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Exploring the effect of media images on women's leadership self-perceptions and aspirations

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Abstract

a gender gap still pre-vails in top-level leadership positions. Women occupy less than 3% of Fortune 500 CEO seats, only 15.7% of the Fortune 500 board seats (Catalyst, 2011), and women currently hold only 90 of the 535 seats (16.8%) in the U.S. Congress (Center for American Women and Politics, 2012). Numerically, women make up half of our pop-ulation but are grossly underrepresented in powerful leadership positions—positions that make important decisions for the entire population. While research aimed towards increasing women's representation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields has Article 1176 XXX10.1177/1368430212451176Simon and HoytGroup Processes & Intergroup Relations Abstract Across two experimental studies, the present research explores how media images depicting counterstereotypical roles for women, compared to those that depict stereotypical roles for women, affect women's gender role beliefs (Study 1) and responses to a leadership situation (Study 2). Study 1 predicted and found that women exposed to images depicting counterstereotypical roles subsequently reported stronger nontraditional gender role beliefs than women exposed to images depicting stereotypical roles. Study 2 then directly assessed the effect of media images of women on female participants' self-reported responses following a leadership task. Women exposed to media images of women in counterstereotypical roles reported less negative self-perceptions and greater leadership aspirations than women exposed to images of women in stereotypical roles. Moreover, negative self-perceptions mediated the relationship between media images and leadership aspirations. Implications for increasing women's representation in the leadership domain are discussed.
Group Processes & Intergroup Relations
16(2) 232 –245
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DOI: 10.1177/1368430212451176
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Article
G
P
I
R
Group Processes &
Intergroup Relations
Despite the fact that women now make up nearly
half of the U.S. workforce and earn more than
half of higher-level degrees (U.S. Bureau of
Labor Statistics, 2009; U.S. National Center for
Education Statistics, 2009), a gender gap still pre-
vails in top-level leadership positions. Women
occupy less than 3% of Fortune 500 CEO seats,
only 15.7% of the Fortune 500 board seats
(Catalyst, 2011), and women currently hold only
90 of the 535 seats (16.8%) in the U.S. Congress
(Center for American Women and Politics, 2012).
Numerically, women make up half of our pop-
ulation but are grossly underrepresented in
powerful leadership positions—positions that
make important decisions for the entire population.
While research aimed towards increasing
womens representation in science, technology,
engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields has
Article
451176
XXX10.1177/1368430212451176Simon and HoytGroup Processes & Intergroup Relations
1
Tulane University, USA
2
University of Richmond, USA
Corresponding author:
Stefanie Simon, Department of Psychology, Tulane
University, 2007 Percival Stern Hall, New Orleans, LA
70118, USA
Email: ssimon3@tulane.edu
Exploring the effect of media
images on women’s leadership
self-perceptions and aspirations
Stefanie Simon
1
and Crystal L. Hoyt
2
Abstract
Across two experimental studies, the present research explores how media images depicting
counterstereotypical roles for women, compared to those that depict stereotypical roles for women,
affect womens gender role beliefs (Study 1) and responses to a leadership situation (Study 2). Study 1
predicted and found that women exposed to images depicting counterstereotypical roles subsequently
reported stronger nontraditional gender role beliefs than women exposed to images depicting
stereotypical roles. Study 2 then directly assessed the effect of media images of women on female
participants’ self-reported responses following a leadership task. Women exposed to media images
of women in counterstereotypical roles reported less negative self-perceptions and greater leadership
aspirations than women exposed to images of women in stereotypical roles. Moreover, negative self-
perceptions mediated the relationship between media images and leadership aspirations. Implications
for increasing womens representation in the leadership domain are discussed.
Keywords
leadership, women, media images, gender roles, gender stereotypes
Paper received 24 October 2011; revised version accepted 14 May 2012.
Simon and Hoyt 233
gained a great deal of attention (STEMconnector,
2012), much research is still needed to understand
the underrepresentation of women in other
domains, such as leadership. Increasing womens
representation in top-level leadership positions is
important for giving women a voice across all
domains, from politics, to industry, to academia.
Moreover, empirical research suggests that gender
differences in leadership style and effectiveness
may offer women a slight advantage to men
(Eagly, Johannesen-Schmidt, & van Engen, 2003;
Hoyt, 2010a; 2010b). Thus, increasing womens repre-
sentation in leadership positions is also important for
improving the leadership of our society.
Gender leader stereotype
While many factors may help to explain womens
difficulty in attaining powerful leadership posi-
tions (e.g., household and family responsibilities),
the present research examines how gender stereo-
types prevalent in the media may negatively
impact womens responses in leadership situa-
tions. Negative stereotypes about women in lead-
ership positions represent one factor that
contributes to the large disparity that remains
between men and women in top-level leadership
positions (Eagly & Carli, 2007). These negative
stereotypes result in prejudice against women such
that they are perceived as less competent leaders
and less deserving of leadership roles (Heilman,
2001; Phelan & Rudman, 2010; Ridgeway, 2001;
Schein 2001).
Negative stereotypes about women in leader-
ship positions are closely tied to the gender role
stereotypes about men and women. Whereas,
women generally are thought to be communal,
possessing attributes such as affectionate, helpful,
kind, and sensitive, men are thought to be more
agentic, possessing attributes such as ambitious,
aggressive, and dominant (Eagly, 1987).
