Sex Roles

, Volume 73, Issue 5–6, pp 231–244 | Cite as

“We want you in the Workplace, but only in a Skirt!” Social Dominance Orientation, Gender-Based Affirmative Action and the Moderating Role of Benevolent Sexism

  • Gloria FraserEmail author
  • Danny Osborne
  • Chris G. Sibley
Original Article


Although affirmative action based on race and/or ethnicity is a widely debated political issue within the public sphere, relatively few studies have examined the correlates of people’s attitudes towards gender-based affirmative action. The few studies that have assessed this topic suggest that both Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) and sexism are independently associated with people’s opposition to affirmative action for women. The current study expands upon this literature by investigating the moderating effect of Benevolent Sexism (BS)—a dimension of sexism that sees women as weak and in need of protection—on the relationship between SDO and support for gender-based affirmative action within a nationally representative sample of New Zealand adults (N = 5697). Specifically, we argue that protective aspects of BS will weaken the previously-identified positive relationship between SDO and opposition to affirmative action for women. As expected, our results showed that SDO was positively, whereas BS was negatively, associated with opposition to gender-based affirmative action. Also as predicted, BS attenuated the relationship between SDO and opposition to affirmative action for women. These results replicate and extend past research by demonstrating that SDO is an ideology that works to maintain existing unequal structures. We also show that part of the insidious nature of BS is that it offers women ostensible short-term benefits.


Benevolent sexism Social dominance theory Social policy Affirmative action 



This research was supported by a Templeton World Charity Foundation Grant (ID: 0077).


