The Effect of Stereotype Threat on the Interview Performance of Women

By Shantz, Amanda; Latham, Gary P. | Advancing Women in Leadership, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

The Effect of Stereotype Threat on the Interview Performance of Women


Shantz, Amanda, Latham, Gary P., Advancing Women in Leadership


Abstract

When women are in a situation whereby they are at risk of being judged by a negative stereotype, they underperform relative to men. This quandary is called stereotype threat. The present study examined whether stereotype threat affects the performance of men versus women in a simulated job interview. The stereotype that women are not suitable for managerial jobs was unobtrusively embedded in a job description presented to interviewees (n = 50) prior to the interview. The interviews were evaluated by four HR managers, two male and two female. The results showed that stereotype threat disadvantages females vis-à-vis those in the control group, and it disadvantaged them relative to men in the stereotype threat condition. This occurred regardless of whether the HR manager was male or female.

Keywords: stereotype threat, employment interview, performance

The Effect of Stereotype Threat on the Interview Performance of Women

A wealth of studies have found that women as well as men perceive that the attributes ascribed to successful managers are more likely to be held by a man rather than a woman (e.g., Boyce & Herd, 2003; Cabrera, Sauer & Thomas-Hunt, 2009; Eagly & Karau, 2002; Fernandes, & Cabral-Cardoso, 2006; Gmuer, 2006; Powell, Butterfield, & Parent, 2002; Sczesny, 2003; Welbourne, 2005; Willemsen, 2002). This is because in Euro-Western society, managerial jobs are believed to "require an achievement-oriented aggressiveness and an emotional toughness that is distinctly male in character and antithetical to both the stereotyped view of what women are like, and the stereotype-based norms specifying how they should behave" (Heilman, 2001, p. 659). Because of these perceptions, women's competence in managerial positions is often viewed as inferior (Foschi, 1996), and their work is undervalued and considered of lower quality even when they perform at the same level as men (Heilman, 1995). Thus, it is not surprising that the selection of women for managerial positions has been uneven and slow (International Labor Organization, 2005).

One reason for this slow and uneven growth may be that organizations perpetuate gender stereotypes through their hiring practices (Kmec, 2005). Organizations often frame particular departments or positions as masculine or feminine in their job descriptions and hiring criteria (Hall, 1993; Pierce, 1996). For instance, Skuratowicz and Hunter (2004) investigated how newly created jobs were described to incumbent employees at a US-based bank. Management used signs, photographs and videos that depicted men as prestigious personal bankers and women as customer relations personnel. The latter position commanded lower pay, and had little or no supervisory power, as compared to a personal banker.

Gender stereotypes may also be perpetuated in the employment interview. Indeed, the interpersonal nature of the employment interview makes it susceptible to interviewer biases (Latham & Sue Chan, 1999). Interviewer decisions are affected by expectations that are generated from stereotypes (Pingitore, Dugoni, Tindale & Spring, 1994). For male-sex-typed jobs (e.g., engineer, carpenter), male interviewees are hired more frequently than females because males are seen as more likely to be successful than female interviewees even when the latter have similar credentials (Davison & Burke, 2000; Dipboye, 1987).

These studies shed light on the human resource management procedures that maintain what Schein (1973, 1975) coined as the 'think-manager-think-male' belief. However, these studies do not take into account how stereotypes influence the behavior of the target of a stereotype. Rather, this body of research has been limited to discovering the evaluations made by "powerful others." Indeed, over and above any bias on the part of interviewers, women carry an additional burden, which is the possibility that what they say or do will be interpreted in light of the stereotype about women's inferior managerial ability. …

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