Sex Roles

, Volume 79, Issue 9–10, pp 549–564 | Cite as

Sexual Orientation and Leadership Suitability: How Being a Gay Man Affects Perceptions of Fit in Gender-Stereotyped Positions

  • Renzo J. BarrantesEmail author
  • Asia A. Eaton
Original Article


The current set of studies examines perceptions of gay men’s fitness for leadership positions in the workplace. In two between-subjects experiments we examined the effect of a male employee’s sexuality on perceptions of his suitability for stereotypically feminine, masculine, and gender-neutral managerial positions, as well as potential mediators (perceptions of target agency and communion) and moderators (target out status) of these effects. In Study 1, 341 U.S. college student participants rated a gay male target as more communal and more suitable for feminine managerial positions than an otherwise identical heterosexual target, irrespective of his “out” status. Moreover, ratings of communion mediated the relationship between targets’ sexuality and suitability for feminine leadership. No differences between gay and heterosexual targets in targets’ agency or targets’ suitability for masculine or gender-neutral managerial positions were detected. Study 2 used a sample of 439 U.S. adults and an ambiguous target’s résumé to replicate and expand Study 1. This study provided participants with conflicting information on targets’ agency and communion, and it assessed the same dependent variables of targets’ agency, communion, and leadership suitability for various positions. Study 2 again found that ratings of communion significantly mediated the relationship between male targets’ sexuality and perceived suitability for feminine managerial roles. These findings extend previous research on perceptions of gay men in the workplace and have practical implications for being “out” at work.


Sexual orientation Leadership Discrimination Stereotypes Gay men 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

There was no source of funding for the studies, and there are no conflicts of interest. All participants in the studies conducted by the authors were treated in compliance with the ethical standards of APA and they each provided their informed consent to participate. No part of this manuscript has been published in any other outlet as of yet.

Supplementary material

11199_2018_894_MOESM1_ESM.docx (288 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 288 kb)


