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Gender Roles in the 1930s and 40s – G. Jang (Week 2)

Hegel’s text, published in the early 19th century, discusses the master-slave dialectic. This is the idea that man establishes his “self-consciousness” by identifying those apart from him as the “other” or “non-I”. De Beauvoir’s text, published in 1949, takes this dialectic and applies it to male and female relationships. Therefore, I will discuss such relationships in the time period of De Beauvoir’s text (specifically 1930s and 40s) in order to provide context.

In the early 1930s and prior to, a “real man” was typically seen as a person with pure authority and power, who was tasked with decision making for women (Encyclopedia.com), while women were seen as domestic and the primary caretaker. However, the Depression (1929-1939) brought about a change in this dynamic with the increased dependence on women. Many of the “pink collar” jobs were impacted less by the Depression than jobs in the heavy industry, which men typically took on (Encyclopedia.com). Still, women and men were placed in completely different categories, with women still facing harsh restrictions. Many men during this time felt threatened and shamed by their “lost masculinity” and increasing dependence on women. Due to this, many films which highlight naive and domestic women, such as the famous Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1938), emerged (Maslin). It’s important to note that such films attempted to reverse the reality for men in the Depression by offering a woman who was dependent on a man.

a research study from 1940 showed that those with more masculine jobs

Image of Snow White from the film  Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

WWII (1939-1945) changed gender roles in several ways. As more men were deployed in the war, the need for labor from women at the homefront increased. One of the most popular war icons was Rosie the Riveter. She represented a strong, assertive woman who worked during WWII. Although many women still worked “pink collar” jobs, WWII opened up job opportunities in areas previously designated to men, such as the heavy industry and wartime production plants (The National WWII Museum ). Still, employers attempted to maintain pre-war gender roles by separating females and males in the workplace and paying women lower wages. After the war, many women were pushed out of their previous, higher wage jobs into less secure, “pink collar” jobs in an attempt to give men back their jobs (May). Nonetheless, it is undeniable that there was a change in and questioning of previously set gender roles during the time of De Beauvoir’s text.

a research study from 1940 showed that those with more masculine jobs

“We Can Do It!” Poster closely associated with Rosie the Riveter

Beauvoir, Simone de, and Caroline Toy. The Second Sex .

“Gender on the Home Front.” The National WWII Museum | New Orleans , The National World War II Museum, www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/gender-home-front .

“Gender Roles and Sexual Relations, Impact of the Great Depression on .” Encyclopedia of the Great Depression. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Aug. 2021 < https://www.encyclopedia.com >.

Kojève, Alexandre, and Raymond Queneau. Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit . New York: Basic Books, 1969

Maslin, Janet. “Snow White Is No Feminist.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 19 July 1987, www.nytimes.com/1987/07/19/movies/film-view-snow-white-is-no-feminist.html .

May, Elaine Tyler. “How Did World War II Change Women’s Employment Possibilities?” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/tupperware may/#:~:text=How%20did%20World%20War%20II,been%20previously%20closed%20to%20women .

Sharpsteen, Ben, et al. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. RKO Radio Pictures, 1937.

“‘We Can Do It!”.” National Museum of American History , americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_538122.

23 thoughts on “ Gender Roles in the 1930s and 40s – G. Jang (Week 2) ”

This was very interesting to read. I learned many things here, but something that stood out to me was the correlation between certain media, such as the Snow White movie, during this time. I never considered the connection between that movie and societal gender roles, as women were now starting to be seen as a more integral part of society. I would like to learn more about other media including writings and movies that highlighted the changes in gender roles during this time period, and I wonder what the general reaction of box offices and movie critics was. Were men being offended by women now sharing the theater spotlight? I assume so, but I think it would be interesting to look more into this.

Hi! This was very intriguing as well as informative! I enjoyed how there was not only a focus on the problem of the master and slave, but evidence of its change. Discussing Rosie the Riveter was a great aspect to discuss but it also speaks a lot in several ways. Although her image brought light to the gender roles in society, This image should not have been a surprise or a teaching into society, instead it should have been expected or normal. This light on women’s roles just brings light to how much less emphasis there is on the power of the woman. I enjoy the film and societal examples you brought into this discussion. By relating it to everyday or popular examples it helps bring attention and understanding. Growing up we only viewed films fantasying over the dependency on men, where it became our reality. This exposed us to stereotypes and what acted as the “dorm,” and did not seem wrong. But as we grow we realize the wrong. It would be interesting to learn more about what else in society goes unnoticed and taught. This is acting upon female characters representing the “non-i” characters as men are the “i” characters.

Hi, I have not yet read Beauvoir’s text, but I found that it was very thought-provoking applying Hegel’s Master-slave dialectic to man vs. woman relationships. As a child, I have always been told that for a marriage to work, the man and the woman must make a great team (which I assumed meant equals team members). From your research, I can see that the man-woman relationship was not always that way and was facing its changes during the depression and WWII. I didn’t think that the shift in the roles started to happen that early in history. Previously, I thought that it happened in the later 20th century. Thank you for the enlightenment on this topic.

Hi, this post was very interesting to read. The inclusion of the master and slave compared to the men and women relationship was very shocking because this ties into the point that as women get more involved and become more important to society, men feel less superior like during the great depression. As slaves started becoming illegal, masters did not accept this and started feeling a loss since these people were no longer just a “non-I” compared to the master. Along with this I find it very interesting that even though the depression brought about a change to the dynamic between men and women, women still faced harsh restrictions and even with these restrictions, men felt incredibly threatened. This just shows how backwards society was not even that long ago.

De Beauvoir fused together two really important aspects of society and you did a really good job explaining their relationship. I learned something new about Snow White today, and now wonder if other Disney characters, especially princesses, have implicit meaning connected to the era in which they were made. Your inclusion of the phrase “increased dependence on women” is my favorite aspect of your post because it demonstrates how women were only called upon in critical circumstances instead of having their value recognized beforehand and given the opportunity to earn the positions in society they deserved based on the knowledge and skills acquired from their experiences. It’s so funny to me how the feelings of men were a priority over the feelings of women given there is a statement about men feeling threatened and shamed around the 1930s but I have yet to find an explanation of how women felt in a piece of writing from this time period.

I have not yet read De Beauvoir’s text, but this blog post has sparked my interest in seeing how it compares with his words as well as how I then relate this post to what he says. Looking back over the years, I feel as though there was definitely a pattern of going back and forth about women’s roles and what is appropriate and what challenged men’s societal “norms”. Even today I feel there is still some speculation to a degree.. maybe not as straightforward as in earlier times, but it is definitely still existing in our societies, just in a more hidden manner. For example, though it is normal for women to do “manly jobs” (construction, etc) and not just be housewives, working women in majority professions are paid significantly less and even treated differently simply because they are women- even if they are more qualified than their male colleagues.

I enjoyed reading your post, as you made several thought-provoking points. First, I believe that the film industry greatly reflects the current societal ways, which is why we can clearly see these ideas throughout movies produced at the time. Your reference that was made to Snow White is very fitting to the overall point that is being made. I had not previously considered this, however, Snow White is a perfect portrayal of the idea that women were not seen equal to men. Rather, women were more often seen for their physical qualities or their ability to be a caretaker. Furthermore, women were only used for “male” jobs when they were absolutely needed. While it is challenging to picture a world where women are treated so harshly and denied opportunities, these teachings highlight the progress and reformation that has occurred since.

