Clearing the air: Identity safety moderates the effects of stereotype threat on women's leadership aspirations
Two studies examined the consequences of exposing women to stereotype-confirming television advertisements on pursuing leadership versus subordinate roles. In Experiment 1, male and female undergraduates highly-identified with math viewed a set of television commercials that had aired on national broadcasts. Half of the students saw a set of four non-stereotypic commercials (control), whereas the other half saw those four commercials and an additional two commercials showing women in stereotypic roles (one portraying a woman so excited about an acne product that she bounced with joy on her bed and another showing a female college student dreaming about becoming homecoming queen) (stereotype threat for women). After watching the commercials, the students were asked to participate in a purported separate study on leadership. Students read a description of the study and were asked to indicate the role they preferred to play in the upcoming study. Women who viewed stereotypic commercials were more likely to indicate a preference for a subservient problem-solving role compared with a leadership role. In contrast, both women who watched the control commercials and men were equally interested in occupying leadership versus subordinate positions. Experiment 2 was a replication that also included a condition in which students were assured of no gender differences in problem-solving and leadership ability. When there were no assurances of gender equivalence, the results were consistent with those obtained in Experiment 1. Moreover, stereotype activation predicted decrease leadership interest for women. When students were assured of no gender differences in leadership ability, however, commercials had no effect on role preferences, and stereotype activation did not affect role preferences. These studies show that stereotype threat imposed by mass media stereotypic representations can affect leadership aspirations in women.