According to Eagly and Karau’s (2002) role
congruity theory, prejudice against female leaders
results from the incongruity between the take
charge, or agentic, stereotype linked with leader-
ship and the take care, or communal, stereotype
associated with women. That is, the stereotypical
image of a leader is someone who has agentic,
masculine traits. Thus, prejudice against female
leaders stems from the perceived lack of fit
between the agentic traits that are stereotypical of
leaders and the communal traits that are stereo-
typical of women. In their recent meta-analysis,
Koenig, Eagly, Mitchell, and Ristikari (2011)
found a strong and robust tendency for leader-
ship to be viewed as culturally masculine across
three different research paradigms that address
the masculinity of leader stereotypes.
Responses to stereotypes
This gender leader stereotype can have harmful
effects on womens self-perceptions, well-being,
and behavior in leadership situations (Hoyt &
Blascovich, 2007; Hoyt, Johnson, Murphy, &
Skinnell, 2010; Hoyt & Simon, 2011). For
example, after explicitly priming women with the
gender leader stereotype, Hoyt and Blascovich
(2010) found women with low levels of leader-
ship self-efficacy assimilated to the negative
stereotype by performing poorly and showing
deflated self-report responses. Hoyt and Simon
(2011) found that exposure to role models that
activated gender stereotypes resulted in lower
perceived performance and leadership aspira-
tions, and greater perceived task difficulty and
feelings of inferiority for women performing a
leadership task, compared to women who were
primed with stereotype-disconfirming leaders.
The research discussed above suggests that
exposure to negative stereotypes about women
and leadership results in an effect similar to
stereotype threat that often occurs when individ-
uals perceive themselves to be at risk of confirm-
ing a negative stereotype about their group
(Spencer, Steele, & Quinn, 1999; Steele & Aronson,
1995). However, while stereotype threat research
has traditionally focused on and demonstrated
deficits in performance in a specific domain (e.g.,
womens poorer math performance), stereotypes
also impact the psychological well-being and self-
esteem of those targeted by the stereotype (Swim,
Hyers, Cohen, & Ferguson, 2001). In fact, recent
research has demonstrated that the performance
234 Group Processes & Intergroup Relations 16(2)
deficits that stereotype threat induces are due, in
part, to these negative self-appraisals during the
task (Schmader, Forbes, Zhang, & Mendes, 2009;
see Schmader & Croft, 2011; and Schmader,
Johns, & Forbes, 2008, for reviews of stereotype
threat mechanisms). For example, Cadinu, Maass,
Rosabianca, and Kiesner (2005) found that for
women completing a math task, stereotype threat
resulted in negative task-related thoughts, which
resulted in a decrease in performance (see also,
Beilock, Rydell, & McConnell, 2007).
These negative self-perceptions also result
in diminished participation of targeted individuals
in the domain in which they are negatively
stereotyped, including lower identification (Hoyt
& Blascovich, 2007), lower intention for future
participation (Davies, Spencer, & Steele, 2005),
and eventual disengagement from the given
domain altogether (Steele, 1997). Exploring this
idea that stereotype threat can lower womens
intentions or motivation to become leaders
because of negative self-perceptions, Hoyt and
Simon (2011, Study 2) found that women who
were exposed to highly successful female leaders
who served to activate negative stereotypes
subsequently reported reduced leadership aspira-
tions, an effect that was driven by negative self-
perceptions. Thus, exposure to negative
stereotypes has important implications for both
performance outcomes and self-perceptions.
Moreover, these deflated self-perceptions seem
to be directly related to performance outcomes
and future aspirations in the given domain.
Gender and media images
Habitual exposure to images of women and men
engaging in traditional gender role activities in the
media serves to perpetuate and strengthen gender
stereotypes. Media images portray men and
women almost exclusively in traditional gender
roles (Coltrane & Adams, 1997; Davis, 2003;
Ganahl, Prinsen, & Netzley, 2003; Goffman,
1976; Reichert, 2008; Reichert & Carpenter, 2004;
Rounder, Slater, & Domenech-Rodríguez, 2003),
which differentially ascribe men to breadwinner
and high-status roles and women to homemaker
and low-status roles.
These media images deliver both gender role
and leadership role beliefs and expectations, and
not surprisingly, these expectations and beliefs
can have profound effects on how women
perceive themselves. Geis, Brown, Walstedt, and
Porter (1984) found that women who viewed
traditional commercials mentioned more home-
making than achievement themes compared to
men in the same condition. On the other hand,
women who viewed commercials with female
and male actors in reverse roles had more achieve-
ment aspirations than women in the traditional
condition. Consistent with research exploring the
malleability of gender role beliefs and behavior
(Clément-Guillotin & Fontayne, 2011; Deaux &
Major, 1987; Miller, Lewy, & Peckham, 1997;
Smith, Noll, & Bryant, 1999; Uchronski, 2008),
this research demonstrates that seemingly rigid
gender role beliefs can be altered by exposure to
different media images.
In a more recent replication of the research by
Geis et al. (1984) previously described, Yoder,
Christopher, and Holmes (2008) found no difference
in womens achievement aspirations across the
traditional and nontraditional commercials;
however, the traditional commercials still served to
activate gender stereotypes. The fact that women
no longer differ in their aspirations to have a
career, an education, money, and possessions
accurately reflects the now equal gender break-
down in the workforce (U.S. Bureau of Labor
Statistics, 2009). What remains unclear is how
these gender-stereotypic portrayals of women in
the media continue to dampen womens level of
achievement aspirations (i.e., leadership aspira-
tions). Do media portrayals of women contribute
to the gender disparity in top-level leadership
positions by dampening womens achievement
aspirations?
