, Volume 12, Issue 9-10, pp 993-1007

Speech style, gender stereotypes, and corporate success: What if women talk more like men?

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Abstract

This study tests competing socialization- and identity-based hypotheses concerning the impact of variations in speech style (powerful/powerless) on perceptions of male and female managerial job applicants. In addition, we investigate the effect of the gender of the observer on sensitivity to variation in speech style. Supportive of the socialization hypothesis, speech style has a significant effect on expectations of “success” and “acceptance” in a managerial position, as well as on attributions of situationally relevant traits regardless of the gender of the applicant. However, the identity perspective is supported by the finding that gender of the applicant affects perceptions of “liking” and attributions of gender-linked traits. We argue that the relevance of evaluative dimensions and traits for a particular context affects the impact of gender on the interpretation of actions. As predicted, female observers were more sensitive to variations in speech style. In fact, the effects of speech style on evaluations of applicants disappeared when only male responses were considered. The implications of these findings for equal opportunity in hiring and promotion are discussed.

The authors would like to thank Richard A. Peterson for his helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper. They are indebted to the University of Illinois at Chicago for computing services.