Sex Bias in Work Settings
My current research is part of a longstanding program of investigation concerning gender stereotypes and how they bias evaluations of women in work settings. There are three separate research interests that currently predominate.
The first concerns the way in which the perceived lack of fit between stereotypes of women and perceptions of the requirements for jobs considered to be male in gender type leads to negative performance expectations, and resulting gender bias in judgments. We have shown, for example, that women, as compared to men, are less likely to be selected for male gender-typed positions, are more likely to have their performance in such positions devalued, and are given fewer opportunities for career advancement. More recently, we have focused on the tenacity of stereotype-based expectations and their resistance to disconfirming information. For example, we have demonstrated a process we call “attributional rationalization”, in which a woman member of a successful team is unlikely to get as much credit for a team’s success as her male counterpart, and she is seen as having been less influential in bringing about the successful outcome. We are currently investigating other ways in which positive performance information about women is distorted so as to maintain gender stereotypes, and are examining the ways in which perceptions of femininity, such as being a mother or being attractive, can exacerbate stereotyped-based bias.
The second research interest concerns the unintended negative effects of preferential selection on those who have been targeted to benefit from it. On the one hand we are interested in the reactions of others to those who are believed to have been preferentially selected through diversity or affirmative action programs. On the other hand, we are interested in how those people who believe they have been preferentially selected for important positions feel about themselves and their work, and how they perform on the job as a consequence. To date, we have demonstrated that a stigma of incompetence is attached to those perceived to have obtained their positions through a preferential selection procedure. We also have demonstrated that preferential selection as compared to merit-based selection can result in a more negative view of self and performance, a greater desire to relinquish a leadership role, a greater incidence of mistreatment of similar others, and an increased choice of undemanding and routine tasks. Current work focuses on the cues people use to infer that preferential selection has in fact occurred.
The third research interest involves gender stereotypic norms, which dictate the ways in which women should behave, and the disapproval and approbation women experience for violating these “shoulds”. We have looked at reactions to actual violations of prescribed behaviors, demonstrating that women who choose not to help others are reacted to far more negatively than males who behave similarly, and are given less credit when they do help. Moreover, we have looked at inferred violations of gender norms, and shown that women are penalized for being successful in domains that are considered to be male, and are disliked and interpersonally derogated as a consequence. We have further probed the dynamics underlying this process, and have considered why women join men in penalizing women for their success, whether men also are subjected to penalties when they are successful in gender inconsistent domains, and the ways in which a woman’s perceived femininity can intensify or ameliorate these effects. In addition, we currently are addressing the question of whether women’s anticipation of being penalized for gender norm violation leads to self-censorship of self advocating behaviors in an effort to stave off negative reactions.