Davies et al. (2005) addressed this question by
examining whether women experienced stereo-
type threat in the leadership domain after viewing
gender-stereotypic commercials or neutral
commercials which did not depict people
Simon and Hoyt 235
or feature any gender-stereotypic products or
companies. They found that women exposed to
gender-stereotypic commercials strongly preferred
a follower role compared to a leadership role in an
upcoming leadership task, while women exposed
to neutral commercials expressed no clear prefer-
ence for either role. These findings suggest that
the vulnerability women feel about confirming
negative stereotypes in a masculine domain (i.e.,
leadership) can deter women from leadership
roles in favor of stereotypically appropriate roles.
Although these gender stereotypes conveyed by
the media may no longer prevent women from
pursuing a career in general, they do seem to
dampen womens motivation to attain more tradi-
tionally masculine roles, such as leadership
positions.
Counterstereotypical women
as role models
To date, no research that we are aware of has
directly examined the effect of media images
depicting women in counterstereotypical, non-
traditional gender roles on womens responses in
leadership situations. However, the fact that expo-
sure to neutral advertisements (i.e., advertisements
displaying only products and not people) did not
result in stereotype threat effects in Davies et al.s
(2005) research suggests that advertisements
depicting counterstereotypical roles may also have
a buffering effect for women in leadership situa-
tions. Given that many advertisements are not
neutral, and instead they often depict gendered
products or women and men engaging in activi-
ties, exploring the effects of counterstereotypical
images is a worthy endeavor. If exposure to adver-
tisements with women undertaking counter-
stereotypical roles does have a positive effect on
womens leadership aspirations, increasing the
number of advertisements that picture women in
a variety of roles can provide a practical approach
to remedying an intractable problem.
Yet the possibility remains that women will not
respond positively to advertisements portraying
women in counterstereotypical roles. Research by
Rudman and Phelan (2010) found that exposure to
counterstereotypical roles (e.g., a female surgeon
or a female business executive) decreased womens
leadership self-concept and lowered their interest
in traditionally masculine occupations. Similarly,
research has also shown that exposure to highly
successful female leaders can have a self-deflating
effect on womens leadership self-perceptions
compared to exposure to less elite, up-and-coming
female leaders (Hoyt & Simon, 2011).
The research by Rudman and Phelan (2010)
and Hoyt and Simon (2011) described before both
suggest that the negative effect of exposure to
women in counterstereotypical roles is due to self-
deflating upward social comparisons. Because
women in advertisements are generally not highly
successful superstars, but rather depict “average”
people, we predict for the current research that
media images of counterstereotypical roles will be
a viable way to improve womens self-perceptions
and performance in the leadership domain. For
example, Hoyt and Simon (2011, Study 2) found
that exposure to female leaders whose success
seemed attainable had a positive effect on women’s
leadership aspirations, in part because these women
activated greater gender-counterstereotypic
thoughts. In this study, women did not seem to
experience upward social comparison threat because
their level of success was perceived as attainable (see
also Asgari, Dasgupta, & Stout, 2011).
Research by Dasgupta and Asgari (2004) pro-
vides further evidence that exposure to counter-
stereotypic women can have positive effects on
women. They found that women who attended an
all-womens college expressed less automatic
gender stereotypes than those who attended
a coeducational college (Dasgupta & Asgari,
2004). Moreover, this effect was mediated by the
frequency of exposure to female leaders. These
findings suggest that exposure to gender-
counterstereotypic women in everyday life (so
long as they do not induce upward social compari-
son threat) can decrease the perceived incongruity
between leadership roles and the female gender
role by altering womens gender stereotypes and
gender role beliefs. Consequently, exposure to
236 Group Processes & Intergroup Relations 16(2)
images of women in counterstereotypical gender
roles may buffer women from stereotype threat
effects in the leadership domain.
While the negative impact of gender-stereotypic
media images has been well documented, there is
a lack of experimental research investigating the
impact of counterstereotypical media images,
with the exception of the research by Yoder et al.
(2008) previously described, which did not assess
womens leadership aspirations or self-perceptions.
No research to date has examined if or how
counterstereotypical portrayals of women in the
media might influence womens achievement
aspirations in the leadership domain. By merging
the literature on stereotyping, media images, and
counterstereotypic role models, the present
research takes a first look at whether media
images portraying women in counterstereotypical
roles can have beneficial effects for womens
responses in a leadership situation.
Present research
In the current research, we explored the effect of
counterstereotypical portrayals of women in the
media (i.e., magazine advertisements) on womens
gender role attitudes, self-perceptions, and leader-
ship aspirations. First, we pilot tested the adver-
tisements we selected to represent stereotypical
and counterstereotypical female gender roles
before use in Study 1 and Study 2 to ensure that
the two sets of media images were being perceived
as differentially stereotypic of the female gender
role and the leadership role. Next, in Study 1, we
explored the effect of advertisements of women
in counterstereotypical roles, compared to adver-
tisements of women in stereotypical roles, on
female participants’ gender role beliefs. Finally, in
Study 2, we examined the effect of media images
(counterstereotypical vs. stereotypical roles) on
female participants’ self-perceptions and leader-
ship aspirations after a leadership task.
