Abstract like Hilary Clinton and Angela Merkel, have


In this essay I investigate the process and
connotation of stereotype threat for female leaders. First, I provide a
definition of stereotype and a short background of this phenomenon. Next, the
stereotype threat model is presented which shows the cue, consequences and
moderator of stereotype threats in leadership concept. This essay attempts to
review some of the studies have been done in each section of the stereotype threat
model for female leaders. These studies have been done to find the effect of
the stereotype in the workplace and tasks and fields related to leadership.

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Seeing the highly
successful female leaders like Hilary Clinton and Angela Merkel, have always
been sources of inspiration for me to be a successful leader in the domain of
Business. Whenever I thought about leadership position, I imagine how it could
be hard for a woman to work under pressure of stereotype threats. I chose the
topic of my Organization Behavior essay about the Stereotype Threats for Women
Leadership to review some of the studies which have been done about it and to
find the answer of some of my question about this phenomena.

On 8 March every year people celebrate the
international women’s day. The origin of this celebration derived from the
early 20th century when women were not permitted to vote in
elections of their countries. Although there are still some obstacles keeping
them away from high positions as leader, the women’s rights have augmented significantly
since then.

In 2003, the European Commission commenced
gathering database of numbers of female and male in key role like
decision-making in Europe. The results demonstrate that only 3% of the biggest
publicly-listed enterprise’s CEO are female, while only 7% of chairperson of
the management committee are women. In the EU-28, two female presidents and
four female prime ministers are working in the domain of politics and in
finance there is just one women, Cyprus’ Chrystalla Georghadji, who is the main
chief of central bank. (Debatingeurope, 2015) 

After reviewing all these statics the main
issue comes to our mind is why the women cannot get the main decision making roles.
Many studies have been done to find the probable reasons which keep women far
from the high leadership positions, among them is the “stereotype-based” lack
of suited between female’s ambitions, abilities and personalities and those
supposed essential for impressive leadership. Seeing people as “fitting” the
presuppose idea for impressive leadership, can be influenced by expectation of
gender stereotype based and also the women can be influenced. (Crystal L. Hoyt, Susan E. Murphy, 2015)

This essay attempted to find the answer for two
main questions. The first question is what the consequences of Stereotype
Threat for women are in the leadership domain. The answer of this question will
demonstrate the problem regarding to this phenomena for female leaders. The
second main question is how women can prevail the potential threat, since it is
crucial to find solution for decreasing the possibility of stereotype threat. For
answering the questions, a model which had been investigated by researchers (Crystal L. Hoyt, Susan E. Murphy, 2015) will be reviewed.
The essay will be started by demonstrating the definition and background of the
Stereotype. Following, in the first part of the stereotype threat model for
women in leadership, the stereotype cues are presented. In the following
section the consequences of the stereotype threats including the
underperformance of assigned tasks and the decreasing the sense of belonging
and motivation are discussed. The last part of the model is considering the prevailing
the potential threats which are factors of individual levels and role

Threat definition and Background

Stereotype threat is
defined as the concern which happened to someone in a situation where he or she
may approve a stereotype for the group that he or she belongs. It needs some
factors, one is about the stereotype awareness of the group which person is
part of it, the other one involves the performance of the person by declining
his ability in the assigned task, and the last one is the situation in which
person is judged based on his or her ability to deliver the relevant task the stereotype-relevant
task (Steele, C. M., & Aronson, J., 1995). Mostly stereotype
threat declines the task performance (Schmader, 2010). In the same manner, most of the women
who are in charge of leadership likely to experience stereotypes threat and
their performance decrease when they are remembered as “fashion of gender” and
“Leader stereotypes”.

