As the result of a recent study, researchers in the United Kingdom have some intriguing news for women interested in organizational leadership roles. Their core message is, “Don’t conform to gender stereotypes!”
Three different experiments (Leicht, Randsley de Moura, & Crisp, 2014) suggested that being exposed to people who defy gender stereotypes makes it much harder to fall back on stereotyping in order to make decisions about leadership. Their study focused specifically on women who defy feminine stereotypes, such as a female engineer.
WHY DEFYING STEREOTYPES WORKS
The study found that job candidates who did not fit the mold of “the typical woman” were generally viewed more objectively. This resulted in fairer decisions during the selection process and a general reduction in gender bias.
After being exposed to counter-stereotype individuals, snap judgments about the applicant became less clear. As a result, hiring managers tended to treat these applicants as unique individuals rather than using preconceptions based on their gender.
Most intriguingly, this effect meant that these game-changing women were more likely to be chosen for leadership roles and generally encouraged less bias in the evaluation of their leadership abilities.
POSSIBLE APPLICATIONS IN THE WORKPLACE
There are a number of key takeaways from this study. First, organizations should clearly encourage objectivity and cognitive flexibility rather than relying on stereotypes to make judgments about others.
The research suggests that more effective diversity training can lead to innovation and change, and that exposure to those that break the stereotypical mold can provide inspiration for other women. It also provides a deeper understanding to the difficult issue of the “glass cliff,” wherein women are selected as leaders primarily in times of crisis.
Lastly, it suggests that effective executive coaching can (and should) encourage women who seek leadership roles to challenge expectations. This can lead to a decrease in stereotyping during leadership selection.
Leicht, C., Randsley de Moura, G., & Crisp, R. J. (2014). Contesting gender stereotypes stimulates generalized fairness in the selection of leaders. The Leadership Quarterly, 25(5), 1025-1039.