We hypothesized that, compared to advertise-
ments with stereotypical roles, advertisements
with counterstereotypical roles would be (a) seen
as less stereotypic of the female gender role and
more congruent with leadership (pilot study),
(b) would strengthen womens nontraditional atti-
tudes toward womens roles in society (Study 1),
and (c) would result in more positive self-reported
responses from women after a leadership task
(Study 2). Furthermore, based on the harmful
effects of negative, intrusive thoughts shown in
stereotype threat research (Cadinu et al., 2005;
Hoyt & Simon, 2011; Schmader et al., 2009), we
predicted that greater leadership aspirations
would be driven by less negative self-perceptions
following a leadership task.
Pilot study
We pretested a set of advertisements displaying
women in counterstereotypical and stereotypical
roles to use in Study 1 and Study 2 with a separate
sample of 40 women recruited from Zoomerang
(an online survey site) who viewed one of two sets
of advertisements. The purpose of the pilot study
was to ensure that advertisements depicting women
in nontraditional, counterstereotypical gender roles
were perceived as less stereotypic of the female
gender role and more congruent with the leader-
ship role than a set of advertisements depicting
women in stereotypical (or traditional) gender roles.
The advertisements were selected from popu-
lar womens magazines in the U.S. In the counter-
stereotypical condition, magazine advertisements
pictured women in nontraditional female gender
roles, such as professional athletes, entrepreneurs,
and doctors. Importantly, we selected advertise-
ments where women were portraying agentic
traits associated with the leadership role or the
male gender role—not explicitly displaying
women in leadership roles. The stereotypical
condition consisted of magazine advertisements
picturing women in stereotypical female gender
roles, such as homemakers, mothers, and sex
symbols. For this set of advertisements, women
were portraying communal traits associated with
the female gender role. The same nine gender-
neutral advertisements were used in both sets to
avoid demand characteristics; these advertise-
ments displayed only the product (e.g., a tooth-
brush) and did not display men or women (see
Appendix for sample advertisements).
Simon and Hoyt 237
The results from a one-way MANOVA
revealed a multivariate main effect for images
(Wilks’ λ = .57, F(4, 35) = 6.66, p < .001, η
2
= .43;
see Table 1 for descriptive statistics for depend-
ent variables. Univariate ANOVA tests revealed
that, compared to the stereotypical images, the
counterstereotypical images were rated as lower
on gender stereotypicality (F[1, 38] = 25.25, p <
.001, η
2
= .40), higher on leader attributions (F[1,
38] = 10.89, p = .002, η
2
= .22), higher on agentic
traits (F[1, 38] = 4.76, p = .035, η
2
= .11), and
there was no impact on communal trait ratings,
F(1, 38) = .50, ns.
1
Study 1
While past research has demonstrated that
exposure to advertisements with stereotypical
roles impacts womens gender role beliefs by
limiting their leadership and career aspirations
to goals that are congruent with the female gender
role (Davies et al., 2005; Geis et al., 1984), the pre-
sent study explores whether media images with
gender-counterstereotypical roles could also impact
gender role beliefs, but in the opposite direction.
Thus, we predicted that, compared to exposure to
advertisements in the stereotypical condition,
women exposed to advertisements in the counter-
stereotypical condition would subsequently report
more nontraditional gender role beliefs.
Method
Participants and design. Twenty female
undergraduate students at a liberal arts college
participated in this brief study. As in the
pilot study, Study 1 also employed a two-group
between-subjects design (media images:
counterstereotypical, stereotypical).
Procedure and measures. Participants were
run individually and were randomly assigned to
view one of the two sets of advertisements. The
experimenter instructed participants to pay close
attention to each advertisement, as they would be
asked to recall information later.
Media images manipulation. Participants in the
counterstereotypical condition viewed a set of 10
advertisements with gender-counterstereotypical
roles, and participants in the stereotypical con-
dition viewed a set of magazine advertisements
consisting of 10 advertisements with gender-
stereotypical roles. The same advertisements
were used as in the pilot study.
Attitudes toward women. After viewing the adver-
tisements, participants responded to a shortened,
10-item version of Spence, Helmreich and Stapp’s
(1973) Attitudes Towards Women Scale (ATW;
α = .67) which measures attitudes regarding
appropriate responsibilities, rights, and roles for
women versus men in society (Eagly & Mladinic,
1989; Spence & Hahn, 1997). All 10 items indi-
cate egalitarian attitudes toward women such
as “Women should take increasing responsibil-
ity for leadership in solving the intellectual and
social problems of the day” and “Under modern
economic conditions with women being active
outside the home, men should share in house-
hold tasks such as washing dishes and doing the
laundry.” Participants indicated their agreement
to items on a 7-point Likert-type scale ranging
from −3 (strongly disagree) to 3 (strongly agree).
Table 1. Means, standard deviations, and correlations for pilot study
Variable M
count
SD
count
M
st
SD
st
1 2 3 4
1. Leader attributes 4.57 .61 3.60 1.16 -.53*** .67*** .34*
2. Gender stereotypical 2.40 .88 3.80 .88 -.45** -.24
3. Agentic traits 4.95 .52 4.48 .81 .48**
4. Communal traits 4.62 .56 4.45 .90
Note: Means and standard deviations for both the counterstereotypical (count) and stereotypical (st) conditions are reported.
*p < .05, **p < .01, ***p < .001.
238 Group Processes & Intergroup Relations 16(2)
Higher scores on the ATW represent greater
endorsement of profeminist, egalitarian attitudes
toward womens roles.