  1. Aiken, L. S., & West, S. G. (1991). Multiple regression: Testing and interpreting interactions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.Google Scholar
  2. Allport, G. W. (1954). The nature of prejudice. Reading, MA: Addison- Wesley.Google Scholar
  3. Aquino, K., Stewart, M. M., & Reed, A. (2005). How social dominance orientation and job status influence perceptions of African-American affirmative action beneficiaries. Personnel Psychology, 58, 703–744. doi: 10.1111/j.1744-6570.2005.681.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brandt, M. J. (2011). Sexism and gender inequality across 57 societies. Psychological Science, 22, 1413–1418. doi: 10.1177/0956797611420445.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Bobocel, D. R., Son Hing, L. S., Davey, L. M., Stanley, D. J., & Zanna, M. P. (1998). Justice-based opposition to social policies: Is it genuine? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 653–669. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.75.3.653.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Catalyst Organisation. (2014). Women CEOs of the Fortune 1000. Retrieved from
  7. Christopher, A. N., & Wojda, M. R. (2008). Social dominance orientation, right-wing authoritarianism, sexism, and prejudice toward women in the workforce. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 32, 65–73. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-6402.2007.00407.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Crocker, L., & Algina, J. (1986). Introduction to classical and modern test theory. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.Google Scholar
  9. Crosby, F. J., Iyer, A., Clayton, S., & Downing, R. A. (2003). Affirmative action: Psychological data and the policy debates. American Psychologist, 58, 93–115. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.58.2.93.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Crosby, F. J., Iyer, A., & Sincharoen, S. (2006). Understanding affirmative action. Annual Review of Psychology, 57, 585–611. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.57.102904.190029.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Feather, N. T., & Boeckmann, R. J. (2007). Beliefs about gender discrimination in the workplace in the context of affirmative action: Effects of gender and ambivalent attitudes in an Australian sample. Sex Roles, 57, 31–42. doi: 10.1007/s11199-007-9226-0.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Galman, S. (2012). Wise and foolish virgins: White women at work in the feminized world of primary school teaching. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.Google Scholar
  13. Glick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (1996). The ambivalent sexism inventory: Differentiating hostile and benevolent sexism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 491–512. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.70.3.491.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Glick, P., Fiske, S. T., Mladinic, A., Saiz, J. L., Abrams, D., Masser, B., … López, W. L. (2000). Beyond prejudice as simple antipathy: Hostile and benevolent sexism across cultures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 763–775. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.79.5.763.
  15. Glick, P., & Fiske, S. T. (2001). An ambivalent alliance: Hostile and benevolent sexism as complementary justifications for gender inequality. American Psychologist, 56, 109–118. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.56.2.109.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Haley, H., & Sidanius, J. (2006). The positive and negative framing of affirmative action: A group dominance perspective. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32, 656–668. doi: 10.1177/0146167205283442.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Hammond, M. D., & Sibley, C. G. (2011). Why are benevolent sexists happier? Sex Roles, 65, 332–343. doi: 10.1007/s11199-011-0017-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Heilman, M. E. (2012). Gender stereotypes and workplace bias. Research in Organizational Behavior, 32, 113–135. doi: 10.1016/j.riob.2012.11.003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Heilman, M. E., Block, C. J., & Lucas, J. A. (1992). Presumed incompetent? Stigmatization and affirmative action efforts. Journal of Applied Psychology, 77, 536–544. doi: 10.1037/0021-9010.77.4.536.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hinrichs, P. (2012). The effects of affirmative action bans on college enrollment, educational attainment, and the demographic composition of universities. Review of Economics and Statistics, 94, 712–722. doi: 10.1162/REST_a_00170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Huang, Y., Osborne, D., Sibley, C. G., & Davies, P. G. (2014). The precious vessel: Ambivalent sexism and opposition to elective and traumatic abortion. Sex Roles, 71, 436–449. doi: 10.1007/s11199-014-0423-3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Jackman, M. R. (1994). The velvet glove: Paternalism and conflict in gender, class, and race relations. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  23. Johnston, A. (2004). Students stung by quote backlash. Retrieved from
  24. Kalev, A., Dobbin, F., & Kelly, E. (2006). Best practices or best guesses? Assessing the efficacy of corporate affirmative action and diversity policies. American Sociological Review, 71, 589–617. doi: 10.1177/000312240607100404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Konrad, A. M., & Hartmann, L. (2001). Gender differences in attitudes toward affirmative action programs in Australia: Effects of beliefs, interests, and attitudes toward women. Sex Roles, 45, 415–432. doi: 10.1023/A:1014317800293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Konrad, A. M., & Spitz, J. (2003). Explaining demographic group differences in affirmative action attitudes. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 33, 1618–1642. doi: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2003.tb01966.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kurtulus, F. A. (2012). Affirmative action and the occupational advancement of minorities and women during 1973–2003. Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society, 51, 213–246. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-232X.2012.00675.x.Google Scholar
  28. Manganelli, A. M., Bobbio, A., & Canova, L. (2012). Sexism, conservative ideology and attitudes toward women as managers. Psicologia Sociale, 7, 241–260. doi: 10.1482/37697.Google Scholar
  29. Masser, B., & Abrams, D. (1999). Contemporary sexism: The relationships among hostility, benevolence, and neosexism. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 23, 503–517. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-6402.1999.tb00378.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, B. O. (1998–2012). Mplus user’s guide. Los Angeles, CA: Muthén & Muthén.Google Scholar
  31. OECD. (2011). Employment: Gender wage gap. Retrieved from
  32. Osborne, D., & Davies, P. G. (2009). Social dominance orientation, ambivalent sexism, and abortion: Explaining pro-choice and pro-life attitudes. In L. B. Palcroft & M. V. Lopez (Eds.), Personality assessment: New research (pp. 309–320). New York, NY: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.Google Scholar
  33. Osborne, D., & Davies, P. G. (2012). When benevolence backfires: Benevolent sexists’ opposition to elective and traumatic abortion. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 42, 291–307. doi: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2011.00890.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Pratto, F., Sidanius, J., Stallworth, L. M., & Malle, B. F. (1994). Social dominance orientation: A personality variable predicting social and political attitudes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 741–763. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.67.4.741.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Pratto, F., Stallworth, L. M., & Conway‐Lanz, S. (1998). Social dominance orientation and the ideological legitimization of social policy. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 28, 1853–1875. doi: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.1998.tb01349.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Reid, R., & Robson, B. (2007). Understanding health inequalities. In B. Robson & R. Harris (Eds.), Hauora: Maori standards of health IV: a study of the years 2000–2005 (pp. 3–10). Wellington, New Zealand: Te Ropu Rangahau Hauora a Eru Pomare.Google Scholar
  37. Sander, R. H. (2004). A systemic analysis of affirmative action in American law schools. Stanford Law Review, 57, 367–483.Google Scholar
  38. Sibley, C. G., & Becker, J. C. (2012). On the nature of sexist ambivalence: Profiling ambivalent and univalent sexists. European Journal of Social Psychology, 42, 589–601. doi: 10.1002/ejsp.1870.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Sibley, C. G., & Liu, J. H. (2004). Attitudes towards biculturalism in New Zealand: Social dominance and Pakeha attitudes towards the general principles and resource-specific aspects of bicultural policy. New Zealand Journal of Psychology, 33, 88–99.Google Scholar
  40. Sibley, C. G., & Perry, R. (2010). An opposing process model of benevolent sexism. Sex Roles, 62, 438–452. doi: 10.1007/s11199-009-9705-6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Sidanius, J., & Pratto, F. (2001). Social dominance: An intergroup theory of social hierarchy and oppression. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Small, V. (2003). Labour’s ‘man ban’ canned. Retrieved from
  43. Spence, J., & Helmreich, R. (1972). The attitudes toward women scale: An objective instrument to measure attitudes toward the rights and roles of women in contemporary society. JSAS Catalogue of Selected Documents in Psychology, 2, 1–48.Google Scholar
  44. Statistics New Zealand. (2014). How men and women have fared in the labour market since the 2008 recession (2014 report) [Press release]. Wellington: Statistics New Zealand.Google Scholar
  45. Tougas, F., Brown, R., Beaton, A. M., & Joly, S. (1995). Neosexism: Plus ca change, plus c’est pareil. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 21, 842–849. doi: 10.1177/0146167295218007.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Trevett, C. (2013). Labour backs away from man-ban plan. Retrieved from
  47. Unzueta, M. M., & Binning, K. R. (2009). Diversity is in the eye of the beholder: How majority and minority group members define diversity (Unpublished manuscript). Los Angeles: University of California.Google Scholar
  48. Viki, G. T., & Abrams, D. (2002). But she was unfaithful: Benevolent sexism and reactions to rape victims who violate traditional gender role expectations. Sex Roles, 47, 289–293. doi: 10.1023/A:1021342912248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Whiteacre, C. (2013). Labour pushes for ‘man ban’. Retrieved from
  50. Zelnick, B. (1996). Backfire: A reporter’s look at affirmative action. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gloria Fraser
    • 1
    Email author
  • Danny Osborne
    • 1
  • Chris G. Sibley
    • 1
  1. 1.School of PsychologyUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations