A study was recently conducted by researchers at Yale University to assess how the competence of individuals working in gender-incongruent positions — positions that were traditionally occupied by the opposite sex — is viewed. The findings of this study indicate that while merely occupying a gender-incongruent position does not contribute to failure, committing the smallest error while in that position causes more damage to the individual than it would if that person were in a more traditional occupation. The authors state, “A gender-congruent leader’s competence is assumed, but for a gender-incongruent leader, salient mistakes create ambiguity and call the leader’s competence into question, which in turn leads to a loss of status.”
The background of the study can be understood with the example of women occupying jobs traditionally considered male-dominated. While the phenomenon of breaking the stereotype of gender-congruent occupations has been applauded in society in general, several studies have shown that the probability of failure is quite high for such workers, compared to those who are occupied in gender-congruent jobs. This fragility is attributed to small mistakes committed by such individuals, whether it is a man or a woman, when in such a role. This study was done to prove that both men and women are affected by such inherent biases in people’s minds.
• In this study 75 men and 127 women were asked to rate a man and a woman in two different jobs–“one strongly associated with women and the other with men”–president of a women’s college and a chief of police.
• Participants were asked to judge the capability of the man and the woman first when in a normal situation and second when they committed an error. Competence was adjudged from individual ratings on 11 factors.
• Status assessment was calculated from perceived rank, command, independence and esteem earned by the candidate(s).
• The results of the study were analyzed statistically.
• In a normal situation, both the male as well as female leaders were given equal merit in terms of status and competence, regardless of the profession’s gender-congruency.
• However, when perceived as incompetent after a slip-up, the value of the supposed incompetence was more pronounced in case of people in gender-incongruent occupations.
• The fall in status and apparent incompetency had no statistical significance, prior to a professional mistake.
This study adds to earlier work done on this subject to show that in gender-incongruent occupations, the smallest mistakes cast doubts on the worker’s ability and judgment even though under normal circumstances the alleged incompatibility between gender and a particular profession would not make any impact. Authors of the research paper state that, “Women who are successful in male domains not only are seen as unlikeable, but also are viewed as less competent than their gender-congruent counterparts after making a single mistake.” Hence, achievers in professions considered better suited for the opposite gender are in a vulnerable position despite their accomplishments.
For More Information:
Hard Won and Easily Lost: The Fragile Status of Leaders in Gender-Stereotype-Incongruent Occupations
Publication Journal: Psychological Science, September 2010
By Victoria L. Brescoll, Erica Dawson; Yale University, Connecticut