Results and discussion
To test the prediction that women in the counter-
stereotypical condition would report more coun-
terstereotypical gender role beliefs, participants’
attitudes toward womens roles were analyzed
with a one-way analysis of variance with the
media images manipulation as the independent
variable. Results confirmed that participants in
the counterstereotypical condition endorsed a
more egalitarian attitude toward womens roles
(M = 1.79, SD = .47) than those in the stereotypi-
cal condition (M = 1.22, SD = .73), F(1, 18) =
4.51, p = .048, η
2
= .20.
These results suggest that advertisements that
disconfirm gender stereotypes can alter these
seemingly rigid gender role beliefs—resulting in
more counterstereotypical beliefs about the
female gender role. These findings add to the
body of research demonstrating that situational
cues can alter seemingly rigid gender role beliefs
(e.g., Uchronski, 2008). Moreover, if media images
displaying counterstereotypical roles can put into
effect less stereotypical gender role beliefs (i.e.,
beliefs that make the female gender role more
congruent with the leadership role), they should
also be able to buffer women from negative
stereotypes about women in leadership situations.
Therefore, the purpose of Study 2 is to explore
whether media images with women in counter-
stereotypical roles can also influence womens
responses in actual leadership situations. Because
these advertisements are seemingly able to make
the female gender role more congruent with the
leadership role, Study 2 examines whether they
can also serve to buffer women against negative
stereotype threat effects in a leadership situation.
Study 2
In Study 2, we test whether media images with
counterstereotypical roles have a more positive
effect than stereotypical images do on womens
self-perceptions and leadership aspirations after a
leadership task. Because women perceived these
advertisements as less stereotypic and more con-
gruent with the leadership role (pilot study) and
had more counterstereotypical attitudes toward
women (Study 1), we predicted that advertise-
ments with women in counterstereotypical roles
would buffer women from stereotype threat effects
in the leadership domain. Specifically, we predicted
that women in the counterstereotypical condition
would report less negative self-perceptions and
greater leadership aspirations than women in the
stereotypical condition. Moreover, based on pre-
vious work that highlights negative thoughts and
self-perceptions as the mechanism that causes
impaired performance (Hoyt & Simon, 2011;
Schmader et al., 2009), we tested the prediction
that negative self-perceptions would be the driving
force behind another important outcome of ste-
reotype threat: aspirations to participate in the ste-
reotype-relevant domain.
Method
Participants and design. Sixty undergraduate
women at a private liberal arts college were given
$10.00 for participation. The experiment employed
a two-group between-subjects design (media
images: counterstereotypical, stereotypical).
Procedure. Participants were informed that
they signed up to participate in two ostensibly
separate studies. The experimenter informed the
participants that the first study was examining the
relationship between personality characteristics
and people’s ratings of certain magazine advertise-
ments. For this first study, participants filled out a
set of filler questionnaires purportedly assessing
their personality. Next, participants viewed one
of the two sets of advertisements and were asked
to rank order their top six favorite advertisements
in order to bolster the cover study. Participants
then completed what they believed to be a second,
separate study with two other participants,
who were in reality two research confederates.
Simon and Hoyt 239
The “second study” served as the leadership task
in which the participant was always assigned to the
leadership role for a 10-minute group discussion
task. After the leadership task, participants
completed the dependent measures. Participants
were paid, debriefed, and thanked for their
participation.
2
Media images manipulation. After signing the consent
form, participants completed the first task, described
to them as the first study, which served to expose
them to the media images of women. The same
two sets of magazine advertisements were used in
Study 1, which again included the neutral advertise-
ments to avoid demand characteristics.
Group leadership task. After completing the
advertisement task, participants began what they
believed to be a separate three-person group
study. For the group task, two female research
confederates acted as two other participants,
and the real participant was always “randomly”
selected to be the leader. The goal of the task was
for participants to successfully lead the group to
a unanimous consensus about whether the uni-
versity should keep or eliminate its coordinate
system, a system that consists of separate all-
male and all-female colleges, with distinct tradi-
tions, student governments, and deaneries within
the same university. Confederates were trained to
speak according to a set of scripted statements
and responses so that their behavior remained
as consistent as possible for all experimental
sessions. In order to make the task difficult for
the participant, confederates were instructed to
disagree with the participant’s own opinion about
keeping or eliminating the coordinate system.
3
Measures. Participants responded to the follow-
ing measures using a 7-point Likert-type scale rang-
ing from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree).
Negative self-perceptions. Because this study is
exploring how women feel about themselves
after completing a task in which they were inter-
acting with other people, we created an 11-item
scale assessing social aspects of their self-esteem,
affect, and concern about their performance. The
scale consisted of items adapted from the social
subscale of Heatherton and Polivy’s (1991) state
self-esteem measure (e.g., “I feel inferior to others
at this moment”), from Lubin, Zuckerman, and
Woodward’s (1985) Multiple Affect Adjective
Checklist (MAACL; e.g., “I feel like a failure”),
and from Hoyt and Simons (2011) perfor-
mance difficulty scale (“I felt a lot of pres-
sure during this task”). A factor analysis shows
that all items load highly onto one factor (all
loadings > .60) and the scale is highly reliable
(α = .89).
Leadership aspirations. Participants indicated their
agreement to the following two items assessing
their future leadership aspirations: “I will actively
pursue leadership positions in the future” and
“I would work hard to be selected as leader”
(r(58) = .67, p < .001).
Results
The self-report dependent variables (negative
self-perceptions and leadership aspirations) were
analyzed with a one-way (media images manipula-
tion) multivariate analysis of variance. The two
dependent variables were significantly correlated
(r = −.43, p < .001).
