Stereotype threat and female communication styles

Three studies examined the influence of stereotype threat on womens communication styles in leadership contexts. Study 1 involved female undergraduates (N = 100), some of whom were provided with a fictitious article discussing effective leadership. The article highlighted that effective leadership requires individuals to display direct and assertive qualities. In one condition, the article ended by stating that because males are more likely to display these traits, male and female graduates differ in their potential as leaders (stereotype threat). This latter statement was removed in another condition (no mention of gender), and participants in a third condition did not receive the article (control). All participants were then given descriptions of several scenarios they might regularly encounter as a manager and asked to address the scenario aloud as if talking to a colleague. Analyses of recordings of these communications showed that women in the stereotype threat condition spoke in a more masculine style with fewer hedges, hesitations, and tag questions compared with women in the other two conditions. Study 2 was conducted with female undergraduate students (N = 50) who were either presented with the article from Study 1 invoking gender differences (stereotype threat) or did not receive an article (control). Half of the participants then completed an affirmation exercise in which they wrote about why a central value is important to them (self-affirmed) or about their least important value and why it may be important to someone else (not self-affirmed). Following these manipulations, participants were given the identical scenarios and instructions for the communication task as in Study 1. Findings indicated that those in the stereotype threat/no affirmation condition spoke in the most masculine communication style. Study 3 examined the consequences of leaders speaking in a more masculine versus feminine style. University students (N = 96; 48 men and 48 women) were presented with four transcripts of recordings from participants from Study 2, half from the stereotype threat condition and half from the control condition. In addition, the perceived gender of the supposed speaker was manipulated by the modifying the persons name (e.g., Ben vs. Susan). After reading these transcripts, participants judged the competence and warmth of the manager and their willingness to comply with the managers directions. Findings indicated that managers who adopted a more masculine communication style were rated as significantly less warm than managers who used a feminine communication style, and this was more pronounced for female managers. Participants also indicated lower willingness to comply with requests from managers who used a masculine versus a feminine communication style. Ironically, women operating under stereotype threat in the leadership domain tend to employ a more masculine speaking style, hindering effective communication and management.

Von Hippel, C., Wiryakusuma, C., Bowden, J., & Shochet, M. (2011). Stereotype threat and female communication styles. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37(10), 1312-1324.

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