People who belong to marginal
social groups are always concern about the stereotype relating to their
social group and they know that other’s responds may be affected by these
stereotypes. Steel and Aronson in 1995 had a great investigation which led to
invent the new word of Stereotype threat. Their aim was to propose a new
definition beyond the concept of traditional theories about the differences in
genetic matters or cultural tendency. Since then, the phenomenon of stereotype
threat has become the topic which has been worked widely in the field of social
psychology. When people are evaluated through the glasses of negative
stereotype, they concentrate more on the negative facet of this phenomenon and
cause subvert the attainment. (Steele, C. M., & Aronson, J., 1995)

In their study, (Steele, C. M., & Aronson, J., 1995) implemented an
experiment which tests the ability of African American student under pressure of
intellectual inferiority. Black students performed at a lower level in compare
to white students, as the result of SAT test demonstrated. However, when they
were took part again in the test without the relevancy of stereotype, there
were no differences in the result of Black and White students for problem
solving exercise. Many studies have been investigated “the effects of
stereotype on the academic performances” for example the effects of
stereotype threat on the academic of Latino African American have been
demonstrated in. Moreover stereotype threat can affect in some other domains
such as: white men in athletics and men in “social sensitivity task” (Crystal L. Hoyt, Susan E. Murphy,

Threat for Women in leadership

The most harmful
results of stereotype threat are the following decline in the engagement and incentive
for women in leadership position. Many studies have been done about the
stereotype threat on women leaders, Crystal L. Hoyt1 and Susan E. Murphy2 in their study (Crystal L. Hoyt, Susan E. Murphy, 2015) presented a model
for understanding the impacts of this phenomena. In their model, they examine
“the situational cues” which may indicate the treats, the result of stereotype
threat and the criteria that may reduce the possibilities of constructing stereotype
threat assessment and protect women from damaging effect of stereotype threat.
As the fig 1 shows, they discussed the impact of “stereotypes-based”
expectation on female women. They have declared each part of their framework by
reviewing many articles in the related subject. Following I will explain each
part of this model to begin the understanding of stereotype threat.

Fig1. “Model
of Stereotype threat in Leadership Context” (Crystal L. Hoyt, Susan E. Murphy, 2015)

threat cues for women leader

Many cues to stereotype
threat may derive in many forms in a wide range of more blunt and clear disclosure
to gender stereotype, like telling the attendees that their researcher is
sexist or having them keep in line with sexist man. (Adams, G., Garcia, D. M., Purdie-Vaughns, V., & Steele, C.M., 2006), to a more delicate
action like just demanding someone to work in a filed which a famous stereotype
exists “in the air” (Spencer, S. J., Steele, C. M., & Quinn, D. M., 1999).  Stereotype can be acted in a subtle manner
with different actions such as being in the “numerical minority” like
being a female leader in a group of the men or by considering women as “the
scarcity” in a firm (Hoyt, C. L., Johnson, S. K., Murphy, S. E., & Skinnell, K. H., 2010).

Stereotypes can hurt
women’s personalities either clearly or subtly in their leader’s positions.
Many studies proved clearly that members of various social groups perform
differently as the task assigned. Task performance may also be injured when
women are supposed to work under the sight of a supervisor who has some sexist
attitudes (Steven Stroessner, Catherine Good, Lauren Webster, 2016).

More over being in the
scarcity situation, in media and environments full of male features, many cues
could endanger women’s individualities. For instance, in the study (Davies, P., Spencer, S., & Steele, C., 2005) the author showed
that disclosing the beautiful women in the commercials (e.g. demonstrating a
young girl for the new product of acne) may cause harmful dangers reactions
respectfully to professional the same for leadership ambitions. To sum up, in
organizations and industries where women are not abundant, the women leader are
more likely to expose the heightened threats, in
the way which “media and masculine environment” making gender stereotype
or “in organizational cultures extolling the virtues of competition or innate
brilliance for success” (Crystal L. Hoyt, Susan E. Murphy, 2015).






of Stereotypes Threat

Stereotype threat can
lead to huge consequences which are usually considered as negative result.
Meaning of the term “Vulnerability Responses” is related to a range from
underperformance to disconnecting and misidentification. Gender
Stereotype-based may result in decrease performance of significant tasks such
as decision making or negotiation through many fields like STEM or being
enterprising. (Crystal L. Hoyt, Susan E. Murphy, 2015)

of the assigned task

One of stereotypes
threat consequence is underperformance the task assigned in engineering filed.
In subsequent research (Bell, A. E., Spencer, S. J., Iserman, E., & Logel, C. E. R., 2003) new perspective of
the women’s abilities in some fields which need high knowledge of math like
engineering has been demonstrated. They have tested the abilities of women in
compare to men in the Fundamental of Engineering Exam with stereotypes threat
and without it. The result shows that women perform worse when they are under
the pressure of stereotype threat, in contrast they perform as well as men when
they don’t feel the stereotype threats. The auteurs discussed that the
stereotype threat is an obstacle to women’s success in engineering fields.