The overall MANOVA revealed a multivariate
main effect for images, Wilks’ λ = .89, F(1, 58) =
3.47, p = .038, η
2
= .11. The univariate ANOVA
with negative self-perceptions as the outcome
revealed a main effect for images such that
participants in the counterstereotypical condition
reported lower levels of negative self-perceptions
after the leadership task (M = 2.82, SD = .92)
than those in the stereotypical condition (M =
3.41, SD = 1.00; F[1, 58] = 5.65, p = .021, η
2
=
.09). The univariate ANOVA with leadership
aspirations as the outcome revealed a main effect
of images such that participants in the counter-
stereotypical condition reported higher levels of
leadership aspirations after the leadership task
(M = 5.18, SD = 1.14) than those in the
240 Group Processes & Intergroup Relations 16(2)
stereotypical condition (M = 4.47, SD = 1.58;
F[1, 58] = 4.04, p = .049, η
2
= .07; see Figure 1).
Mediational analysis. We explored whether
negative self-perceptions mediate the impact of
media images on leadership aspirations by con-
ducting mediational analysis. To test for mediation
with this small sample, we used the bootstrapping
approach, instead of the low-power Sobel test, as
advocated by Shrout and Bolger (2002). We used
Preacher and Hayes’ (2008) macro to implement
the bootstrapping approach in SPSS. A bootstrap-
based confidence interval (95%) for the indirect
effect was generated by taking 5,000 samples
from the original data set (using sampling with
replacement) thus yielding 5,000 estimates of
each path coefficient. These estimates were used
to calculate estimates of conditional indirect
effects of media images (dummy coded as 0 =
stereotypical, 1 = counterstereotypical) on leader-
ship aspirations through negative self-perceptions.
The bias-corrected and accelerated confidence
interval for negative self-perceptions was [.054,
.876]. As indicated with the cutoff value in the
lower tail of the bootstrap distribution of condi-
tional indirect effects being above zero, the indi-
rect effect is statistically significant. The indirect
effect remains significant when using the more
stringent 99% confidence interval [.001, 1.10].
The direction of the paths indicate that partici-
pants in the counterstereotypical condition
experienced less negative self-perceptions than
those in the stereotypical condition resulting in
greater levels of leadership aspirations. In sum,
negative self-perceptions mediated the relation-
ship between media images and leadership
aspirations (see Figure 2).
4
Discussion
The results from Study 2 supported our predic-
tions: women in the counterstereotypical condi-
tion were buffered from the negative stereotype
threat effect that women in the stereotypical con-
dition experienced. After performing a leadership
task, women in the counterstereotypical condi-
tion reported lower negative self-perceptions and
greater leadership aspirations than women in the
stereotypical condition. Moreover, negative self-
perceptions mediated the relationship between
media images and leadership aspirations such that
the greater leadership aspirations reported by
women in the counterstereotypical condition
was due in large part to their less negative self-
perceptions after performing the leadership task.
General discussion
The present research sought to explore whether
media images of women in counterstereotypical
roles have a positive effect, compared to images
of women in stereotypical roles, on women in the
leadership domain. Past research has shown that
images of women in stereotypical roles activate
gender stereotypes (Davies, Spencer, Quinn, &
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
Negative self-perceptions Leadership aspirations
Counterstereotypical
Stereotypical
Figure 1. Mean scores on self-report measures for
Study 2.
B = −.59*
B = −.55***
Total effect = .72*
Negative self-
perceptions
Indirect effect = .32** Direct effect
=
.39
Leadership
aspirations
Media
images
Figure 2. Negative self-perceptions as a mediator
of the impact of media images on participants’
leadership aspirations.
Note: Direct, indirect, and total effects are quantified with
unstandardized regression weights;
*p < .05; **p < .01; ***p < .001.
Simon and Hoyt 241
Gerhardstein, 2002; Yoder et al., 2008) and result
in negative self-report effects for women in the
leadership domain (Davies et al., 2002). However,
research showing the positive effects of counter-
stereotypical role models on womens leadership
aspirations and weakening of gender stereotypes
(Dasgupta & Asgari, 2004) led us to hypothesize
that counterstereotypical images might also be
able to buffer women from negative stereotype
threat effects in the leadership domain. The find-
ings from the present research demonstrate that
media images of women in counterstereotypical
roles can have a positive effect on womens
responses in the leadership domain.
After demonstrating that advertisements of
women in counterstereotypical roles were per-
ceived as less stereotypical of the female gender
role and more congruent with the leadership role
(pilot study), we then conducted two studies
using the same set of advertisements to explore
the effect of these images in relation to womens
gender role attitudes (Study 1) and their self-
perceptions and leadership aspirations following
a leadership task (Study 2). The findings from
Study 1 supported the prediction that women
who viewed media images of women in counter-
stereotypical roles subsequently reported more
nontraditional, egalitarian gender role beliefs
about women than women who viewed media
images of women in stereotypical roles.
From here, our reasoning followed that if the
images could alter womens gender role beliefs,
then viewing media images of women in counter-
stereotypical roles before performing in a non-
traditional female role in which women are
negatively stereotyped (i.e., leadership) would
buffer against negative stereotype threat effects.
The findings from Study 2 supported our predic-
tion. Female participants who viewed images of
women in counterstereotypical roles as a part of
an ostensibly separate study then reported lower
negative self-perceptions and greater leadership
aspirations after performing a leadership task than
participants who viewed images of women in
stereo typical roles.
