Leading by Doing: How Female Supervisors Motivate Worker Productivity through Subordinate Scut Work

Leading by Doing: How Female Supervisors Motivate Worker Productivity through Subordinate Scut Work

By Aruna Ranganathan, Ranjitha Shivaram
October 23,2017Working Paper No. 3366

Using ethnographic, personnel, and field experimental data from an Indian garment factory, this paper investigates whether manager gender affects worker productivity and if so, how. We argue that female managers motivate greater worker productivity than male managers in female-typed workplaces by performing subordinate scut work – routine tasks of their subordinates – which increases subordinates’ engagement with their work. We posit that female managers are more likely to do subordinate scut work in female-typed workplaces and are more effective than male managers when they do, given the female-typing of their subordinates’ tasks. Our qualitative data help to generate hypotheses that we test using (a) personnel data on individual worker productivity, where workers experience quasi-random switches between male and female supervisors, and (b) a lab-in-the-field experiment, where we experimentally manipulate supervisors’ ability to perform subordinate scut work. This paper contributes to the literature on motivating worker productivity by drawing attention to the important role of manager gender and by studying a female-typed workplace. The paper also contributes to the literature on gender and leadership by investigating objective worker productivity and uncovering subordinate scut work as a novel managerial practice that fosters engagement with work and improves worker productivity.