The negotiation
performance and managerial tasks can be affected through the gender stereotype.
The study (Kray, Laura J.; Thompson, Leigh; Galinsky, Adam, 2001) shows men perform negotiation
better than women when diagnostic of ability was considered as stereotype
threat. The authors have also proved when the gender stereotypes are activated
directly, women and men verify them, but at the same time when the stereotypes
threats are directly activated people express the opposite idea about the
stereotypes. The study (Diane M. Bergeron , Caryn J. Block & Alan Echtenkamp , 2009) has investigated how
stereotype may affect the managerial performance of women by designing a test
in which the men and women participants implement a managerial task in the
condition of stereotypically masculine or feminine roles. The results proved
that women perform worse than men in masculine based role but not in the
feminine role based. They also explored that gender role is more moderator for
the stereotype threats.

The impact of stereotype
threat on the women’s fluencies and communication skill has been examined (McGlone,M.S.,& Pfeister, R.A., 2015). In this study, the
participation were tested through diagnostic of their ability in a simulation
frame, either as being a leader or to sustain adjacent personal relationships.
The results shows that women perform less fluently and spoke more hesitantly in
leadership responsibilities than relational support framing.

Decreasing the sense of belonging and motivation

Stereotype threat does not
limit to decreasing the performance of the assigned tasks. It could also
decrease the sense of women for belonging in a special domain and their
motivation to continue in these domain. Having the social belonging sense and the
abilities of being connected to a group is critical for motivation and being
successful in any fields. (Davies, P., Spencer, S., & Steele, C., 2005)

 In some filed which traditionally are considered
as masculine domains, women usually feel a sense of “Belonging uncertainty” (Davies, P., Spencer, S., &
Steele, C., 2005).
Stereotype treats can decrease the women’s certainty of belonging to a
social group and subvert their motivation and interest for pursuing in the
field. In the study (Geoffrey L. Cohen, Julio Garcia, 2008) “model of
identity engagement” has been presented which explains how a target social
identity can activate the psychological threat and the belonging worries and
how these could lead to decrease performances persistently.

Similarly, some
stereotype threat like TV commercials may lead to persuade women to prevent
leadership responsibilities and tend to some subordinate roles with no
threats.  TV commercials demonstrate some
gender stereotype which can affect the women’s attitude about their future career.
To examine their effect, a group of women had been exposed to gender stereotype
TV commercials to bring out the female stereotype. The result proved that
women’s aspiration for being a leader could be undermined when they are
exposure to these stereotype commercials. It is also suggested that in order to
removing the vulnerability, an identity safe environment should be extended. (Davies, Paul G.; Spencer, Steven J.; Steele, Claude
M., 2005)

the potential threats

Many studies about the stereotype threat have
been done to recognize the factors which cause reduction in the stereotype
threat reactions or reducing the potential of making stereotype threat
assessment in the first step. Thus, in this section I will review the factors
which help women to be more impenetrable in responding to negative stereotype
expectations. Furthermore, I will consider the factors which decrease the potential
that women will be judged and behaved miserably according to a negative
stereotype. These factors varied in different levels from the organizational,
the situational, the social and the individual. (Crystal L. Hoyt, Susan E. Murphy, 2015)

Factors of Individual-

Whether women see the potential threat to their
performance and personality with vulnerability or reactance respond, rely on
the factors of individual levels which are their perceptions about themselves
as being able to improve leadership skills. As an example, it has been proved
that when women rated themselves low on characteristic stereotype related to
the leadership roles such as independence and aggressiveness, decreased their
performance in the stereotype threat situations. Generally, there are some
individual differences which support women’s attitude that they are able to be
successful leader, such as leadership capability, attitudes and self-efficacy
about the perception of leadership. These individual differences are crucial to
protect women harmful threat effects. (Bergeron, D. M., Block, C. J., & Echtenkamp, A., 2006)