Your post aligns with history. Prior to the early 1930’s, there are many examples of what a “real man” was. One example is when Pilgrims colonized America in 1620. There weren’t enough seats for every Pilgrim family member so only the fathers were able to have a seat while the women and children were to stand up while eating. Another example is during the times of the Roman Empire. Any womens’ testimonies were considered worthless in the first century because women weren’t regarded equal to men in the Roman law.

Change in gender roles certainly happened after the 1930s. You mentioned that women are starting to take more jobs and positions that men used to do in World War II. Back in the Roman Empire there were no women politicians and today there are plenty of women politicians. However, there are still problems. For instance, men still usually get paid higher wages compared to women when working in the same jobs even with the Equal Pay Act. Although many problems with males and females still exist, many problems in the past got resolved as well.

One thing that I didn’t know was the correlation between Snow White and the societal pressures that existed at the time the movie was released (I thought it was just a regular Disney movie). I do find it interesting, as people have mentioned, is how the gender roles were changing throughout the 1930s, but then seemed to revert back to the old roles after the war had ended. The biggest impact on the family life I can think of would be how this affected the kids of those whose fathers had went away to war, and then had to rely on their mothers for everything.

Hi! I really liked the information in your Context Research Presentation. This post really helped me to understand the information from the readings this week in an accessible way. Snow White is an excellent example of gender roles according the master slave dialectic, as “white, implying innocence and purity, is fully in her name. She also is innocent and submissive looking, tying into the theme. Overall, I enjoyed learning more about gender roles from this post.

Hello, love the topic! Firstly, I have never heard of the phrase “pink collar” until now, all you hear is “blue collar” at least in my generation. Rosie the Riveter is one of my favorite people especially for this specific topic. She is very empowering and is a legend for her poster shown in this presentation. I had never thought about Snow White like you described which is an interesting connection for gender roles. Thank you for a great presentation!

I thought it was interesting how you compared gender roles to the “Master Slave Dialect” especially when you stated that during the depression many men felt ashamed that they lost their masculinity because they were becoming more dependent on women. Furthermore, many aspects of society are dependent on each other. The excerpt and both of these context presentations prove how nothing is independent, in some way it relies on another thing, object, or idea. The Slave and the Master are dependent on each other, just like the two consciousnesses are dependent on each other.

Hello Zari! Great post…I loved the connection you made between movies such as Snow White and De Beauvoir’s text. I never really made that connection when I was reading De Beauvoir’s text, it puts a great perspective on the time period as a whole and how women were seeking new opportunities in the workplace. For me that was a very interesting and unique learning point. I would even begin to think certain aspects of De Beauvoir and Rose the Riveter’s impact can relate to the power of women in society today. Women such as Kamala Harris have taken charge in earning their way to a power position in the United States. It’s an inspiration to women in today’s age to see someone like them to have that great of an impact. Just as it was for women to see Rosie the Riveter and Snow White have that much of an impact in the 1930s and 1940s.

Hello, I thought this post was very insightful and provided deep, detailed context and background information to what women in the workforce went through in the 1930s and 1940s. Personally, the biggest realization I had from your post is what happened to women in high-paying jobs after the war. That being the fact that they were pushed out so men could get those jobs back. Looking back on history, I was fully aware that women began to take over the highest paying industries at this time. What I had not given much thought to was the idea that men began to push them out of those jobs once they came back. I think this is a concept that isn’t addressed enough when discussing this time period, and one that is important to understand, for just because women took over those jobs, it doesn’t mean they were given the respect that they deserve. Another idea that came to mind after reading your post would be what would’ve happened to those high-paying jobs if the depression and war never happened? How much longer would it have taken for women to no longer be wrongfully kept from those industries. I think this only highlights the significance of that time period, for it is hard to say how long the mistreatment would’ve gone on. Overall, I took away a lot from your post and it only opened up my thoughts even more so to how that period of time changed history forever.

Hey Zari, this was a great post highlighting the issues that the US was(and still is) facing concerning how women were being treated not only in the workplace but in society as a whole. It’s disappointing to see how the women who took up new roles during WW2 in order to support their country, ended up being casted out simply for helping their nations war efforts. I feel like the constant deprivation of opportunities for women combined with the reinforcement by men about what a woman “should be”, created a climate toxic to any woman who dared to speak against the social norm during this time. That’s why de Beauvoir’s writing really highlights the strength she showed, as producing a book like this during said time period put her at great risk. de Beauvoir definitely played a role in the uplifting of the status of women in American society, and although it has come a long way since the 1930s-40s, there are still instances where inequality is shown. But I think it’s important to look back on times where things were different, and understand what the situation was at the time in order to gain a greater appreciation of the text.

Hey Zari, This was really well put together. Additionaly i never heard of the term “Pink Collar” and i just went down a little rabitt hole reading about those. Your point about WWII really highlights just how much that war changed America. It showed that woman are more than just house wives. while womens rights have always been a pressing issue WWII really boosted up womans mentallity and made them realize they dont have to have the slave mind set any more, they are capible of being masters.

As harsh as is it may sound, without WWII and the change in roles and beliefs, who knows where we would be. There is still a problem concerning women’s rights in the US today, but the big turning point was WWII. Women are not the “slave” or house wife anymore. I really enjoyed reading what you said. Thank you Zari.

This presentation context was very informative. I like the fact how you showed how women were strong and held the home front down by making more money to provide. Women to this day still are having issues with women’s rights in the work place. Many women are indeed making strides to the fact that they are making more money than men and running fortune 500 companies.

I have never heard of the term “pink collar” until now which I believe gauges how far we have come from times like the 30s and 40s. It is interesting that as most men came back from war that women’s “usefulness” had essentially “run its course” in the eyes of society. I do not believe in the upcoming decades that women’s rights and women’s suffrage would have been a mainstream conversation without all of the help of strong women during WWII with all of the responsibility they took upon themselves. This was a great read, thank you Zari!

Hello! Thank you for the very informative post this week, Zari. It was a very interesting read, because we still see issues in the workforce today against women’s rights. Especially in terms of pay rate. I have never heard of “pink collar”, so that was something new to consider when thinking of the 30s and 40s. It provided much needed context to why women took over the workforce during WWII, and subsequently returned to the jobs they had pre-World War. Not only that, but the post provided a greater insight to how the women in the 30s and 40s impacted the conversation that we are still having today about women’s rights.

Hi! After reading your post, I realized how much these ideas about male superiority were implemented into our heads. The children’s movies we watched, the jobs women were offered, and even in war propaganda. I was surprised to hear about how often women were fed these ideas. I found the part about men being mad about women working and wanted to claim their jobs back was the craziest part. I can’t believe that they felt so superior in this world that they felt that they could sweep these jobs out from under the women’s feet. I had never heard the term “pink collar” till now, but it is truly sad to think that there was jobs set aside for just women. Women are just as tough as men and I hope one day everyone realizes that because this is still somewhat an issue in 2021.

Gender roles are one of my favorite topics to discuss especially after all of the change that has occurred over the years with these roles. Personally, I want to go into a primarily male-dominated role as an executive for a company, so reading about this post made me to excited to get rid of the term “pink collar” as one, it reinforces gender roles but also genders stereotypes using pink as the defining word for meaning “women dominated” jobs. I am glad that our society has come a long way from these terms, but women are still working to break the glass ceiling and achieve statuses more than being a “pink collar” workers.

As a child obviously none of this information ever crossed my mind, even as an adult i never read into the details or different perspective of things, such as gender roles. As a woman learning and reading about all of this its very interesting how you used snow white specifically because this is a huge representation on how a women’s role was behind and not equal to a man. While reading it made me understand that men and women to this day are not equal and if anything it would hurt men and they usually lash out if they felt emasculated. Thank you making “pink collar” more clear!

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What Kind of Work is “Masculine”?

What’s the fate of “masculinity” in a world where it’s hard for many men to achieve personal success? It’s a question we asked in the 1930s, too.

WPA mural masculinity

As many traditional forms of manual labor disappear, a lot of commentators worry about the fate of masculinity in a world where it’s hard for many men to achieve independence and personal success.

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That was also true during the Great Depression, but, as Philip Abbott explained in a 2006 paper, in some ways the 1930s created a strong, new concept of masculinity.

When huge numbers of men lost their jobs in the early ‘30s, many observers feared they were becoming feminized. Some described jobless men as “high strung” and as breaking down in tears talking with case workers. Anthropologist Margaret Mead questioned the effects on boys of a generation of fathers without an “inheritance of aggression.”

Even Franklin D. Roosevelt worried about the potential “narcotic” effects of letting men live on the dole. He sold the New Deal’s public works programs as a way to provide the unemployed with a sense of “usefulness.” Abbott writes that this was quite successful. Men took pride in planting trees and building new things, like the Children’s Zoo in Central Park.

But the kind of masculinity Roosevelt celebrated was thoroughly distinct from the kind celebrated in previous decades. He spoke of hyper-masculine “financial Titans” in withering terms, as “always ruthless, often wasteful, and frequently corrupt.”

New Deal masculinity took particular pride in collective work. In murals painted by publicly-funded artists, Abbott writes, “it is the communal and creative nature of the enterprises of lettuce-picking, paper-making, threshing, and building that the artists attempt to capture.”

Even government bureaucrats—who, in almost every other historical era, have been depicted as the precise opposite of rugged masculinity—became FDR’s “spirited bureaucratic sons,” heroically striving to put the country back to work.

Parallel to the transformation of masculinity in the political mainstream, Abbott writes, things were also changing among leftists. Floyd Dell, a radical writer who was part of the bohemian Greenwich Village scene in the 1920s, called for his comrades to transform from sex-obsessed “boy-men” to disciplined activists with “rigorous concepts of duty.”

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In the 1940s, the popular understanding of masculinity transformed again as the nation’s men went to war. In the years that followed it continued to evolve, and by the 1980s, we were once again celebrating “financial titans.”

Today, as the entire concept of the gender binary comes under increasing scrutiny, the history of the New Deal reminds us how flexible gender ideology can be when it comes to the way we think about individualism and collective work.

“Discipline can be contrasted with promiscuity and lack of will… But discipline as a male attribute can be recast as pliancy or passivity and alleged to be a feminine quality,” Abbott writes. “One of the lessons that can be learned from analysis of the 1930s is that masculinity not only includes many formulations but also that gender definition is capable of undergoing almost endless variations.”

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The Effect of Occupational Gender Stereotypes on Men’s Interest in Female-Dominated Occupations

  • Original Article
  • Published: 18 August 2016
  • Volume 76 , pages 460–472, ( 2017 )

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a research study from 1940 showed that those with more masculine jobs

  • Lauren B. Fox 1 &
  • Joan M. Barth 2  

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A great deal of research has sought to explain women’s lower interest in male-dominated occupations, but relatively little attention has been given to explaining men’s disinterest in female-dominated occupations. Examining factors that affect men’s interest in female-dominated occupations has both theoretical and practical implications. Two factors hypothesized to alter the gender-stereotype salience of an occupation were examined: occupation titles and gender-stereotyped occupation descriptions. We hypothesized that men who reported higher levels of stereotypical feminine attributes would be more interested in feminine-stereotyped occupations. College-aged participants ( N  = 1001, 791 male) enrolled in an engineering, computer science, or physics course recorded their interest in occupations with or without a feminine title and described with either feminine or masculine stereotyped skills and attributes. Participants also reported the degree to which they held stereotypical feminine attributes. Results indicated that men showed greater interest in no-title occupations, especially when masculine characteristics were used in the description. For men, self-reported levels of feminine attributes were associated with interest in occupations with feminine descriptions, primarily in the no-title condition. Women expressed more interested than did men in the occupations, but unlike men, women were equally interested in occupations with feminine and masculine descriptions. Findings are consistent with the theories of precluded interest (Cheryan 2010 ) and circumscription and compromise (Gottfredson 1981 ). It is concluded that a key for attracting men to female-dominated vocations may be to provide opportunities for men to consider an occupation in ways that prevent or disrupt comparison to traditional stereotypic archetypes.

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The research presented was conducted for L. B. Fox’s undergraduate Psychology Honors Thesis at the University of Alabama. Mark Klinger and Edward Merrill provided helpful advice during the development of the thesis. The Institute for Social Science Research and its staff were instrumental in collecting the data. Preliminary findings were presented at the 2012 Conference for the Association of Psychological Science, Chicago, Illinois.

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Fox, L.B., Barth, J.M. The Effect of Occupational Gender Stereotypes on Men’s Interest in Female-Dominated Occupations. Sex Roles 76 , 460–472 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-016-0673-3

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Masculinity and Leadership Effectiveness (Self-)Perceptions: The Case of Lesbian Leaders

Soraya elizabeth shamloo.

1 Faculty of Medicine, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Viale A. Allegri 9, 42121 Reggio Emilia, Italy

Valeria De Cristofaro

2 Department of Social and Developmental Psychology, Sapienza University of Rome, Via dei Marsi 78, 00185 Rome, Italy

Valerio Pellegrini

Marco salvati.

3 Department of Human Sciences, University of Verona, Lungadige Porta Vittoria, 17, 37129 Verona, Italy

Associated Data

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author, upon reasonable request.

In line with the gay glass ceiling effect, sexual minorities are often target of discrimination within work-related contexts, thus potentially undermining their wellbeing at work. For gay men, discrimination may partially be attributed to gay men’s stereotypical feminine perception, which does not fit with the stereotypically masculine traits required for leadership positions. Yet, when considering lesbian women, the masculine stereotypical view associated with them may come to represent an advantage in work-related contexts, especially when compared to heterosexual women. In Study 1, N = 303 heterosexual participants rated a lesbian vs. a heterosexual woman as a job candidate on stereotypical gender (masculine vs. feminine) traits as well as leadership effectiveness. Results showed that being lesbian was associated with higher levels of masculinity (but not femininity), which in turn was related to high leadership effectiveness. In Study 2, N = 268 lesbian and heterosexual women rated themselves on the same measures. Results showed that both groups associated masculine traits with enhanced leadership effectiveness. These studies provide a better comprehension regarding how lesbian women may be perceived in work-related contexts and shed light on the role played by gender stereotypical perceptions in shaping both heterosexual and lesbian perceptions of leadership effectiveness.

1. Introduction

It is well known that sexual minorities are often the targets of discrimination [ 1 , 2 ]. Indeed, as part of a minority group, gay and lesbian individuals are not uncommonly discriminated against and, despite recent fights for equal rights worldwide, they still face social barriers [ 3 ]. One context in which sexual minorities face discrimination is the workplace [ 4 , 5 ]. Several studies have highlighted that living to your full potential at work and working in an inclusive and serene working environment are aspects positively associated with job satisfaction, which is a domain-specific facet of wellbeing, often referred to as ‘job-related’ wellbeing [ 6 , 7 ]. Few studies have focused on the wellbeing of sexual minorities in work-related contexts, showing that sexual minorities felt that their sexual identity could affect their career choices [ 8 , 9 , 10 ]. LGBTQ+ people with a positive self-image [ 11 , 12 ] might feel less constrained and pursue careers which they feel more drawn to and are of greater interest to them [ 13 , 14 , 15 ].

There are several ways in which minority–majority imbalance is perpetuated in the workplace. For example, some researchers have suggested that the modalities in which decision-making bodies are created may contribute to gender imbalance [ 16 ]. In addition, minorities such as LBGTQ+ individuals may experience resistance within the workplace, especially from those who undermine the importance of diversity at work. This is likely due to general confusion regarding why LGBTQ+ diversity is important within a work context [ 17 ], which may ultimately lead to a backlash—that form of resistance “to something that has gained, or is growing in popularity, importance, or power” [ 18 ] (p. 38). Resistance to change processes within work environments may also reveal itself through additional mechanisms (see [ 19 ] for a discussion), which include avoiding responsibility, blaming the disadvantaged, and assuming that there are more important priorities to deal with [ 20 ].

Importantly, the way in which individuals are perceived by society also plays a role in minorities being discriminated against in the workplace. As a case in point, the stereotypical belief that sees gay men as holding feminine, communal traits [ 21 , 22 ] and not embodying the masculine, agentic traits typically required for leadership positions [ 23 ] generally leads to discrimination towards this group. Similarly, the lack of masculine traits also represents one of the main reasons women are generally discriminated against when aiming for leadership positions [ 24 ]. Indeed, women are typically described as possessing stereotypically feminine, communal characteristics, which do not overlap with the masculine characteristics often associated with managerial positions. This likely prevents women and gay men from accessing leadership positions [ 25 , 26 , 27 ], in line with the so-called glass ceiling effect [ 28 , 29 , 30 ].

What about women pertaining to a sexual minority group as homosexuals? As far as the workplace environment is concerned, lesbian women represent a minority group (i.e., a sexual minority) within a potential minority group (i.e., women). Indeed, several work environments are known to be male dominated. In this specific case, the aforementioned situation may be perceived as a “double jeopardy” or “intersectional invisibility”, which describes the cumulative disadvantage experienced by people with multiple intersecting identities [ 31 , 32 ], and it represents an important aspect to consider within work environments and specifically when considering leadership positions.

It may be reasonable to think that the multiple disadvantaged identities lesbian women carry with them may on the one hand hinder their work-related success when considering leadership positions [ 33 ]. On the other hand, research shows that lesbian women are usually described as having stereotypically masculine, agentic traits [ 22 , 34 , 35 ], which partially overlap with the general masculine view associated with leadership positions. Based on these findings, one may put forward that this stereotypical view may offer lesbian women a chance of being perceived as more effective in leadership positions compared to heterosexual women. This will be investigated in the present research.

Indeed, while several studies so far have investigated how gay men are perceived in the workplace and specifically in leadership positions [ 27 , 36 , 37 , 38 ], less attention has been devoted to understanding whether lesbian women are perceived as efficient in leadership positions (but see [ 33 , 39 ]), as well as to the study of lesbians’ own perceptions of leadership effectiveness [ 40 ]. Focusing on this line of research is of extreme importance, since it would help better clarify the peculiar intersection between gender and sexual orientation that is present in the case of lesbian women. Indeed, especially as far as the workplace is concerned, lesbian women represent a discriminated minority group within another possible minority group and should thus be better investigated.

To reach this aim, we specifically focused on how the attribution of masculine (e.g., competence, dominance) and feminine (e.g., affection, supportiveness) traits play a role in shaping heterosexual individuals’ perceptions of lesbian women’s leadership effectiveness (Study 1), as well as on lesbian and heterosexual women’s self-perception of leadership effectiveness (Study 2).

1.1. Gender Stereotypes in the Workplace: The Case of Lesbian Women

When referring to men and women, society usually promotes specific gender-stereotypical perceptions which indicate how individuals should think and behave. Thus, stereotypical expectations define individuals by shaping the way people describe men and women [ 41 ]. Specifically, men are usually seen as more agentic (masculine) while women, on the contrary, are usually perceived as having communal (feminine) traits [ 42 , 43 , 44 ]. The term agency is usually conceptualized as including specific characteristics, such as achievement-orientation (e.g., competence), inclination to take charge (e.g., dominance), inclination to autonomy (e.g., independence) and rationality (e.g., objectivity). Differing from agency, communality entails concern for others (e.g., caring), affiliative tendencies (e.g., warmth), respect, and emotional sensitivity [ 45 ]. Importantly, these two components (i.e., agency and communality) are not mutually exclusive, given that high levels of one component do not necessarily mean low levels of the other component [ 46 ].

The difference between the general stereotypical beliefs held by society about men and women carries important negative consequences for the latter group when considering work environments and specifically leadership positions. According to the lack-of-fit model [ 47 ], this is mainly because leadership is often associated with masculinity and agency [ 23 , 48 ], characteristics which are typically thought to be lacking in women. Consequentially, women are often considered less able to hold managerial positions [ 49 ] compared to men, specifically because they are stereotyped as less agentic [ 25 , 26 ].

Back in the late 1980s, researchers started to question this model when considering sexual minorities, suggesting that this view may not hold for gay men and lesbian women. According to the “Gender Inversion Theory” [ 21 , 22 ], gay and lesbian individuals would be perceived as more similar to heterosexual individuals of the opposite gender; that is, lesbian women should be seen as more masculine, and gay men as more feminine. Indeed, research has shown that women who hold more masculine (i.e., agentic) traits are usually perceived to be lesbian, while males who have more feminine (i.e., communal) traits are likely to be perceived as gay [ 50 , 51 ]. In line with this reasoning, and with regard to work environments, lesbian female managers may be thought to partially hold similar traits to heterosexual male managers [ 23 , 48 ].

Yet, while several studies to date have investigated the perceptions of gay males in leadership positions, less is known about how lesbians are perceived in work environments, especially in leadership positions. Studies focusing on job competence suggest an existing advantage for lesbian women compared to heterosexual women [ 39 ], and similar results were also found when focusing on job hireability (e.g., [ 52 , 53 , 54 , 55 ]). Other studies specifically focusing on leadership positions have suggested the opposite [ 33 , 56 ]. These studies have mainly relied on voice cues associated with a lesbian vs. heterosexual potential job candidate and showed that heterosexual participants rated lesbian candidates as less adequate for leadership positions compared to their heterosexual counterparts. Yet, these studies specifically focused on voice as a cue to sexual orientation, which is known to be difficult to identify, rather than accurate detection of speakers’ sexual orientation. Indeed, individuals are much more accurate at identifying the speakers’ sexual orientation when heterosexual compared to lesbian voices are presented, thus indicating that several participants may not have been fully aware of the candidate’s sexual orientation. Nevertheless, these studies are extremely relevant as they indicate that voice indeed conveys meaning and guides first impressions. In addition, given that sexual orientation is not openly stated in work contexts, focusing on voice evaluation is extremely important as it may resemble real-life situations which individuals likely face when encountering (e.g., by phone) sexual minorities. In sum, these studies provide an insight into how such voice cues related to sexual orientation are perceived by society, and how these shape work-related decisions in terms of hireability and job suitability.

In sum, given the mixed findings, further studies are needed to better comprehend how lesbian women are perceived in work positions such as leadership positions. This research might contribute to filling this gap.

1.2. The Present Research

The main aim of the present set of studies was to investigate perceptions of lesbians’ leadership effectiveness by heterosexual individuals (Study 1), as well as lesbian women’s self-perception of leadership effectiveness (Study 2). Previous studies show that successful leaders are perceived to hold stereotypically masculine (vs. feminine) traits [ 23 , 33 , 36 , 37 , 38 , 48 ] and that, in general, lesbian women are stereotypically perceived as more masculine compared to heterosexual women [ 21 , 22 , 57 ]. Putting these findings together, lesbian women, compared to heterosexual female individuals, might be perceived as more effective because they are generally perceived to be more masculine compared to heterosexual women [ 39 , 58 ]. In other words, since lesbian women are generally perceived and seen as more masculine compared to heterosexual women, this may in turn positively affect the perception of lesbian leaders as more effective (Study 1). We asked if this rationale could also be extended to lesbian women’s self-perceptions. In other words, we aimed to understand whether masculinity may also be associated with how lesbian women perceive themselves in terms of leadership effectiveness, and whether this relation differed between lesbian and heterosexual women (Study 2).

By specifically assessing both an outgroup’s (heterosexual) perception and lesbian women’s self-perception of leadership effectiveness, we aimed to provide two different points of view (i.e., an outgroup and the self) to reach a better understanding of the role of gender stereotypes in shaping leadership effectiveness perception.

For Study 1, we hypothesized that both male and female heterosexual participants would evaluate lesbian women (compared to heterosexual women) as holding more stereotypically masculine traits [ 21 , 22 , 34 , 35 , 59 ] (Hypothesis 1a), which in turn would be associated with higher levels of leadership effectiveness [ 23 , 48 ] (Hypothesis 1b). In addition, we put forward that stereotypically masculine traits would mediate the relation between the leader’s sexual orientation and her leadership effectiveness (Hypothesis 1c).

In order to reach a better understanding of the role played by gender-stereotypical traits in shaping leadership effectiveness perception, in addition to masculinity, we also exploratively tested the role played by feminine traits.

Male and female heterosexual participants were asked to read either a description of a 34-year-old heterosexual woman named Mary or a description of Mary, a 34-year-old lesbian woman. In other words, we manipulated Mary’s sexual orientation. Participants then evaluated Mary on a series of stereotypically masculine traits and stereotypically feminine traits, as well as Mary’s leadership effectiveness.

2.1. Method

2.1.1. participants.

Three hundred and eight participants residing in the United Kingdom took part in the study. Sample size was established through a power analysis designed for models including two parallel mediators. The analysis was performed with an R application entailing a Monte Carlo simulation approach [ 60 ]. We estimated statistical power by setting a conventional power threshold of 0.80 and expected correlation equal to 0.25 among the predictor, mediators, and criterion. We also opted for a large total number of power analysis replications (5000) and wide Monte Carlo draws per replication (20,000). A minimum sample size of 250 participants yielded a statistical power of 0.83 (95% CI = 0.82, 0.84).

Five participants were eliminated because they had stated they were not heterosexual. The final sample comprised three hundred and three participants aged between 18 and 74 ( M age = 35.23, SD = 11.72). Regarding self-reported gender, 151 participants were female, 152 were male. Participants were randomly assigned to one of two experimental conditions; namely, either to the lesbian woman leader condition ( n = 152) or to the heterosexual woman leader condition ( n = 151).

2.1.2. Procedures

Participants were recruited via Prolific and received monetary compensation for taking part in the research. Before answering the questionnaire, potential respondents were asked to provide consent to participate in the study and to the aggregated use of their data. Following the demographic section of the questionnaire, participants were asked to read either a description of Mary, a 34-year-old heterosexual woman, or a description of another Mary, a 34-year-old lesbian woman. The sexual orientation of the candidate was clearly stated in her description as well as conveyed by giving participants information regarding the gender of the candidate’s partner. Participants were told that the description regarded Mary’s interests and hobbies and main personality characteristics (see Appendix A for Mary’s complete description). Thus, we manipulated Mary’s sexual orientation while all of the other characteristics of Mary’s description remained identical across the two conditions. They were also told that they were going to answer some questions about Mary on the following pages.

2.1.3. Measures

Gender - stereotypical traits . Respondents were asked to rate Mary on stereotypically masculine and feminine traits. For this purpose, participants were provided with ten adjectives, five of which represented stereotypically masculine traits (i.e., dominant, competent, independent, assertive, self-confident) and five traits which were considered stereotypically feminine (i.e., supportive, affectionate, sensitive, warm, caring). Participants were asked to rate Mary on these traits on a scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 7 (completely). These adjectives were selected from existing measures used in previous studies [ 27 , 59 ]. Cronbach’s alpha was 0.64 for the masculine traits and 0.84 for the feminine traits.

Leadership Effectiveness . The participants responded to the 10-item scale developed by Hais et al., [ 61 ] (see Appendix B ), which was readapted for our study as already carried out in previous studies on gay leadership [ 27 , 36 , 38 ]. Participants were asked to rate the perceived effectiveness of Mary as a leader on a 7-point scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree): “Mary has the qualities for good leadership”, or “Mary would be an effective leader”. The scores for each item were averaged to form a composite score of leadership effectiveness, where higher scores indicated higher effectiveness. Cronbach’s alpha for this measure was 0.96.

In addition to these measures, participants were asked to provide additional information such as age, gender, and political orientation on a 7-point scale from 1 (extremely liberal) to 7 (extremely conservative).

Results of Study 1 are presented in Figure 1 . Preliminary analysis confirmed that our manipulation was effective. Among respondents only n = 2, which is less than 0.7% of the sample, did not respond correctly when asked to indicate Mary’s sexual orientation, by indicating ‘heterosexual’ when Mary was presented as ‘lesbian’ or vice versa.

