Why Men With Daughters May Be The Key To Closing The Gender Wage Gap

A new study finds daughters can influence dad's leadership style.

According to a recent study, women who seek higher wages and fairer treatment should work for companies headed by male bosses who have daughters.

Maya Sen, a professor at the University of Rochester and Adam Glynn, professor at Harvard University conducted the study, which showed that Supreme Court judges with at least one daughter were more likely to vote in favor of women’s rights than judges who had no children at all or who had only sons.

Among judges who had one child, those who had daughters were 16% more likely to decide in favor of women’s rights. Although the researchers were somewhat surprised at the findings, since judges are expected to be impartial, Sen says by having a daughter, male judges learn what it’s like to be a woman.

"Male judges perhaps learn a lot from having daughters. They might learn about things like discrimination in the workplace or discrimination on the basis of pregnancy," says Sen. Judges are more sensitive to these issues as they see their daughters come against gender barriers they themselves have never faced.

These findings echo those of a 2011 study of Danish companies that found male CEOs were closing the gender pay gap after they became dads to daughters.

The researchers studied the salaries of over 700,000 Danish workers at over 6,000 firms and found that a short time after male CEOs had daughters, women’s wages rose relative to men’s. The birth of a son, however, had no effect on the wage gap.

The "daughter effect" was strongest at companies with 50 or fewer employees, which could be attributed to the fact that CEOs of small companies have more direct influence over the pay of workers than CEOs of larger firms. The effects were also stronger the more education female employees had.

The researchers concluded male CEOs were more likely to envision these educated female employees as though they were their own daughters, who would most likely have more formal education. "Our results suggest that the first daughter ‘flips a switch’ in the mind of a male CEO, causing him to attend more to equity in gender-related wage policies," the authors wrote.

Building The Empathetic Muscle

Dr. Relly Nadler, author of Leading with Emotional Intelligence says having a daughter makes male leaders more empathetic, which can affect their leadership style.

As the father of a 17-year-old daughter and a 20-year-old son, Nadler says he’s seen firsthand the changes a daughter can have on a man’s emotional intelligence. "With my daughter, almost all our conversations are around relationships—what’s going on with her friends and how she’s feeling. With my son, it’s usually about things—things he wants to buy, places he wants to go, things he wants to do," says Nadler.

Having a daughter, Nadler says, has helped him to develop his empathetic muscle. "What we know about neuroscience is that emotions are contagious," he says. When men pick up on these emotions from spending time with their daughters, they’re more likely to carry them into the workplace and therefore be more attuned to issues that affect women at work and be better equipped to deal with them in a way that is more sensitive to women’s needs.

Management psychologist Gail Golden says dads with daughters are simply more aware of the obstacles faced by women in the workplace.

While having a child is a transformative experience for both male and female parents, she says fathers tend to become more protective of daughters. "He wants all the opportunities to be there for her. As she begins to experience some of the barriers that girls and women still do experience, it can be an awareness-creating experience for the father who has never really thought about this before," she says. "It’s not just abstract statistics about salaries of women versus men, it’s about his daughter not being paid fairly for the work she’s doing."

Even President Obama, has been influenced by his daughters to close the wage gap in the White House. He was quoted in the Washington Times stating: "I want to make sure my daughters are getting the same chances as men. I don’t want them paid less for doing the same job as some guy is doing."

[Image: Flickr user Rodrigo Amorim]

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3 Comments

  • Kevin Maggiacomo

    Great piece, Lisa. Hits home for me: As the white father of a Dominican teenager we adopted 8 years ago at age 7, I've grown increasingly more empathetic to the challenges that minorities face in the corporate environment.

    We must consider, however, that there obviously exists an abundance of leaders without daughters. The question then becomes - How do we make these category leaders more empathetic?

    From my seat, empathy training and development are important pieces of the puzzle but it's not enough if we're to see meaningful gender balance change. Rather, if male CEO's are educated as to the direct links between gender balance and higher performance, then we'll see some movement - the business case for GB is rock solid.

    Getting (male) CEO's to understand that empathy isn't a soft tenet, but rather a hard and valued currency which creates better results is a start, but showing them that GB drives results is where the action needs to be.

  • I totally agree with this. My dad taught me that I could be anything I wanted to be, he talked to me about politics, sports, business and social issues. He taught me to use tools, let me help him build a fence and use a nail gun. My brother and I both did the dishes and mowed the lawn...as an adult its odd to me when people say I'm doing things that are a male dominated something or another. My dad set the confidence and let me know I was capable. My dad did this in the 80s...are we really still needing to have this conversation? Evidently.

  • Hello Lisa - great piece - as CEO and father of four girls (two work for us) I can tell you that I have influenced them in this regard as much as they may have influenced me. John Jantsch - Duct Tape Marketing