender role (e.g., empathy). The authors argue that identifying and counteracting masculine defaults on multiple levels of organizational culture (i.e., ideas, institutional policies, interactions, individuals) will increase women’s participation in companies dominated by men. The idea is to add values associated with women to the existing characteristics associated with men in multiple levels of organizational cultures. This goes beyond the predominant practices that often can be regarded as “fixing the minority” (e.g., training women on salary negotiation). Consequently, it suggests that stereotypical beliefs about masculine characteristics being the only means of successful leadership need to be deconstructed. During the journal club, we discussed that in work environments, constructs of masculinity and capitalism can be difficult to disentangle, and changing masculine-biased cultures may be perceived as risky from a capitalist point of view. Including multiple social groups (and thereby multiple characteristics and values) next to those of white hetero cis men will rarely be rewarded monetarily, therefore changed values may be seen as a financial risk for companies – especially when these multiple characteristics do not overlap with what is valued in an individualistic and capitalist society. We discussed several social phenomena that reflect this resistance to value change, for example, “queen bee behavior” (that is when women take on “masculine” traits and distance themselves from other women in the workplace to succeed in the dominant world) and homonormativity (that is the belief that sexual minorities can and should conform to heteronormative social rules to succeed in the dominant world). Although the importance of intersectionality was mentioned in the review article of Sapna Cheryan and Hazel Rose Markus (2020), the authors did not focus on studies that chose such an intersectional perspective. We discussed that colonialism plays a huge role in what is valued and perceived as profitable in society. Although the studies chosen by the authors point out cultural or national differences, the suggestions and methodologies used are contextualized in a western, native English-speaking setting, suggesting this perspective as a default. We argue that the great hands-on idea by Sapna Cheryan and Hazel Rose Markus (2020) of addressing hidden cultural biases in organizations would benefit from a broader perspective that goes beyond a “masculine default” and towards a white, western, hetero, cis, able-bodied masculine default.

What do you think about our critique? Is an actual value change in organizations possible? What are your solutions to counter social defaults?

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