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is ijerph-19-17026-g001.jpg

Proposed mediation model. Note . *** p < 0.001; * p < 0.05; Standardized coefficients are reported. c′ = direct effect of sexual orientation on leadership effectiveness; c = total effect of sexual orientation on leadership effectiveness.

Descriptive statistics were performed using the software SPSS, version 21 [ 62 ]. The mediation model was tested through the PROCESS macro [ 63 ] with analyses involving 5000 bootstrapping samples with 95% confidence intervals. Gender, age, and political orientation were controlled for. In the regression model, (Mary’s) sexual orientation (homosexual = +1; heterosexual = −1) was the predictor, stereotypically masculine and feminine traits were the parallel mediators, and perceived leadership effectiveness was the outcome variable.

As predicted, and in line with Hypothesis 1a, Mary’s homosexual orientation was associated with a higher attribution of masculine traits (B = 0.17; SE = 0.07, p = 0.019, 95% CI: 0.0286, 0.3128). In addition, we found that sexual orientation was not associated with feminine traits (B = 0.01; SE = 0.08, p = 0.90, 95% CI: −0.1456, 0.1665).

In turn, as expected, masculine traits were associated with more leadership effectiveness (B = 0.45, SE = 0.07, p < 0.001; 95% CI: 0.3067, 0.5964), which was in line with Hypothesis 1b. Feminine traits were also associated with more perceived leadership effectiveness in our sample (B = 0.49; SE = 0.07, p < 0.001, 95% CI: 0.3549, 0.6187).

As predicted, there was a significant indirect effect of sexual orientation on leadership effectiveness through more stereotypically masculine traits, confirming Hypothesis 1c (B = 0.08, SE(boot) = 0.04, 95% CI: 0.0126, 0.1606), while stereotypically feminine traits did not prove to be a significant mediator, (B = 0.01, SE(boot) = 0.04, 95% CI: −0.0718, 0.0843). The total effect of sexual orientation on leadership effectiveness was significant (B = 0.20, SE = 0.10, p = 0.042, 95% CI: 0.0077, 0.4012), while the direct effect did not prove to be significant, suggesting full mediation (B = 0.12, SE = 0.08, p = 0.13, 95% CI: −0.0343, 0.2789).

In Study 1, we focused on male and female heterosexual individuals’ perceptions of lesbian (vs. female heterosexual) leader effectiveness and found that the relationship between sexual orientation and leadership effectiveness was mediated by masculine, agentic traits. Thus, heterosexual individuals tended to perceive lesbian individuals as more effective as a leader because of the stereotypically masculine traits attributed to them. Given the results found in Study 1 concerning the importance of stereotypically masculine characteristics in the relationship between sexual orientation and perception of effectiveness as a leader, in Study 2 we aimed to expand these findings by also investigating heterosexual and lesbian participants’ own perception of masculinity and leadership effectiveness. We were specifically interested in testing whether self-perception of stereotypically masculine traits was also associated with self-perceived leadership effectiveness. Additionally, we wondered whether this relation differed between lesbians and heterosexual women.

We hypothesized that, in general, holding stereotypically masculine traits would also be associated with higher levels of leadership effectiveness when considering the self (Hypothesis 1), based on research showing how such traits are typically associated with leadership positions. In addition, we also investigated whether this relation could have been moderated by participants’ sexual orientation.

Indeed, as Study 1 indicated, society usually perceives lesbian women as more masculine [ 21 , 22 , 34 , 35 ] and being masculine leads to higher assessment of leadership effectiveness [ 23 , 48 ]. However, it is not known whether the stereotypical image of masculinity that is strongly associated with lesbians may be considered positively by this group. In other words, no research has yet investigated whether lesbian individuals would also consider their own masculinity traits to be a source of leadership effectiveness. Study 2 aimed to fill this gap. Specifically, given the lack of literature on this idea, we aimed to test two alternative hypotheses. On the one hand, we might expect both lesbian and heterosexual women to have internalized the stereotypes related to masculinity and its association with leadership effectiveness, applying it to themselves with no differences (Hypothesis 2a: absence of moderation). On the other hand, we could hypothesize that exposure to gender stereotypes that want lesbian women to be stereotypically masculine makes them more sensitive than straight women to associating their stereotypically masculine characteristics with leadership effectiveness. In this case, we would expect a stronger relationship between their own masculine characteristics and leadership effectiveness in lesbian women, compared to heterosexual women (Hypothesis 2b).

4.1. Method

4.1.1. participants.

Two hundred and sixty-eight female participants residing in the United Kingdom took part in the online study. The sample size was established with an a priori power analysis by means of G*power software. The model tests an interaction between one dichotomous and one continuous variable, controlling for three covariates. Thus, we ran the analysis by setting a small f 2 of 0.03, a conventional power threshold of 0.80 and an error probability of 0.05. With one tested predictor (i.e., the interaction) on a total of six (i.e., two main effects, the interaction, and three covariates), the analysis revealed a minimum sample size of 264 participants.

Respondents were aged between 18 and 69 ( M age = 31.97, SD = 10.85). Regarding self-reported sexual orientation, 140 were heterosexual women, and 128 were lesbian women.

4.1.2. Procedure

Participants were recruited via Prolific and received monetary compensation for taking part in the research. Since being female and heterosexual or homosexual was a necessary requirement for the study, only participants who had previously stated their heterosexual/homosexual orientation and female gender were invited to participate in the study. Before answering the questionnaire, potential respondents were asked to provide consent to participate in the study and to the aggregated use of their data. Following the demographic section, individuals answered questions about themselves which were presented as personality questions as well as questions about their perception of their own leadership effectiveness.

4.1.3. Measures

Gender stereotypical traits. Respondents were asked to rate themselves by scoring same ten traits used in Study 1. As in Study 1, participants were provided with ten adjectives, five of which represented stereotypically masculine, agentic traits (e.g., dominant, competent) and five traits which were considered stereotypically feminine or communal (e.g., supportive, affectionate). Participants were asked to rate how suitable each of the characteristics were in describing their personality on a scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 7 (completely). Cronbach’s alpha was 0.72 for the stereotypically masculine traits and 0.85 for the stereotypically feminine traits.

Leadership Effectiveness. The participants responded to the same 10-item scale used in Study 1 (adapted by Hais et al., [ 61 ] and already used in [ 27 ]). Participants were asked to rate their perceived effectiveness as a leader on a 7-point scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). Example items include: “I have the qualities for being a good leader”, and “I would be an effective leader”. Scores were averaged to form a composite score of leadership effectiveness, where higher scores indicated higher effectiveness. Cronbach’s alpha for this measure was 0.95.

As in Study 1, in addition to the above-mentioned studies, participants were asked to provide additional information such as age, gender, and political orientation on a 7-point scale from 1 (extremely liberal) to 7 (extremely conservative).

Analyses were performed using the software SPSS, version 21 [ 62 ]. To test whether perceiving oneself as masculine was associated with self-perceived leadership effectiveness, and whether this relation was moderated by sexual orientation, a simple moderation analysis was performed using the PROCESS macro [ 63 ]. Masculinity was entered as a predictor variable in the model, leadership effectiveness was the dependent variable, and sexual orientation (coded 0 = heterosexual and 1 = lesbian) was the moderator. We controlled for age, political orientation, and feminine traits.

