Sex Roles

, Volume 73, Issue 1–2, pp 29–42 | Cite as

The Collateral Damage of Ambient Sexism: Observing Sexism Impacts Bystander Self-Esteem and Career Aspirations

  • Jill C. Bradley-GeistEmail author
  • Ivy Rivera
  • Susan D. Geringer
Original Article


Prior research demonstrates detrimental effects of sexism on female targets’ well-being and career outcomes. Extending research on those targeted by sexism, the current study explored the collateral damage of ambient sexism on bystanders observing sexism directed at others. An experiment with 218 U.S. undergraduates at a large West-coast public university assessed how ambient sexism directed at a female job applicant impacted male and female bystanders’ self-esteem and career aspirations. Results generally supported theoretical predictions regarding the moderating impact of bystander gender on the relationship between ambient sexism and bystander well-being. As hypothesized, ambient hostile sexism more negatively impacted female bystanders than male bystanders with regard to performance-based state self-esteem. Performance-based self-esteem in turn predicted career aspirations such that lower performance-based state self-esteem predicted lower career aspirations: gender moderated this mediated relationship such that the indirect effect was more negative for female bystanders than male bystanders. Gender also moderated the relationship between ambient benevolent sexism and appearance-based state self-esteem. Women observing benevolent sexism tended to report enhanced appearance-based esteem relative to women in the hostile sexism and control conditions, whereas men observing benevolent sexism reported significantly lower appearance esteem than men in the hostile sexism and control conditions. In sum, the current study suggests that women and men bystanders are impacted differently by ambient benevolent and hostile sexism.


Ambivalent sexism Benevolent sexism Ambient sexism Gender discrimination Well-being Bystander effects 



The authors acknowledge the Craig School of Business Honors Program for supporting the second author’s undergraduate thesis, during which the dataset from this paper was collected.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

The authors acknowledge the Craig School of Business Honors Program for supporting the second author’s undergraduate thesis, during which the dataset from this paper was collected. This source of funding did not represent a conflict of interest with this research. Participants received informed consent prior to the study and voluntarily agreed to participate.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jill C. Bradley-Geist
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ivy Rivera
    • 2
  • Susan D. Geringer
    • 2
  1. 1.University of Colorado, Colorado SpringsColorado SpringsUSA
  2. 2.California State UniversityFresnoUSA

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