If you're going to be a leader, at least act like it! Prejudice towards women who are tentative in leader roles

University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia
British Journal of Social Psychology (Impact Factor: 1.76). 03/2013; 53(2). DOI: 10.1111/bjso.12032
Source: PubMed


Role congruity theory predicts prejudice towards women who meet the agentic requirements of the leader role. In line with recent findings indicating greater acceptance of agentic behaviour from women, we find evidence for a more subtle form of prejudice towards women who fail to display agency in leader roles. Using a classic methodology, the agency of male and female leaders was manipulated using assertive or tentative speech, presented through written (Study 1, N = 167) or verbal (Study 2, N = 66) communications. Consistent with predictions, assertive women were as likeable and influential as assertive men, while being tentative in leadership reduced the likeability and influence of women, but not of men. Although approval of agentic behaviour from women in leadership reflects progress, evidence that women are quickly singled out for disapproval if they fail to show agency is important for understanding how they continue to be at a distinct disadvantage to men in leader roles.

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Available from: Renata Bongiorno, Mar 31, 2015
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    ABSTRACT: In an attempt to explain why the gender gap in leadership positions persists, we propose a model centered on legitimacy. When women hold powerful positions, they have a harder time than men eliciting respect and admiration (i.e., status) from subordinates. As a result, female power-holders are seen as less legitimate than male power-holders. Unless they are able to legitimize their role, relative illegitimacy will prompt a variety of consequences such as more negative subordinate behavior and reduced cooperation when the leader is a woman. Subordinate rejection will likely put female leaders in a precarious mindset, and trigger negative responses toward subordinates; such behavior can confirm negative expectations of female leaders and further undermine female authority in a self-reinforcing cycle of illegitimacy. Leader or organizational features that enhance status attributions and/or lower subordinates' perceptions of power differentials may increase legitimacy for women in leadership roles.
    No preview · Article · Jan 2016 · The Leadership Quarterly