PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — New research out of Oregon State University found men were more likely than women to respond negatively to gender threats in the workplace.

According to the findings, published Jan. 2022 in the Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes journal, male employees were more likely than their female counterparts to lie, cheat, or steal at their jobs when they felt their gender identity had been challenged.

Oregon State University’s Keith Leavitt, who was the lead author of the publication, “Fragile or robust? Differential effects of gender threats in the workplace among men and women,” said in addition to lashing out, men also became less willing to help in workplace scenarios when they perceived their gender had been threatened.

As a professor of management and the associate dean for research in OSU’s College of Business, Leavitt said the research is timely, as the role of traditional masculinity within professional spaces has recently come into question in political and social spheres.

“The public has rightfully called out companies where frat-like cultures have created terrible places for female employees to work,” Leavitt stated in an OSU release. “This research gives us a more nuanced understanding of what actually triggers some of these problematic behaviors among men.”

According to Leavitt, the study results, which showed men often respond to gender threats by reasserting dominance or trying to out-compete, are consistent with results found in previous research.

In an OSU article he said, “Across time and in many cultures, manhood has been treated as a status that must be earned and maintained, while womanhood is generally viewed as stable. For men, prescriptive gender behaviors tend to focus on individual power such as being assertive or striving for achievement. For women, gendered behaviors may include being sensitive or serving others.”

In an effort to better understand the dynamic between male and female responses to gender threats and the relationship to deviant behavior in the workplace, Leavitt and his team conducted three studies.

The first study, which asked 186 participants of mixed genders and occupations to fill out a questionnaire regarding gender threats in the workplace, found those who reported a perceived gender threat at work were much more likely to engage in negative behavior at their jobs — and reactions were highest among men.

The second study randomly assigned 194 participants to write about either a mundane activity or a time in which they felt their gender identity had come into question. The subjects were then immediately asked to participate in a negotiation activity. The results of that study showed that the men who were asked to write about their perceived gender threats were the most likely to assert themselves in the negotiation exercise.

The third and final study evaluated 131 employees who worked at the same manufacturing plant over the course of six workdays. At the begging of the day, employees were randomly assigned the same writing prompt from the second study, before performing their work duties. They were then asked to record their positive and negative behaviors at work at the end of their shift.

The research conducted by the final study suggested that the male employees were more likely to engage in negative behaviors and less likely to help on days in which they believed their gender status had been challenged by the prompt.

This trend was not true for the female employee participants.

“We found that for men, gender threats erode their sense of autonomy, which in turn motivates them to behave in ways that demonstrate their independence from rules and from others,” stated study co-author and associate professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, Lei “Luke” Zhu.

He continued, “By contrast, because femininity is generally associated with communal behavior in organizations, women’s gender standing at work does not affect their perceived ability to behave autonomously.”

According to Leavitt, the rising debate regarding topics such as “toxic masculinity” or “mansplaining,” could potentially fuel workplace gender divides and cause increased gender threats against men.

“As a society, we need to normalize a broader and healthier conceptualization of what manhood is, because behaviors that historically maintained men’s status aren’t conducive to collaborative workplaces,” Leavitt explained. “Additionally, instead of casually using labels such as toxic masculinity, which imply these problems are endemic to manhood, we may be able to better address these issues by focusing on specific toxic behaviors such as sexual harassment or hyper-competition without creating gender threats among men and triggering subsequent negative reactions.”