The present research has important implica-
tions for helping to increase womens presence in
top-level leadership positions. The findings from
this research suggest that exposure to media
images of women in counterstereotypical roles can
help to break rigid gender stereotypes and gender
role beliefs. Consequently, these images can help to
diminish the perceived incongruency between
women and leadership and buffer women against
negative responses in leadership situations. This
research builds on prior research related to
counter stereotypical role models by demonstrating
that contact with a counterstereotypical or non-
traditional woman is not requisite to alter gender
stereotypes and gender role beliefs; mere exposure
to media images with counterstereotypical roles
can have a meaningful impact of womens leader-
ship self-perceptions. Considering the pervasive-
ness of media images, if more media images of
women in counterstereotypical roles were utilized,
women from a young age may develop more
flexible gender role beliefs that incorporate stereo-
typical masculine traits (or agentic traits) and roles
such as leadership.
Limitations and future
directions
While the current research shows the impact that
the media have on leadership aspirations, it will
be important for future research to also examine
if viewing advertisements of women in counter-
stereotypical roles helps to boost actual leader-
ship performance. In Study 2, participants did
complete a leadership task; however, this particu-
lar task was not designed to assess an objective
measure of performance. Thus, future research
would benefit from using an established leader-
ship task used to assess performance. Despite the
lack of performance data in Study 2, the present
research, nonetheless, adds to the literature by
expanding the type of dependent measures
assessed in stereotype threat research. As noted
by Davies et al. (2005), Steele (1997; Steele &
Aronson, 1995) originally described two impor-
tant consequences of stereotype threat: under-
performance and decreased aspirations. However,
the research that examines effects other than
242 Group Processes & Intergroup Relations 16(2)
performance still remain in the minority (for
examples of exceptions, see Davies et al., 2002;
Davies et al., 2005; Murphy, Steele, & Gross,
2007).
Moreover, the present study extends stereotype
threat research that does examine leadership aspira-
tions by exploring the mediational role of negative
self-perceptions, another important consequence
to consider. While negative, intrusive thoughts
(Cadinu et al., 2005; Schmader et al., 2009) have
been explored as mediators of performance in
stereo type threat research, the present research
explored whether negative self-perceptions also
result in deflated aspirations. Having a nuanced
understanding of multiple self-report assessments
will not only help to better understand stigmatized
individuals’ experiences in targeted domains, but
will also help to develop effective interventions.
Furthermore, the present research expands our
understanding of self-reported consequences of
stereotype threat because, unlike past research
examining aspirations, participants in the present
research actually performed a task in the targeted
domain at hand prior to filling out dependent
variables.
Another limitation of this research is the use
of a two-group design (stereotypical vs. counter-
stereotypical). Exploring another comparison
that exposed women to neutral images would
help provide a more detailed examination of how
images of women in both stereotypical and coun-
terstereotypical roles affect women in leadership
situations. Nonetheless, we chose to utilize a two-
group design because advertisements that portray
women in stereotypical ways are the norm in the
U.S. Therefore, the stereotypical condition is an
apt comparison condition to compare how things
are to how things could be (i.e., our experimental
condition in which we manipulate the advertise-
ments to display women in a nontypical manner).
While a neutral condition would certainly be better
suited to demonstrate whether advertisements
with stereotypical roles are detrimental and/or
whether advertisements with counterstereotypical
roles are beneficial, past research speaks to these
points (Davies et al., 2005, the former; Dasgupta
& Asgari, 2004, the latter). Moreover, the
purpose of the present research was to examine
the media’s portrayal of women. Therefore, a
condition in which advertisements do not display
people is not an appropriate comparison for this
particular research. Lastly, despite this limitation,
this research does help to answer an important
question in its own right—by exploring whether
advertisements of women in counter stereotypical
roles would have the same detrimental effect that
media images of women in stereotypical roles have
(in which case a null effect would have emerged).
Thus, the present research does provide novel sup-
port for the positive effect of media images that
depict women in counterstereotypical roles for
women in leadership situations.
Conclusion
The present research explored the effect of
media images of women in counterstereotypical
versus stereotypical roles on female participants’
gender role beliefs (Study 1) and responses in a
leadership situation (Study 2). Overall, the find-
ings offer a positive perspective on the potential for
media images of women in counterstereotypical
roles to help increase womens leadership aspira-
tions, and eventually closing the gender gap that
currently exists between men and women in top-
level leadership positions. While women may in
fact hold a leadership advantage (Eagly et al.,
2003), they remain underrepresented in powerful
leadership positions. Thus, these findings not
only offer hope for achieving equal representa-
tion in leadership positions, but they also offer
insight for how to promote more successful
societal institutions, businesses, and governments.
Acknowledgments
We acknowledge and thank Audrey Innella, Yelena
Johnson, and Henrietta Matheson for their excellent
work as research assistants on this project. We would
also like to thank Laurie T. O’Brien for her helpful
comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.
Notes
1. That the increase in perceived agency is not
accompanied with a commensurate decrease in
Simon and Hoyt 243
perceived communality supports the arguments
that agency and communality are orthogonal
constructs, and it is perceptions of agency that are
directly related to images depicting traditionally
masculine roles. Past research has similarly
demons trated that participants’ implicit theories
about leadership attributes are malleable on agen-
tic traits, but not on communal traits (Hoyt, Simon,
& Innella, 2011).
