By Emma Young
When an organization appoints a new male CEO, the announcement usually highlights his past achievements and the skills that make him ideal for the job. What if the new CEO is a woman? The widely expected gender neutral approach, of course, is to make the exact same type of announcement. According to the team behind a new paper in the Journal of Applied PsychologyThis can make her work life more difficult and reduce the time she spends in this role. Priyanka Dwiwedi of Texas A&M University and her colleagues base this remarkable conclusion on a comprehensive analysis of data from women who have been appointed to senior positions in the United States, as well as in-depth interviews with female executives.
Why might an announcement that focuses on the winning candidate’s past achievements and competencies affect a female or male executive differently? Perhaps, the team theorized, it could show “that the new female manager does not adhere to prescribed norms of how women“ should be ”. Such violations could generate social disapproval, backlash, and evaluation penalties for women. In other words, new female leaders who are praised for their competence, trust and ambition (stereotypical leadership traits of the “male” type) can then face a “stereotypical threat” – and if they do not, feel judged match stereotypical female profile of care. socially sensitive and group-oriented. The psychological stress could then make it difficult for the woman to stay in her job. Laboratory work supported these ideas, and there was some anecdotal evidence to support this as well. However, this is the first attempt at a full real-world investigation.
Initially, the team considered 91 female CEO successors among companies that were included in the major US stock market indices between 1995 and 2012. Taking into account a number of other factors that could plausibly have influenced a CEO’s longevity, the researchers found a link between these endorsements, which focused on success and competence and a shorter time as CEO. (These notices came from corporate websites, press releases, and annual reports, for example.) However, despite success-oriented notices, two factors emerged as being related to longer hours: the female manager was an internal rather than an external appointment and the presence of a relatively high number of women Executives in the company. The analysis of a matching sample of male CEOs revealed no association between the content of the recommendation and the time in the role.
The team then conducted semi-structured interviews with 31 female executives (not all CEOs, but all in management positions), each with an average of 25 years’ experience in various US companies. The results of this qualitative part of the study supported the team’s idea that such women face stereotypical threats. They found that “female leaders were aware of chronic gender stereotypes and persistent prejudice in the male-dominated upper-tier context, both during their transition to and throughout their leadership roles”. These women also reported all kinds of negative personal reactions, including fear of being perceived as incompetent or insufficient legitimacy as a leader, as well as feeling exhausted with dealing with the stereotypes. For example, one commented, “When a woman demands they think she’s a slut … But when a man demands they see him as tough and good.” Another spoke about how she felt much more hostile and ostracized as she rose – so much so that she eventually quit her job.
The interview-based segment of the study supports the idea that women in leadership positions suffer from unhelpful stereotypes about women. However, when it comes to the team’s main conclusion – that the content of approving a new female executive may affect her longevity on the job – it’s important to note that the relationship is correlative. (Although the team’s failure to find such an association for the male CEOs is certainly worth highlighting.) Although the researchers controlled many other possible influences on their results, this study failed to definitively establish that the content of the agent’s confirmation in and by itself causes more or less stereotypical pressure on a female manager. But if your suggestion is correct, what are the practical lessons?
It’s a dilemma for companies, the researchers accept. “While you would do well to support your new female leaders in as many ways as possible, you must also constantly recognize that such support could backfire due to implicit gender biases and stereotypes.” However, the team found that the presence of more female executives mitigated this. So, “Perhaps the only long-term solution to this dilemma is for organizations to reach a critical mass of women executives to insure them against potentially negative perceptions of stakeholders.” They add that while this study focused on women, CEOs of others Corporate minorities are likely to experience something very similar. The result also adds to the growing body of papers that have found that well-intentioned attempts to counter gender stereotypes can backfire.
– “Burned in the Spotlight”: How leadership endorsements affect the longevity of women leaders.
Emma Young (@EmmaELYoung) works at BPS Biomedarticles