Stereotype Threat and Women Leaders’ Performance: The Moderating Role of Positive Gender Identity

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Virginia Tech


The “think leader, think male” phenomenon continues to persist in terms of implicit conceptualizations that people hold about leaders (Schein, 1973; Offermann & Coats, 2018). Men are often perceived as more suitable occupants of leadership roles than women, resulting in women leaders facing stereotype-based expectations. Being in a situation where the stereotype about women applies (i.e., leadership) has been found to be an antecedent to experiencing stereotype threat—the psychological threat of validating a stereotype about the indivdiual’s social group, which can have detrimental effects on performance and self-perceptions. This research focuses on how women leaders' positive gender identity (i.e., the favorable regard that a woman holds for her gender identity) may buffer against stereotype threat. We hypothesized that the more positive a woman's gender identity, the better she would cope with identity-threatening experiences in terms of better performance, better perceived performance, and reduced identity separation. To examine the impact of stereotype threat on female participants’ performance on a leadership task, 72 female participants were primed with a blatant stereotype threat before completing a managerial in-basket task. Contrary to our predictions, the results revealed that stereotype threat vulnerability did not have a direct negative impact on women's performance on the leadership task, or their perceptions of how well they performed. However, our findings confirmed a significant interaction between positive gender identity and stereotype threat vulnerability on identity separation, revealing that the association between stereotype threat vulnerability and identity separation was weaker at higher levels of positive gender identity. In other words, positive gender identity buffered against the negative effect of stereotype threat on women’s identity separation. The unexpected results and the failure of stereotype threat to evoke vulnerability responses suggest that further investigation of stereotype threat boundary conditions, situational cues, and effect sizes is needed. Limitations and future research directions are discussed.



leadership, positive gender identity, stereotype threat