Donald Trump has countered allegations of sexism by touting his support for female employees, saying he loves hiring women because they work harder and because it seemed to him that “that there was something that they want to really prove.”
Numerous studies and women leaders’ own experiences show that Trump may be right — but if women do work harder, it may well be to combat sexism from men.
On the same day the New York Times published its examination of Trump’s fraught relationship with women, explaining how the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has engaged in what it called “unwelcome advances, a shrewd reliance on ambition, and unsettling workplace conduct over decades,” 17 women in the French government signed a letter saying the sexist behavior of their male colleagues must change. They complained of receiving lewd text messages, men touching their underwear and grabbing their breasts, and a politician hitting a female aide in the face, the Associated Press reported.
Even if women aren’t being directly harassed like the female politicians in France claim to have been, a roundup of research from the Harvard Business Review showed they are often subject to harsher judgment, higher standards and subconscious biases from both male and female colleagues. All of these factors can make the workplace a more difficult environment for women, who often spend more time working and being productive than their male coworkers to prove their worth.
A 2013 study from the Ponemon Institute, an independent research consultancy, found that female employees worked harder and more diligently than their male counterparts. During a 10-minute trial, female participants in the study worked 2.5 minutes, compared with 2.1 minutes for male participants, in an open work space, and the women worked 4.9 minutes versus men’s 4.3 minutes when a privacy wall was installed. When the subjects were given the opportunity to walk away from their project, 52 percent of men abandoned the work, compared with just 38 percent of women.
Many women have been taught — even by bosses who call themselves supportive — that they must work harder than their male peers to be rewarded in equal ways and that they must prove themselves before being given a chance. At the most basic level, this can be seen in the gender pay gap, which has become a hot topic this year, as Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton often mentions it on the campaign trail. The Census Bureau calculates that in 2016, the median woman worker makes 79 cents for every dollar made by the median man. It gets worse by race — black women earn 60 cents, and Hispanic women 55, for every white man’s dollar.
Critics often dispute the gender pay gap or attribute its existence to factors such as women pursuing different degrees or dropping out of the workforce to handle family obligations. But even when these kinds of factors are figured in, a pay gap still exists, data from Pew Research Center show. In recent years, women have become more likely to graduate college and earn graduate degrees than men, but even with more education, their paycheck is smaller, according to a 2014 report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
At the same time, women are more likely to be subject to high levels of sexism and harassment. In 2013, a Center for American Progress poll found that nearly 30 percent of women said they experienced discrimination in the workplace, and male-dominated industries, such as those in Silicon Valley, can be worse. A survey this year of women working in Silicon Valley found that 60 percent experienced unwanted sexual advances, and 90 percent had seen sexist behavior at off-site company events or industry conferences.
When women try to push through this sexism and do their work to get ahead, they often receive conflicting advice in the workplace or get feedback that’s so vague it makes it harder for them to improve, according to the Harvard Business Review. There are very few women leaders across most industries, and a recent study from the Global Strategy Group and the Rockefeller Foundation found that one in four of the 1,011 people surveyed said there are no women in leadership roles at their current workplace. This means fewer opportunities for women to see other females in powerful positions or to have women mentors.
Women, including those at executive levels, say they are assumed to be incompetent until they prove their worth. A study last year by Joan Williams, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, found that 66 percent of female scientists reported having to provide more evidence of competence than men, and 77 percent of black women reported that feeling. Women also get promoted based on their performance alone, while men often move up based on potential,research has shown.
Co-workers, not just bosses, can also make it rough. Women’s colleagues judge them more harshly than they judge men for leaving work early to deal with family obligations. While men are praised for stating their opinions strongly, women who speak up assertively can be seen as too aggressive or incompetent. In meetings, women are interrupted more often, but when speaking in public, they are expected to command men’s attention or risk looking weak. Then there’s the matter of how women are judged on their appearance and their clothes in ways men rarely are.
Think all of this sounds bad? The United States is no great leader in gender equality, but there are many places around the world with much worse working conditions for women. Canada, Argentina, Australia, China and Japan all fall below the U.S. on the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Global Gender Gap report on pay gap rankings. In Israel, women make 54 percent of men’s wages and in France, where the women in government are speaking out about sexism, female employees make just 50 percent of what men there do. Many countries also have cultures of sexism in the workplace and in public institutions.
With all of these competing pressures, it’s no wonder women feel the need to “really prove something,” as Trump said to the New York Times. In the article, Trump is described by former employees and women who have worked with him as frequently assessing women’s bodies, taking advantage of their work ethic and expressing harsh opinions about his former wife’s business ambitions.
Trump touted his commitment to women by talking about the women he’s hired over the years, particularly Barbara Res, whom he brought on to oversee the construction of Trump Tower — a prestigious position in the male-dominated world of construction. But Res’ recollection of Trump’s comments comparing her work with men’s work echo the real estate magnate’s seeming lack of understanding about why women might work harder than men.
The Republican refuted the New York Times story on Twitter, and several women who worked with Trump came to his defense Monday, giving TV interviews or sharing their opinions on social media. But the article was far from the first time Trump’s sexist tendencies have come up during his run for president. Trump’s history of making crass remarks about female celebrities and politicians have frequently made headlines in recent months, with Trump readily dismissing any complaints.
Female voters seem to be paying attention, however. Republican women have largely refrained from backing Trump in his primary campaign, and these types of remarks could be another reason women may not support him in November and could even rally the opposition to him — that is, if they can find the time to leave the office.