  1. Abele, A. E., Uchronski, M., Suitner, C., & Wojciszke, B. (2008). Towards an operationalization of fundamental dimensions of agency and communion: Trait content ratings in five countries considering valence and frequency of word occurrence. European Journal of Social Psychology, 38(7), 1202–1217. Scholar
  2. Abele, A. E., Hauke, N., Peters, K., Louvet, E., Szymkow, A., & Duan, Y. (2016). Facets of the fundamental content dimensions: Agency with competence and assertiveness—Communion with warmth and morality. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1810. Scholar
  3. Aguinis, H., & Bradley, K. J. (2014). Best practice recommendations for designing and implementing experimental vignette methodology studies. Organizational Research Methods, 17(4), 351–371. Scholar
  4. Ahmed, A. M., Andersson, L., & Hammarstedt, M. (2013). Are gay men and lesbians discriminated against in the hiring process? Southern Economic Journal, 79(3), 565–585. Scholar
  5. Arciniega, G. M., Anderson, T. C., Tovar-Blank, Z. G., & Tracey, T. J. (2008). Toward a fuller conception of machismo: Development of a traditional machismo and Caballerismo scale. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 55(1), 19. Scholar
  6. Ayman, R., & Korabik, K. (2010). Leadership: Why gender and culture matter. American Psychologist, 65(3), 157. Scholar
  7. Baert, S. (2017). Hiring a gay man, taking a risk?: A lab experiment on employment discrimination and risk aversion. Journal of Homosexuality. Advance online publication. Scholar
  8. Bailey, J., Wallace, M., & Wright, B. (2013). Are gay men and lesbians discriminated against when applying for jobs? A four-city, internet-based field experiment. Journal of Homosexuality, 60(6), 873–894. Scholar
  9. Behrend, T. S., Sharek, D. J., Meade, A. W., & Wiebe, E. N. (2011). The viability of crowdsourcing for survey research. Behavior Research Methods, 43, 1–14. Scholar
  10. Berinsky, A. J., Huber, G. A., & Lenz, G. S. (2012). Evaluating online labor markets for experimental research:'s mechanical turk. Political Analysis, 20, 351–368. Scholar
  11. Blashill, A. J., & Powlishta, K. K. (2009). Gay stereotypes: The use of sexual orientation as a cue for gender related attributes. Sex Roles, 61, 783–793. Scholar
  12. Bodenhausen, G. V., Sheppard, L. A., & Kramer, G. P. (1994). Negative affect and social judgment: The differential impact of anger and sadness. European Journal of Social Psychology, 24(1), 45–62. Scholar
  13. Brown, T. A. (2006). Confirmatory factor analysis for applied research. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  14. Buhrmester, M., Kwang, T., & Gosling, S. D. (2011). Amazon's mechanical turk: A new source of inexpensive, yet high-quality, data? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6(1), 3–5. Scholar
  15. Burke, S. E., & LaFrance, M. (2016). Lay conceptions of sexual minority groups. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45(3), 635–650. Scholar
  16. Burns, J. M. (1978). Leadership. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  17. Button, S. B. (2001). Organizational efforts to affirm sexual diversity: A cross-level examination. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86(1), 17–28. Scholar
  18. Catalyst. (2017, August 18). Statistical overview of women in the workforce. Retrieved from
  19. Clausell, E., & Fiske, S. T. (2005). When do subgroup parts add up to the stereotypic whole? Mixed stereotype content for gay male subgroups explains overall ratings. Social Cognition, 23(2), 161–181. Scholar
  20. Cole, E. R. (2009). Intersectionality and research in psychology. American Psychologist, 64, 170–180. Scholar
  21. Cuddy, A. J. C., Fiske, S. T., & Glick, P. (2008). Warmth and competence as universal dimensions of social perception: The stereotype content model and the BIAS map. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 40, 61–149. Scholar
  22. Darley, J. M., & Gross, P. H. (1983). A hypothesis-confirming bias in labeling effects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44(1), 20–33. Scholar
  23. Davison, H. K., & Burke, M. J. (2000). Sex discrimination in simulated employment contexts: A meta-analytic investigation. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 56(2), 225–248. Scholar
  24. Devine, P. G., & Monteith, M. J. (1999). Automaticity and control in stereotyping. In S. Chaiken & Y. Trope (Eds.), Dual-process theories in social psychology (pp. 339–360). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  25. Dovidio, J. F., & Gaertner, S. L. (2000). Aversive racism and selection decisions: 1989 and 1999. Psychological Science, 11(4), 315–319. Scholar
  26. Drydakis, N. (2014). Sexual orientation discrimination in the Cypriot labour market. Distastes or uncertainty? International Journal of Manpower, 35(5), 720–744.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Eagly, A. H. (2007). Female leadership advantage and disadvantage: Resolving the contradictions. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 31(1), 1–12. Scholar
  28. Eagly, A. H., & Karau, S. J. (2002). Role congruity theory of prejudice toward female leaders. Psychological Review, 109(3), 573–598. Scholar
