Disabling the able: Stereotype threat and women's work performance

This study examines the affect of gender-based stereotype threat on managerial performance. Male and female graduate students were asked to complete a lengthy exercise in which they made a series of decisions regarding personnel issues as though they were a senior manager in a human resources department, a stereotypically male position. Before beginning this exercise, the students were informed that the person who had previously held the position of senior manager was either a man who was described with stereotypically masculine traits (stereotype threat for women) or a woman described with stereotypically feminine traits (no stereotype threat). Women who generally reported being less identified with the management activity, experienced more stereotype threat, and had more negative affect when placed on this stereotypical male role than men. Although these effects emerged across both conditions, task performance was harmed only in the stereotype threat condition. Women made fewer and poorer decisions (as reflected in raters' judgments of decision quality) when the previous manager was a stereotypical male compared with a stereotypical female. Interestingly, reduced performance was exhibited only by women low in masculinity; women who were high in masculine gender role identification (e.g., rated themselves as ambitious, self-reliant, independent, and assertive) did not perform more poorly under stereotype threat than men. This study illustrates underperformance of women under stereotype threat in the managerial domain, but also suggests that gender role identification can buffer the impact of traditional gender stereotypes in this domain.

Bergeron, D. M., Block, C. J., & Echtenkamp, B. A. (2006). Disabling the able: Stereotype threat and women's work performance. Human Performance, 19, 133-158.

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