2. None of the participants mentioned suspicion
about the confederates.
3. Although the goal of the present research was not to
assess performance differences, for exploratory
purposes, two independent coders coded the audio-
recordings from each session and rated participants’
on several items devised to assess performance,
including whether the group reached a consensus,
and general leadership skills, such as oral communica-
tion, motivational ability, and confidence. While the
coders had adequate reliability, we found that partici-
pants did not differ on their rated leadership perfor-
mance based on condition. Please see the Discussion
section for further discussion regarding performance.
4. Although not predicted from theory, we tested a
reverse mediational model, with leadership aspirations
as the mediator predicting negative self-perceptions,
which might also explain the data. The 99%
bootstrap-based confidence interval was not
significant. Thus, the reverse model is neither
theoretically nor empirically supported.
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... For example, Hoyt & Blascovich (2010) conducted a study indicating that women who were exposed to leader stereotypes showed poorer performance and lower self-efficacy than women who were not exposed to stereotypes. Similar to this research, a study by Simon & Hoyt (2012) highlighted that women who viewed advertisements that portrayed gender stereotypes were more likely to be followers than leaders. Gender equality is a human right, therefore a society that practices egalitarianism can lead to a healthy environment conducive to the advancement of all, regardless of gender. ...
Conference Paper
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Women have been fighting for equal rights for centuries. An essential aspect of their struggle has been fighting against discrimination in the business environment. Numerous scholars have been researching the leadership of women in business. However, there is a particular gap in the literature regarding this subject. This paper aims to examine the situation of women leaders in the present time and draw a parallel with the situation of women leaders throughout history in the context of business. This research was carried out based on various statistical data from representative sources. The results of this research and their theoretical and practical contribution to the field indicate that other criteria usually impact leadership quality rather than gender. This paper may interest women in leadership positions, organizations, companies, and leadership scholars. Keywords: business, leadership, women leaders, discrimination, women in business. Апстракт: Жене се вековима боре за једнака права. Суштински аспект њихове борбе је борба против дискриминације у пословном окружењу. Бројни научници су истраживали лидерство жена у бизнису. Међутим, постоји посебна празнина у литератури на ову тему. Овај рад има за циљ да испита ситуацију жена лидера у садашњем времену и направи паралелу са ситуацијом жена лидера кроз историју у контексту пословања. Ово истраживање је спроведено на основу различитих статистичких података из репрезентативних извора. Резултати овог истраживања и њихов теоријски и практични допринос овој области указују да други критеријуми обично утичу на квалитет лидерства, а не пол. Овај рад би могао да заинтересује жене на лидерским позицијама, организације, компаније и лидере. Кључне речи: бизнис, лидерство, жене лидери, дискриминација, жене у бизнису.
... For example, Hoyt & Blascovich (2010) conducted a study indicating that women who were exposed to leader stereotypes showed poorer performance and lower self-efficacy than women who were not exposed to stereotypes. Similar to this research, a study by Simon & Hoyt (2012) highlighted that women who viewed advertisements that portrayed gender stereotypes were more likely to be followers than leaders. Gender equality is a human right, therefore a society that practices egalitarianism can lead to a healthy environment conducive to the advancement of all, regardless of gender. ...
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... For example, Hoyt & Blascovich (2010) conducted a study indicating that women who were exposed to leader stereotypes showed poorer performance and lower self-efficacy than women who were not exposed to stereotypes. Similar to this research, a study by Simon & Hoyt (2012) highlighted that women who viewed advertisements that portrayed gender stereotypes were more likely to be followers than leaders. Gender equality is a human right, therefore a society that practices egalitarianism can lead to a healthy environment conducive to the advancement of all, regardless of gender. ...
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... For example, Hoyt & Blascovich (2010) conducted a study indicating that women who were exposed to leader stereotypes showed poorer performance and lower self-efficacy than women who were not exposed to stereotypes. Similar to this research, a study by Simon & Hoyt (2012) highlighted that women who viewed advertisements that portrayed gender stereotypes were more likely to be followers than leaders. Gender equality is a human right, therefore a society that practices egalitarianism can lead to a healthy environment conducive to the advancement of all, regardless of gender. ...
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... For example, Hoyt & Blascovich (2010) conducted a study indicating that women who were exposed to leader stereotypes showed poorer performance and lower self-efficacy than women who were not exposed to stereotypes. Similar to this research, a study by Simon & Hoyt (2012) highlighted that women who viewed advertisements that portrayed gender stereotypes were more likely to be followers than leaders. Gender equality is a human right, therefore a society that practices egalitarianism can lead to a healthy environment conducive to the advancement of all, regardless of gender. ...
... These self-limiting beliefs and behaviours may include women undervaluing their work contribution (Haynes and Heilman 2013), or lacking confidence in their ability to perform challenging roles. This, in turn, affects their beliefs about pursuing leadership or senior positions (Davis et al 2005;Dickerson and Taylor 2000;Simon and Hoyt 2012). ...
... The concept of icon is directly related to who is the person that a single mother admires the most, which encourages them to take part in business. They admired certain people as icons as a result of their inspiration, according to informants 2, 3, 4, and 5. Having exposure to women as an icon or role models in successful counter-stereotypic roles such as female entrepreneurs is crucial as it improved self-perception and career aspirations, especially among single mothers (Simon & Hoyt, 2012 The comment made by Informant 4 on the same factor mentioned that the icon encourages her to be involved in the business. This is most likely to aid in their business advancements and inspiration. ...
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