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The Trials of Women Leaders in the Workforce: How a Need for Cognitive Closure can Influence Acceptance of Harmful Gender Stereotypes


Women leaders in the workforce are adversely affected by two sets of stereotypes: women are warm and communal but leaders are assertive and competent. This mismatch of stereotypes can lead to negative attitudes toward women leaders, however, not all individuals will be equally sensitive to these stereotypes. Men and women characterized by a need for cognitive closure (the desire for stable and certain knowledge) should be particularly sensitive to these stereotypes because they can be stable knowledge sources. We hypothesized that (a) negative attitudes toward women leaders in the workforce would vary with individuals’ need for closure, independent of their gender, and that (b) binding moral foundations (a concern for the larger group and its norms and standards) would mediate this association. In two studies, MTurk workers completed measures of negative attitudes toward women managers (Study 1, n = 149), stereotyped beliefs of women as not wanting or deserving high status positions in the workforce (Study 2, n = 207), as well as need for cognitive closure, moral foundations, social desirability, gender, and political orientation. Our results were consistent with our hypotheses and suggest that attitudes toward woman managers can reflect acceptance of pre-existent norms. If these norms can be changed, then changes in attitudes could follow.

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Correspondence to Conrad Baldner.

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The authors did not use any external funding sources, nor did they have any conflicts of interest to report. Informed consent was obtained from participants.

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Baldner, C., Pierro, A. The Trials of Women Leaders in the Workforce: How a Need for Cognitive Closure can Influence Acceptance of Harmful Gender Stereotypes. Sex Roles 80, 565–577 (2019).

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  • Anti-women attitudes
  • Stereotypes
  • Leadership
  • Need for cognitive closure
  • Moral foundations