  29. Eagly, A. H., Johannesen-Schmidt, M., & van Engen, M. L. (2003). Transformational, transactional, and laissez-faire leadership styles: A meta-analysis comparing women and men. Psychological Bulletin, 129(4), 569–591. Scholar
  30. Eaton, A. A., & Matamala, A. (2014). The relationship between heteronormative beliefs and verbal sexual coercion in college students. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43(7), 1443–1457. Scholar
  31. Ellis, A. L., & Vasseur, R. B. (1993). Prior interpersonal contact with and attitudes towards gays and lesbians in an interviewing context. Journal of Homosexuality, 25(4), 31–45. Scholar
  32. Embry, A., Padgett, M. Y., & Caldwell, C. B. (2008). Can leaders step outside of the gender box? An examination of leadership and gender role stereotypes. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 15(1), 30–45. Scholar
  33. Everly, B. A., Unzueta, M. M., & Shih, M. J. (2016). Can being gay provide a boost in the hiring process? Maybe if the boss is female. Journal of Business and Psychology, 31(2), 293–306. Scholar
  34. Family Equality Council. (2017). Employment protection is a family issue!. Retrieved from
  35. Fassinger, R. E., Shullman, S. L., & Stevenson, M. R. (2010). Toward an affirmative lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender leadership paradigm. American Psychologist, 65, 201–215. Scholar
  36. Felmlee, D., Orzechowicz, D., & Fortes, C. (2010). Fairy tales: Attraction and stereotypes in same-gender relationships. Sex Roles, 62(3–4), 226–240. Scholar
  37. Fingerhut, A. W., & Peplau, L. A. (2006). The impact of social roles on stereotypes of gay men. Sex Roles, 55(3–4), 273–278. Scholar
  38. Fiske, S. T., Cuddy, A. J. C., Glick, P., & Xu, J. (2002). A model of (often mixed) stereotype content: Competence and warmth respectively follow from perceived status and competition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82(6), 878–902. Scholar
  39. Freedom to Marry. (2015). Winning the freedom to marry nationwide: The inside story of a transformative campaign. Retrieved from
  40. Freeman, J. B., Johnson, K. L., Ambady, N., & Rule, N. O. (2010). Sexual orientation perception involves gendered facial cues. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36, 1318–1331. Scholar
  41. Gaertner, S. L., & Dovidio, J. F. (2011). The common ingroup identity model. In P. A. M. Van Lange, A. W. Kruglanski, & E. T. Higgins (Eds.), Handbook of theories of social psychology (Vol. 2, pp. 439–457). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Scholar
  42. Gallup. (2017). Gay and lesbian rights. Retrieved from
  43. Goodman, J. A., Schell, J., Alexander, M. G., & Eidelman, S. (2008). The impact of a derogatory remark on prejudice toward a gay male leader. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 38, 542–555. Scholar
  44. Heilman, M. E. (1983). Sex bias in work settings: The lack of fit model. Research in Organizational Behavior, 5, 269–298. Retrieved from–10927-001.Google Scholar
  45. Heilman, M. E. (1995). Sex stereotypes and their effects in the workplace: What we know and what we don't know. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 10(6), 3–26.Google Scholar
  46. Heilman, M. E. (2012). Gender stereotypes and workplace bias. Research in Organizational Behavior, 32, 113–135. Scholar
  47. Heilman, M. E., & Parks-Stamm, E. J. (2007). Gender stereotypes in the workplace: Obstacles to women’s career progress. In S. J. Correll (Ed.), Social psychology of gender: Advances in group processes (Vol. 24, pp. 47–77). Oxford, UK: Elsevier Ltd., JAI Press. Scholar
  48. Heilman, M. E., Block, C. J., & Martell, R. F. (1995). Sex stereotypes: Do they influence perceptions of managers? Journal of Social Behavior & Personality, 10(6), 237–252.Google Scholar
  49. Horvath, M., & Ryan, A. M. (2003). Antecedents and potential moderators of the relationship between attitudes and hiring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Sex Roles, 48(3–4), 115–130. Scholar
  50. Human Rights Campaign. (2018). Corporate equality index 2018. Retrieved from
  51. Jenny, C., Roesler, T. A., & Pover, K. L. (1994). Are children at risk for sexual abuse by homosexuals? Pediatrics, 94(1), 41–44.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Johnson, K. L., Gill, S., Reichman, V., & Tassinary, L. G. (2007). Swagger, sway, and sexuality: Judging sexual orientation from body motion and morphology. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93(3), 321–334. Scholar
  53. Kachel, S., Steffens, M. C., & Niedlich, C. (2016). Traditional masculinity and femininity: Validation of a new scale assessing gender roles. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 19. Scholar
  54. Kimmel, M. (2008). Guyland: The perilous world where boys become men. New York: Harper Collins.Google Scholar
  55. Kite, M. E., & Deaux, K. (1987). Gender belief systems: Homosexuality and the implicit inversion theory. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 11(1), 83–96. Scholar
  56. Kite, M. E., & Whitley Jr., B. E. (2003). Do heterosexual women and men differ in their attitudes toward homosexuality? A conceptual and methodological analysis. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  57. Koenig, A. M., Eagly, A. H., Mitchell, A. A., & Ristikari, T. (2011). Are leader stereotypes masculine? A meta-analysis of three research paradigms. Psychological Bulletin, 137(4), 616–642. Scholar