Results showed that the model was significant: R ² = 0.44, F (6, 261) = 34.45, p < 0.001. Specifically, we found a significant and positive main effect of perception of masculinity on leadership self-effectiveness ( B = 0.80, SE = 0.09, p < 0.001, 95% CI: 0.6305, 0.9662). Therefore, self-attribution of masculine traits was associated with higher levels of effectiveness as a leader for both lesbian and heterosexual participants. Importantly, the interaction between masculinity and sexual orientation did not prove to be significant, thus showing that sexual orientation did not moderate the relationship between masculinity and own leadership effectiveness ( B = −0.06, SE = 0.12. p = 0.64, 95% CI −0.3075, 0.1902). This clarified that perceiving oneself as having more masculine traits was associated to more positive leadership self-perception regardless of one’s own sexual orientation. Further analyses not central to our hypotheses are presented as Supplementary Materials .

6. Discussion

Despite fights for equal rights worldwide, many groups, including sexual minorities, still face discrimination in the workplace [ 4 , 5 ]. These groups may experience resistance from majority groups through different mechanisms ([ 19 ] for a discussion), including avoiding responsibility, blaming the disadvantaged, and assuming that more important priorities should gain attention [ 20 ]. Importantly, the way in which individuals are viewed by society, in terms of gender-stereotypical traits [ 23 , 33 , 36 , 37 , 38 , 48 ] may also play a role in perpetrating discrimination within working environments. The present research was intended to address if and how gender stereotypes are associated with efficacy perceptions regarding lesbian individuals as leaders by the heterosexual majority, as well lesbian women’s self-perceptions as leaders. Specifically, the present research aimed at expanding the breadth of studies on leadership effectiveness by specifically considering lesbian leaders. To achieve this aim, two studies were carried out with the specific aim of better understanding what leads lesbian women to be perceived as effective in leadership positions by heterosexual individuals (Study 1), as well as lesbians’ self-perception of leadership effectiveness (Study 2).

In general, and in line with the “Gender Inversion Theory” [ 21 ], we hypothesized that lesbian women would tend to be regarded as effective because they are believed to possess stereotypically masculine traits to a higher degree than heterosexual women. Study 1 supported our hypothesis. Lesbian women tended to be considered as more stereotypically masculine compared to heterosexual women, which in turn was associated with more positive evaluations of lesbian leaders in terms of effectiveness. These results support previous studies showing how lesbian women are perceived as more masculine compared to heterosexual women [ 21 , 22 , 34 , 35 ] as well as research suggesting that masculine traits are associated with leadership effectiveness [ 23 , 48 ]. In sum, our results hint at the fact that lesbian leaders may indeed be regarded as more effective compared to heterosexual women because they are likely considered to be in line with the prototypical masculine, agentic leader [ 39 , 58 ].

Additional exploratory analyses of Study 1 also showed that stereotypical feminine traits were also associated with leadership effectiveness. This may suggest that in order to be effective, female candidates should also possess gender conforming traits. In sum, results suggest that the concept of a good leader does not only stem from regarding lesbian women as holding masculine traits but also from them having feminine traits, thus by also conforming to gender-stereotypical roles. This is in line with previous studies suggesting that to be perceived as a good leader, women should not undermine their feminine, communal aspects and thus not break gender roles [ 52 , 64 ]. For example, Niedlich and colleagues [ 52 ] showed that lesbian women, compared to heterosexual women, tend to be perceived as more competent in a job interview when they display behavior that follows gender roles (i.e., behavior typically associated with women). Niedlich’s results demonstrate the possibility of a lesbian advantage specifically when a cue regarding a traditional female gender role is presented prior to the candidate’s evaluation. Our results are also in line with studies showing how lesbian female managers are seen in ways consistent with heterosexual men, but also have something in common with heterosexual women [ 23 ], and thus that having communal traits rather than only masculine, agentic traits is important for leadership positions.

Altogether, the results of Study 1 agree with other studies suggesting the possible advantage held by lesbians compared to heterosexual women in job contexts. However, our results should be taken with caution since studies have also suggested that this advantage may depend on additional factors which could interact with sexual orientation, such as the applicant’s gender role conformity (i.e., feminine behavior) or the gender type of jobs—that is, the extent to which a job is associated with stereotypically masculine or feminine traits [ 52 , 53 , 58 ] in line with the lack-of-fit model [ 47 ].

What about lesbian and heterosexual women’s self-perception? Our study also explored self-perception and its relationship with leadership effectiveness. Indeed, by also taking into consideration self-perception of leadership effectiveness, we addressed our aim of extending knowledge regarding lesbian leadership effectiveness. Research shows that in organizational contexts different identities often merge (e.g., lesbian and leader) into a sense of being and are both salient for individuals [ 65 ]. These results clarify some of the variables associated to a positive (self-)perception as a leader. Specifically, this study helped to understand whether stereotypical gender traits would be differently perceived, as regard to their importance for leadership effectiveness, by heterosexual and lesbian individuals. Study 2 showed that the relationship between self-ratings regarding stereotypical gender traits and leadership effectiveness did not differ between heterosexual and lesbian women. Specifically, the more stereotypically masculine lesbian and heterosexual women rated themselves, the more effective as leaders they perceived themselves to be. Although not central to our hypothesis, Study 2 also provided evidence for the importance of stereotypically feminine traits for leadership effectiveness, which was in line with Study 1. We found that for both heterosexual and lesbian women, there was a significant relationship between stereotypically feminine traits and leadership effectiveness, once again providing evidence for the fact that to be perceived (Study 1) as well as to perceive oneself (Study 2) as effective, lesbian women should still retain some feminine traits.

Limitation and Future Research Directions

This study is not free from limitations. First, we did not consider different job descriptions in Study 1. In other words, we asked participants to rate leadership effectiveness in general, without focusing on a specific stereotypically masculine vs. stereotypically feminine job. Masculine and feminine traits may be perceived differently according to the female- or male-dominated job context. Thus, considering stereotypically masculine vs. feminine jobs could help clarify whether lesbian leaders compared to heterosexual candidates may generally be perceived as more effective as a leader in certain job areas compared to others. Thus, future studies might consider this situational factor too.

Second, the sample from Study 1 only included heterosexual individuals, yet it could be interesting to investigate lesbian individuals’ perception of their own ingroup, both in terms of stereotypical traits and leadership effectiveness. Thus, future studies should also explore the ingroup perspective to develop a clear picture of the population’s perspective on lesbian leadership effectiveness.

Third, our study included personal information about the candidate (i.e., sexual orientation), which is not usually disclosed in hiring situations. Thus, future studies should also rely on other cues which may hint to the sexual orientation of the candidate without directly disclosing it, as other studies (e.g., [ 33 ]) have started to do (e.g., voice but also visual recognition which may together enhance the possibility of correctly identifying the sexual orientation of the candidate).

Another point which needs further investigation regards whether lesbian women’s internalized sexual stigma could also play a role in participants’ self-perception of effectiveness as a leader. Indeed, previous studies on gay men have shown that individuals with high levels of internalized stigma report less self-perceived effectiveness as leaders [ 27 ]. Similar results may be found among lesbian women, yet no study has investigated this aspect so far. Future studies should fill this gap.

