Gender Stereotypes Influence How People Explain Gender Disparities in the Workplace

Abstract

Gender stereotypes provide viable explanations for why women are underrepresented and men are overrepresented in senior leadership positions and STEM occupations, typically by attributing gender disparities to the dispositions of women and men. The present research examined whether stereotypes also influence attributions to discrimination. Consistent with predictions, undergraduate participants who strongly vs. weakly endorsed gender stereotypes, either chronically (Study 1, N = 147) or when situationally primed (Study 2, N = 258), were less likely to attribute gender disparities in the workplace to discrimination. In addition, participants unexpectedly made stronger discrimination attributions when explaining gender gaps in leadership positions than in STEM occupations, suggesting that interventions for addressing gender discrimination may need to use different strategies for different contexts. Overall, results are consistent with the notion that stereotypes influence explanations for group disparities in ways that justify existing social arrangements as fair, just, and legitimate. Our findings have implications for understanding when people will acknowledge discrimination, which is an important first step toward addressing discrimination.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by a Psi Chi Graduate Research Grant awarded to the first author. Portions of this research were presented at the 11th Annual Meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in Las Vegas, NV, January, 2010.

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The authors certify that the work described in the manuscript has not been published previously, that the manuscript is not under consideration for publication elsewhere, and that is approved by all authors. Portions of this research were presented at the 11th Annual Meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in Las Vegas, NV, January, 2010.

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Cundiff, J.L., Vescio, T.K. Gender Stereotypes Influence How People Explain Gender Disparities in the Workplace. Sex Roles 75, 126–138 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-016-0593-2

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Keywords

  • Stereotyped attitudes
  • Sex role attitudes
  • Attribution
  • Division of labor
  • Sex discrimination