Implicit Processes and Emotions in Stereotype Threat about Women's Leadership

Implicit Processes and Emotions in Stereotype Threat about Women's Leadership

Gwendolyn A. Kelso (Boston University, USA) and Leslie R. Brody (Boston University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6599-6.ch006
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Stereotype threat about leadership ability may trigger emotional and cognitive responses that reduce women's leadership aspirations. This chapter reviews literature and presents a study on the effects of implicit (covert) and explicit (overt) leadership stereotype threat on women's emotions, power-related cognitions, and behaviors as moderated by exposure to powerful female or male role models. Emotional responses were measured using self-report (direct) and narrative writing (indirect) tasks. Undergraduate women (n = 126) in the Northeastern U.S. were randomly divided into three stereotype threat groups: none, implicit, and explicit. Implicit stereotype threat resulted in higher indirectly expressed (but not self-reported) anxiety, behaviors that benefited others more than the self, and when preceded by exposure to powerful female role models, higher self-reported negative emotion but also higher indirect positive affect. Explicit stereotype threat resulted in higher indirect optimism, and when preceded by exposure to powerful female role models, lower self-reported sadness but also lower implicit power cognitions.
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Implicit (indirect and presumably at least partly unconscious) cognitions and emotions may be activated by stereotype threat about leadership in women and contribute to the leadership gender disparity in many domains, including government, business, and higher education in the United States (US). Traditional Western, white, middle class gender role stereotypes of women as communal and passive may influence attitudes and beliefs that women are not qualified to be leaders. Women themselves may internalize these attitudes, leading to lowered aspirations to attain powerful positions. Given these conditions, it is important to understand the implicit and explicit emotions and cognitions that stereotype threat may activate.

Stereotype threat is a process that can be implicitly or explicitly initiated by situational cues that highlight negative stereotypes about members of social groups in various domains based on salient aspects of identity, e.g. gender, race, age, or ethnicity. Stereotype threat has been shown to negatively impact performance, emotions, and cognitions in the stereotyped domain (Aronson, Quinn, & Spencer, 1998; Marx & Stapel, 2006; Schmader & Johns, 2003; Spencer, Steele, & Quinn, 1999). Implicit stereotype threat is activated with subtle environmental cues such as being told that a test is diagnostic of one’s abilities in a stereotyped domain (e.g., an African American being told a test measures intellectual ability; Steele & Aronson, 1995) or being a numerical minority representing the group about which there is a stereotype, (e.g., being the only female in a room of males taking a math test; Inzlicht & Ben-Zeev, 2000). Explicit stereotype threat involves exposure to overt and direct statements about the stereotype (e.g., being told that men are stronger negotiators than women; Kray, Thompson & Galinsky, 2001).

In this chapter, we (1) review the literature about, and (2) present a study examining (a) the effects of explicit and implicit leadership stereotype threat on women’s emotions (assessed using both indirect and direct measures), power-related cognitions, and behaviors, and (b) the potential buffering effects of exposure to same-sex role models on women’s reactions to stereotype threat.

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