Effects of Stereotyping of Women in the Workplace

Women have historically earned less than men in the workforce over the past several decades. This phenomenon persists, with women in the U.S. earning approximately 77 cents on average for every dollar men earn, according to the National Women’s Law Center (2012). Over the past several decades, researchers have offered several theories explaining why women consistently earn less than men, including the idea that stereotyping has made it more difficult for women to move up in the workplace. It is interesting to review various studies that have been conducted over the years from a sociocultural standpoint, the motivation for conducting them, and how social culture with regard to women’s equality has progressed over the years.

In 1973, Linda Ellis and P.M. Bentler investigated the persistence of traditional sex-role standards and stereotypes by studying males and females who were accepting or resistant to traditional sex-role standards, as well as their perceptions of males, females, and themselves. Many women’s social and legal advances were newly established in the United States around the time this study was conducted, so it is not surprising that some researchers focused on stereotyping with regard to women in the workplace. Ellis & Bentler questioned why traditional sex-determined role standards persisted, and suspected that stereotypes were to blame. 25 years later, in 1998, Martell, Parker, Emrich, & Crawford conducted a similar study regarding executive stereotyping on a management level, and how women are perceived as compared with men by male managers using characteristics associated with executives, e.g., courage and leadership skills. Researchers Laurie Rudman and Julie Phelan took a slightly different approach in 2010, nearly four decades after Ellis & Bentler’s study, exploring priming gender roles as an influence over women’s implicit gender stereotypes, and how it affected women’s career choices, presumably to explore whether these stereotypes could be broken by priming.

Ellis & Bentler hypothesized that sex determined roles and stereotypes reinforce each other, and that stereotypes result in perceptions that males and females are better suited for certain roles. They believed that despite the persistence of sex-determined role standard stereotypes, most people are dissatisfied with said standards. Ellis & Bentler’s goal was to study the relationship between perceptions of males and females and the sex role standards as well as the standards and perceptions of the self and “typical” males and females, and to investigate whether it was personality driven. By that time, it had already been established that these sex-determined role standards stifle personality development, marital harmony, originality, achievement, and problem-solving capabilities. Because of these negative effects, it is no wonder researchers have continued to attempt to understand the persistence of stereotyping. In Martell et al.’s project, it was predicted that in the workplace, female managers would be perceived less favorably than male managers with regard to factors that are believed to be necessary for success in management positions. Similarly to the previous studies conducted, Rudman & Phelan believed that priming women with traditional stereotypes would increase their implicit gender stereotypes while decreasing leadership concepts within themselves.

To test their hypotheses, Ellis & Bentler utilized two questionnaires consisting of approximately 255 hundred items, straightforward or controversial, to determine associations between personality types and various sex stereotypes. Likewise, Martell, et al., utilized a rating scale type of questionnaire to perform their study. 297 male managers, aged 25 to 62, participated in Martell, et al.’s study. They derived 76 attributes from various executive development literature, then had 9 male executives choose what they thought were the most important attributes for managers to possess. The chosen attributes were utilized in a 7 point scale to rate successful executives, or managers, by 156 male managers. Finally, the attributes were reduced to four factors which were used for 134 males to rate male and female managers of different levels. Today, the Implicit Association Test (IAT) has become a popular method for researchers to test for implicit associations or stereotypes, and can be more efficient than using a questionnaire method. Rudman & Phelan used the IAT on 175 women to contrast “leader” and “follower” attributes for the self and others, researchers attempted to decipher whether increasing numbers of women in the workforce have impacted gender stereotypes.

Ellis & Bentler found that there was a discrepancy between the self-perception of females with high aspirations of success, as well as their perception of other females, as compared with more traditionally perceived females. I.e., females who disapproved of traditional stereotypes of women had a tendency to be more liberal, intelligent and “masculine” than their counterparts. Martell, et al.’s study resulted in an overwhelming, but not surprising, response showing that women are perceived more negatively than men when depicted as middle managers. Rudman & Phelan discovered that women who were primed by being shown pictures of women associated with nontraditional (masculine oriented) jobs, and men paired with typically feminine jobs, found women in leadership positions to be threatening. It was concluded that upward social comparison actually reduce women’s ability to see themselves with similar characteristics associated with success.

It would appear that females who are liberally minded and success driven face discouragement, not only by stereotyping pressures, but by their own self-doubt. Martell et al. grimly note that there is good reason women should feel threatened—because they are largely viewed as incompetent for management positions. Rudman & Phelan’s study further demonstrated that women face a double threat in that whether women are primed, or exposed to successful women in nontraditional occupations, or exposed to women in traditional occupations, they tend to be discouraged with regard to becoming vanguards in the workplace, themselves, either way. Some researchers are yet hopeful that there may be ways to change this type of influence. With more and more women taking up nontraditional occupations and leadership positions, it may begin to overshadow the stereotypes that persist over time, perhaps in time allowing true equality in pay and promotions in the workplace.


~ by splenectomy on December 12, 2013.

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