  58. Kranz, D., Pröbstle, K., & Evidis, A. (2017). Are all the nice guys gay? The impact of sociability and competence on the social perception of male sexual orientation. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 18(1), 32–39. Scholar
  59. Kunda, Z., & Thagard, P. (1996). Forming impressions from stereotypes, traits, and behaviors: A parallel-constraint-satisfaction theory. Psychological Review, 103(2), 284–308. Scholar
  60. LaMar, L., & Kite, M. (1998). Sex differences in attitudes toward gay men and lesbians: A multidimensional perspective. Journal of Sex Research, 35(2), 189–196. Scholar
  61. Lammers, J., Gordijn, E. H., & Otten, S. (2009). Iron ladies, men of steel: The effects of gender stereotyping on the perception of male and female candidates are moderated by prototypicality. European Journal of Social Psychology, 39(2), 186–195. Scholar
  62. Liberman, B. E., & Golom, F. D. (2015). Think manager, think male? Heterosexuals’ stereotypes of gay and lesbian managers. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal, 34(7), 566–578. Scholar
  63. Lowe, K. B., Kroeck, K. G., & Sivasubramaniam, N. (1996). Effectiveness correlates of transformation and transactional leadership: A meta-analytic review of the MLQ literature. The Leadership Quarterly, 7(3), 385–425. Scholar
  64. Lyness, K. S., & Heilman, M. E. (2006). When fit is fundamental: Performance evaluations and promotions of upper-level female and male managers. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91, 777–785. Scholar
  65. MacKinnon, D. P. (2008). Introduction to statistical mediation. New York: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  66. Madon, S. (1997). What do people believe about gay males? A study of stereotype content and strength. Sex Roles, 37(9–10), 663–685.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Monteith, M. J., Deneen, N. E., & Tooman, G. (1996). The effect of social norm activation on the expression of opinions concerning gay men and blacks. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 18, 267–288. Scholar
  68. Morrison, M. A., & Morrison, T. G. (2003). Development and validation of a scale measuring modern prejudice toward gay men and lesbian women. Journal of Homosexuality, 43(2), 15–37. Scholar
  69. Morton, J. W. (2017). Think leader, think heterosexual male? The perceived leadership effectiveness of gay male leaders. Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences, 34, 159–169. Scholar
  70. Moss-Racusin, C., Dovidio, J. F., Brescoll, V. L., Graham, M. J., & Handelsman, J. (2012). Science faculty's subtle gender biases favor male students. PNAS Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109(41), 16474–16479. Scholar
  71. Niedlich, C., & Steffens, M. C. (2015). On the interplay of (positive) stereotypes and prejudice: Impressions of lesbian and gay applicants for leadership positions. Sensoria: A Journal of Mind, Brain and Culture, 11, 70–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Niedlich, C., Steffens, M. C., Krause, J., Settke, E., & Ebert, I. D. (2015). Ironic effects of sexual minority group membership: Are lesbians less susceptible to invoking negative female stereotypes than heterosexual women? Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43(8), 1–9. Scholar
  73. Northouse, P. G. (2016). Transformational leadership. In P. G. Northouse (Ed.), Leadership: Theory and practice (7th ed., pp. 161–194). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  74. Paolacci, G., Chandler, J., & Ipeirotis, P. G. (2010). Running experiments on Amazon mechanical Turk. Judgment and Decision Making, 5, 411–419.Google Scholar
  75. Parent, M. C., DeBlaere, C., & Moradi, B. (2013). Approaches to research on intersectionality: Perspectives on gender, LGBT, and racial/ethnic identities. Sex Roles, 68(11–12), 639–645. Scholar
  76. Patacchini, E., Ragusa, G., & Zenou, Y. (2015). Unexplored dimensions of discrimination in Europe: Homosexuality and physical appearance. Journal of Population Economics, 28(4), 1045–1073. Scholar
  77. Pedulla, D. S. (2014). The positive consequences of negative stereotypes: Race, sexual orientation, and the job application process. Social Psychology Quarterly, 77(1), 75–94. Scholar
  78. Peterson, R. A., & Merunka, D. R. (2014). Convenience samples of college students and research reproducibility. Journal of Business Research, 67, 1035–1041. Scholar
  79. Pew. (2014). U.S. Hispanic and Asian populations growing, but for different reasons. Retrieved from
  80. Pichler, S., Varma, A., & Bruce, T. (2010). Heterosexism in employment decisions: The role of job misfit. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 40(10), 2527–2555. Scholar
  81. Prentice, D. A., & Carranza, E. (2002). What women should be, shouldn't be, are allowed to be, and don't have to be: The contents of prescriptive gender stereotypes. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 26(4), 269–281. Scholar
  82. Rabelo, V. C., & Cortina, L. M. (2016). Intersectionality: Infusing IO psychology with feminist thought. In T. Roberts, N. Curtin, L. E. Duncan, & L. M. Cortina (Eds.), Feminist perspectives on building a better psychological science of gender (pp. 179–197). Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Ragins, B. R., & Cornwell, J. M. (2001). Pink triangles: Antecedents and consequences of perceived workplace discrimination against gay and lesbian employees. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86(6), 1244–1261. Scholar
