Cultural Differences in the “Think Manager, Think Male” Phenomenon

workplace gender stereotypes
Topic(s): culture, gender, leadership
Publication: Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology

Article: Causal Attributions About Feminine and Leadership Roles: A Cross-Cultural Comparison
Authors: R. Garcia-Retamero, E. López-Zafra

Reviewed by: Samantha Paustian-Underdahl

Even though gender stereotypes have been changing recently, men are still perceived to be more characteristic of managers than are women (Eagly, 2007). However, little research has examined how these perceptions may differ depending on the traditional or progressive nature of different societies. The authors of this study (Garcia-Retamero and López –Zafra, 2009) examine the question of whether there are cultural differences in people’s causal attributions about male and female leaders in the workplace.


The authors examined two countries whose residents might hold different views about women as potential leaders: Germany and Spain. German society generally maintains gender egalitarianism as a social value to a greater extent than Spanish society (House, Hanges, Javidan, Dorfman, & Gupta, 2004). That is, Germans prescribe differentiated gender roles less often than Spaniards and Germans generally place women in a higher status in their society.

The participants for this study consisted of 180 undergraduate students from the University of Granada (Spain; 90 men and 90 women) and 180 undergraduate students from the Free University of Berlin (Germany; 90 men and 90 women). The authors analyzed whether the sex of a candidate for a leadership position, the type of industry in which he or she works (male-oriented, female-oriented, or unspecified), and participants’ nationality and gender influence the perception of incongruity between the leadership role and the feminine gender role.


The authors note the following findings:

1) Spanish participants showed more prejudice toward the female candidate than German participants did. Their expectations about the female candidate’s potential for promotion when she worked in an industry incongruent with her gender role were much lower than those of the German participants.

2) All participants (regardless of country) who predicted that the female candidate would be promoted generally made an external causal attribution to explain such promotion (e.g., luck). This was especially the case when the female candidate worked in the incongruent industry but also in the unspecified industry.

3) In general, participants (regardless of country) made an internal causal attribution (e.g., ability) to explain the male candidate’s success even if he worked in a female-congenial environment.

4) Spanish participants were more likely than German participants to make an external
causal attribution (e.g., luck), when predicting that the female candidate would succeed in getting the promotion.

5) When predicting the female candidate’s failure to obtain the promotion, Spanish participants more often than German participants chose an internal causal attribution (e.g., lack of skills).


In sum, organizations should consider the different societal expectations and status categories in place when developing leaders globally. There may be particularly difficult challenges in countries that have traditional gender-role stereotypes, and industry-specific standards. The authors maintain some hope, however, that the prejudice against female leaders may change over time. Their research suggests that when women have less traditional roles and people hold a less traditional view of women, the prejudice is diminished.


Garcia-Retamero, R., & López-Zafra, E. (2009). Causal attributions about feminine and leadership roles. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 40, 492-509.