In leadership domain, it has been proved that
women who were very confident about their leadership abilities and rated
themselves high mark in self-efficacy of leadership, reacted positively in
responding to gender- leadership stereotype on an assignment which required
women to counsel and prompt the employees on a faked hiring board.
Particularly, women who had high level of self-efficacy implemented better,
recognized more the leadership field, and they provided wonderful levels of
psychological welfare. (Murphy, 1992)

Role Models

Beyond factors pf individual-levels precise for
each woman, whether a woman sees threats to her personality susceptibility or responds
directly or whether she is impenetrable against threats depends upon
significant social factors. Specially, role models have an important effect in
leadership roles by defending women against threats to their identity. The role
models demonstrate that success in the domain with stereotype threat is
reachable. They can also raise the feeling of social being and inseminate the
sense of people’s self against identity threats. (Dasgupta, 2011)

In India the researcher has been investigated
the effect of female roles in rising the women’s motivation. Using a gender
upper limit law that provided leadership job opportunities for women, and
implemented this law in randomly implemented villages, they have found that
increasing the number of women as the leader in the board of Indian village
caused in more jobs and educational ambition for the girls of the villages and
removed the gender gap in educational achievement and the girls were passed
less time on household work. (Lori Beaman, Esther Duflo2, Rohini Pande3, Petia Topalova, 2012)

Role models can lead in opposing results. Although
role models could play a key role in inspiring women who compare themselves to successful
women, it has the potential for getting “self-deflating” of capability. For
instance, seeing the successful business women as leadership has been
demonstrated to reduce women’s abilities self-rating. (Parks-Stamm, E. J., Heilman, M. E., & Hearns, K. A., 2008) This study also
shows that females tend to punish the successful women to reduce the
self-evaluative result of interpersonal comparing with a significant successful
women goal.

Role models are able to slow down the harmful
effects of stereotype threat in leadership domain. In a recent study, 149 male
and female students were supposed to give a public speech while they were naked
to the photos of Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel, Bill Clinton, or no picture.
With objective of measuring the empowered manner in a stressful leadership
assignment, they recorded the length of the speeches and quality of speeches
also rated by independent raters. When women saw the picture of Bill Clinton,
they spoke less than men, on the other hand they spoke more when the pictures of
Hillary Clinton or Angela Merkel were presented. The results showed
considerable distinctions when women were exposed to female role models in
compare to masculine or no role models. The authorize manner also reflected the
influence of female role models on how women evaluated themselves in their
performances. In sum, exposing to very successful feminine leaders can be
source of inspiration for female’s manner and self-evaluation in implementing stressful
leadership tasks. (Latu, I.M., M., SchmidMast, Lammers, J., & Bombari, D., 2013)


This essay has mainly focused on the effects of
the stereotype threats on female leaders. Women often know that their behaviors
as a leader may be depended upon their gender. Specially, female leaders may
have more increased threats when trying to get a leadership position in
industries and organization where there are not women as many as the men. Also
women may experience more difficulties where in the physical environment and
media the gender stereotype threats are made noticeable or in some
organizational cultures praising the goodness of competition.

After reviewing some researches in the
stereotype domain, the two main questions of the essay were answered. The first
question was about how stereotype main affect the performance of the female
leaders, the studies show that stereotype may decrease the performance of women
in leadership domain. Some of the cues were also mentioned that activate the
concerns about the stereotype based, the other aspect of stereotype threat
consequence is decreasing the sense of belonging to the group.

Following, the second question was about how
women can prevail stereotype threat. Some solutions were presented for
protecting women against the stereotype threat like factors of
individuals-level. These factors proved that if women have self-confidence
about their jobs as leader, they can buffer from potential harmful effects of
stereotype threats. Moreover, Role Model can play a key role in inspiring women
to achieve their future ambitious jobs.

As this essay has been shown, the stereotype
threats effects are depending on the scope which female consider themselves as
owning or being capable to improve, leadership skills. Programs focused on
improving women’s leadership skills and identity of leaders, have a significant
potential to help women in minimizing the effect of stereotype effects.   


1 Jepson School of Leadership Studies and
Department of Psychology, University of Richmond, USA

2 Business School, University of Edinburgh, UK


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