  84. Riach, P. A., & Rich, J. (2002). Field experiments of discrimination in the market place. The Economic Journal, 112(483), F480–F518. Scholar
  85. Rieger, G., Linsenmeier, J. A. W., Gygax, L., Garcia, S., & Bailey, J. M. (2010). Dissecting “gaydar”: Accuracy and the role of masculinity-femininity. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39(1), 124–140. Scholar
  86. Rosette, A. S., Leonardelli, G., & Phillips, K. W. (2008). The white standard: Racial bias in leader categorization. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 758–777. Scholar
  87. Ruggs, E. N., Hebl, M. R., Law, C., Cox, C. B., Roehling, M. V., Wiener, R. L., … Barron, L. (2013). Gone fishing: I–O psychologists' missed opportunities to understand marginalized employees' experiences with discrimination. Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, 6(1), 39–60. Scholar
  88. Rule, N. O., & Ambady, N. (2008). Brief exposures: Male sexual orientation is accurately perceived at 50ms. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44(4), 1100–1105. Scholar
  89. Sanchez, D. T., Fetterolf, J. C., & Rudman, L. A. (2012). Eroticizing inequality in the united states: The consequences and determinants of traditional gender role adherence in intimate relationships. Journal of Sex Research, 49(2–3), 168–183. Scholar
  90. Schein, V. E. (1973). The relationship between sex role stereotypes and requisite management characteristics. Journal of Applied Psychology, 57(2), 95–100. Scholar
  91. Schein, V. E., Mueller, R., & Jacobson, C. (1989). The relationship between sex role stereotypes and requisite management characteristics among college students. Sex Roles, 20, 103–110. Scholar
  92. Schein, V. E., Mueller, R., Lituchy, T., & Liu, J. (1996). Think manager—Think male: A global phenomenon? Journal of Organizational Behavior, 17(1), 33–41. Retrieved from Scholar
  93. Schumacker, R. E., & Lomax, R. G. (2010). A beginner’s guide to structural equation modeling. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  94. Schyns, B., & Meindl, J. R. (2005). Implicit leadership theories: Essays and explorations. Leadership horizons. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.Google Scholar
  95. Sczesny, S. (2003). A closer look beneath the surface: Various facets of the think-manager-think-male stereotype. Sex Roles, 49, 353–363. Scholar
  96. Smiler, A. P., & Epstein, M. (2010). Measuring gender: Options and issues. In J. C. Chrisler & D. R. McCreary (Eds.), Handbook of gender research in psychology (pp. 133–158). New York: Springer. Scholar
  97. Steffens, M. C., Niedlich, C., & Ehrke, F. (2016a). Discrimination at work on the basis of sexual orientation: Subjective experience, experimental evidence, and interventions. In T. Köllen (Ed.), Sexual orientation and transgender issues in organizations: Global perspectives on LGBT workforce diversity (pp. 367–388). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  98. Steffens, M. C., Niedlich, C., Kachel, S. M., & Methner, N. (2016b). Impression formation of applicants differing in sexual orientation: An attempt to integrate theoretical models and a review of the empirical evidence. In F. Earley (Ed.), Sexual orientation: Perceptions, discrimination and acceptance (pp. 51–80). New York: Nova Science Publishers.Google Scholar
  99. Stephens, D. P., & Eaton, A. A. (2014). The influence of masculinity scripts on heterosexual Hispanic college men’s perceptions of female-initiated sexual coercion. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 15(4), 387–396. Scholar
  100. Sweden. (2017). Working for a gay friendly Sweden. Retrieved from
  101. Tilcsik, A. (2011). Pride and prejudice: Employment discrimination against openly gay men in the United States. American Journal of Sociology, 117(2), 586–626. Scholar
  102. Wegener, D. T., Clark, J. K., & Petty, R. E. (2006). Not all stereotyping is created equal: Differential consequences of thoughtful versus non-thoughtful stereotyping. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 42–59. Scholar
  103. Westgate, E. C., Riskind, R. G., & Nosek, B. A. (2015). Implicit preferences for straight people over lesbian women and gay men weakened from 2006 to 2013. Collabra Open Access Journal, 1(1), Art 1.
  104. Wilder, D. A. (1981). Perceiving persons as a group: Categorization and intergroup relations. In D. L. Hamilton (Ed.), Cognitive processes in stereotyping and intergroup behavior (pp. 213–257). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  105. Wilson, J. P., Remedios, J. D., & Rule, N. O. (2017). Interactive effects of obvious and ambiguous social categories on perceptions of leadership: When double-minority status may be beneficial. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 43(6), 888–900. Scholar
  106. Yzerbyt, V. Y., Schadron, G., Leyens, J., & Rocher, S. (1994). Social judgeability: The impact of meta-informational cues on the use of stereotypes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66(1), 48–55. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA

Personalised recommendations