The “think manager, think male” stereotype still pervades today’s workplace. To remedy this gender bias in leadership, some people suggest that women should work to counteract these stereotypes themselves (e.g., emphasize their accomplishments) or that a viable solution is diversity training. However, these methods have sometimes fallen short and placed the burden of alleviating gender bias on the targets themselves.
New research (Liu et al., 2023) offers a new perspective. They say that the mindsets people hold about leadership might impact gender bias. The authors considered a universal mindset, which is the belief that everyone has high leadership potential, and the non-universal mindset, or the belief that only some people have high leadership potential.
THE RESEARCH STUDY
The researchers conducted five studies using various methodologies and sample types to test their hypotheses. Two of the studies were experimental and found that participants who were primed with statements about how leadership was non-universal were more likely to rate women as less capable than men and in turn less likely to recommend them for leadership. In three other correlational studies, they found that holding the universal mindset made people more likely to view women and men equally in terms of leadership traits and potential. Lastly, the researchers found that when people held stronger gender stereotypes, having a universal mindset helped alleviate that gender bias.
Due to promising findings that universal mindsets may help reduce gender biases, organizations may benefit from fostering these mindsets for managers and employees. For instance, they could be implemented alongside existing diversity training efforts, especially considering they are relatively easy to teach. Promoting these mindsets among managers specifically could help, as they are typically in the position to recommend promotions and identify high potential employees.
Liu, Z., Rattan, A., & Savani, K. (2023). Reducing gender bias in the evaluation and selection of future leaders: The role of decision-makers’ mindsets about the universality of leadership potential. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication.
Image credit: istockphoto/Nuthawut Somsuk