4/24/2014 Peter Durantine

Researcher Trains Eye on Role of Gender in Customer Service

  • Franklin & Marshall College senior Emily Mooney went to an East Coast crossroad, Philadelphia's 30th Street station, to study how consumers perceived male and female service workers and the level of customer service they provide. (Photo by Melissa Hess) 

Emily Mooney was stumped.

She wanted to study how people perceived male and female service workers and the level of customer service they provide, but she couldn't pinpoint a good place to conduct her research.

The Franklin & Marshall College's senior adviser, Assistant Professor of Marketing Susan Andrzejewski, suggested a busy, public place where she could get a diverse range of survey participants.

The solution: Philadelphia's 30th Street Train Station. "Every type of person walks through there," Mooney said.

The special studies major in psychology, business and women and gender studies hired three student research assistants to spend a day surveying 160 people in the station's concourse.

The student researchers handed participants an iPad and had them answer a series of questions using an online survey platform. It took participants on average about 10 minutes to complete. Their reward for participating was a $2 Dunkin' Donuts coupon.

Mooney said the responses of men and women didn't vary much when it came to gauging how service workers are perceived in terms of warmth and competence. "Daycare workers, for example, were considered warmer than other occupations, and it didn’t matter if the worker was a man or a woman," Mooney said.

Some of the questions related to gender-incongruent workers -- women in what are typically considered men's occupations or men in what are typically considered women's occupations. Participants responded to questions about hairdressing or daycare jobs (predominantly feminine occupations), and auto mechanic or car sales (predominantly masculine occupations).

"Gender-incongruent workers actually increased the customer-based reputation of a firm, particularly when it is women in masculine jobs," Mooney said. "If you were to go into an auto repair shop and see Kate as a mechanic you would say, 'Wow! Good for the firm for hiring her.'"

The survey responses also "raised some interesting questions," Mooney said. For example, although women viewed other women as being more competent if they worked in a masculine job, they didn't expect women to provide better service.

In the course of this yearlong project, Mooney met weekly with Andrzejewski and shared her research writing with Assistant Professor of Psychology Megan Knowles.

"They both have been influential in my work," Mooney said.

A transfer student from the University of Central Florida, where she was majoring in hospitality, Mooney said the service industry work intrigues her. She plans to attend graduate school in the fall and study organizational psychology.

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