Last but not least, a further important direction of research focusing on sexual minority members’ leadership might be a better inclusion of all the people that characterize the LGBTQ+ acronym. Indeed, social psychological research which addresses LGBTQ+ issues often focuses on gay men, leaving out not only lesbian women, but especially bisexual and trans people [ 2 ]. This is often due to difficulty reach these very specific targets of population, leading them to be invisible and ignored.

7. Conclusions

Further research on LGBTQ+ leadership is recommended as it has several research and applicative implications. Studies like this can provide novel insights about the key role of gender stereotypes in organizational contexts, where leadership characteristics are determinant in the hiring processes for managerial positions. Gender and sexual minority individuals who internalize such stereotypes by associating leadership with masculine characteristics might avoid applying for such positions, with the consequence of reducing their career expectations, while strengthening and perpetuating the gay glass ceiling effect. Being aware of these stereotypes, for instance by introducing diversity management programs in companies and organizations, could represent a useful strategy to contrast prejudice, making access to leadership positions within reach for all people who aim for them. However, according to Hill [ 18 ], in order to be effective, diversity management programs should consider different aspects which should, among others, include (a) defining diversity by considering individuals of all demographic groups; and (b) moving from policies focused on tolerance to policies centered on celebration of all people. This aspect is crucial since tolerance may convey the information that some individuals indeed have the authority not to tolerate ([ 66 ] cited in [ 18 ]). In addition, focusing on tolerance may somehow place the “dominant group at the center, and “Others” on the margins” [ 18 ] (p. 48). Hill also stresses the importance of relying on behaviors, communications, events, tasks, and organizational recreational opportunities which include every single employee. In this way, sexual minorities would feel free to live to their own full potential at work and pursue the careers to which they aspire, contributing to their job satisfaction and wellbeing.

Supplementary Materials

The following are available online at https://www.mdpi.com/article/10.3390/ijerph192417026/s1 .

Mary’s description.

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is ijerph-19-17026-g0A1.jpg

Lesbian condition.

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is ijerph-19-17026-g0A2.jpg

Heterosexual condition.

The following items were used to assess leadership effectiveness in Study 1 (adapted from [ 61 ] Hais et al., 1997). Items used in Study 2 were identical but asked participants to rate themselves.

  • (1) Mary has the qualities for being a good leader
  • (2) Mary’s image matches with the image of a good leader
  • (3) Mary would behave as a leader should
  • (4) Mary would be an effective leader
  • (5) I like Mary as a leader
  • (6) Overall, Mary would be a good leader
  • (7) I support Mary as a leader
  • (8) I endorse Mary as a leader
  • (9) Other people would be willing to defer to Mary
  • (10) Other people would be influenced by Mary

Funding Statement

The research was funded by a ‘Seedcorn Grant’ of the European Association of Social Psychology (EASP), won by Marco Salvati on 3 December 2020.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, M.S., V.D.C., V.P.; methodology, M.S., V.D.C., V.P., S.E.S.; software, V.D.C.; validation, M.S., V.D.C., V.P., S.E.S.; formal analysis, S.E.S.; investigation, M.S., V.D.C., V.P.; resources, M.S., V.D.C., V.P., S.E.S.; data curation, S.E.S., V.D.C.; writing—original draft preparation, S.E.S., M.S.; writing—review and editing, M.S., V.D.C., V.P., S.E.S.; visualization, S.E.S.; supervision, M.S.; project administration, M.S.; funding acquisition, M.S. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.

Institutional Review Board Statement

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed Consent Statement

Informed consent was obtained from all subjects involved in the study.

Data Availability Statement

Conflicts of interest.

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Publisher’s Note: MDPI stays neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Overdoing Gender: A Test of the Masculine Overcompensation Thesis

a research study from 1940 showed that those with more masculine jobs

The masculine overcompensation thesis asserts that men react to masculinity threats with extreme demonstrations of masculinity, a proposition tested here across four studies. In study 1, men and women were randomly given feedback suggesting they were either masculine or feminine. Women showed no effects when told they were masculine; however, men given feedback suggesting they were feminine expressed more support for war, homophobic attitudes, and interest in purchasing an SUV. Study 2 found that threatened men expressed greater support for, and desire to advance in, dominance hierarchies. Study 3 showed in a large-scale survey on a diverse sample that men who reported that social changes threatened the status of men also reported more homophobic and predominance attitudes, support for war, and belief in male superiority. Finally, study 4 found that higher testosterone men showed stronger reactions to masculinity threats than those lower in testosterone. Together, these results support the masculine overcompensation thesis, show how it can shape political and cultural attitudes, and identify a hormonal factor influencing the effect.


Evidence That Gendered Wording in Job Advertisements Exists and Sustains Gender Inequality

Job advertisements that use masculine wording are less appealing to women..

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Cite this Article

Gaucher, Danielle, Justin Friesen, and Aaron C. Key. "Evidence That Gendered Wording in Job Advertisements Exists and Sustains Gender Inequality." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 101.1 (2011): 109-28.

Gaucher, D., Friesen, J., & Key, A. C. (2011). Evidence That Gendered Wording in Job Advertisements Exists and Sustains Gender Inequality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(1), 109-128.

Gaucher, Danielle, Justin Friesen, and Aaron C. Key. "Evidence That Gendered Wording in Job Advertisements Exists and Sustains Gender Inequality." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 101, no. 1 (January 2011): 109-28.

Danielle Gaucher

Justin friesen, aaron c. kay.

  • Introduction
  • Methodology

Women continue to remain underrepresented in male-dominated fields such as engineering, the natural sciences, and business. Research has identified a range of individual factors such as beliefs and stereotypes that affect these disparities but less is documented around institutional factors that perpetuate gender inequalities within the social structure itself (e.g., public policy or law). These institutional factors can also influence people’s perceptions and attitudes towards women in these fields, as well as other individual factors.

Here, the authors propose that one institutional mechanism that might contribute to fewer women in traditionally male-dominated job is gendered wording used in job recruitment materials. Since 1973, job advertisements are no longer allowed to advertise specifically for men or women or use pronouns such as he or she. However, gender preferences can still be conveyed with more subtle cues such as traits and stereotypes typically associated with certain genders. For example, words such as competitive, dominant or leader are associated with male stereotypes, while words such as support, understand and interpersonal are associated with female stereotypes. Including gendered words in job advertisements could make the position seem less appealing to a certain gender, thereby limiting the applicant pool for these jobs.

Using two archival analyses and three experiments, the study examines whether gendered wording commonly employed in job recruitment materials helps maintain gender inequality in traditionally male-dominated occupations by affecting individuals perceptions of those occupations (e.g., how appealing they find the position).

Women were less likely to believe they belonged in a particular job when the advertisement used masculine wording, and they rated masculine jobs as less appealing:

  • Job ads for male-dominated occupations used greater masculine wording (words associated with male stereotypes) than advertisements for female-dominated occupations among professionals (97% vs.70%) and college students (1.12% vs. 0.91%).
  • There was no significant difference in the presence of feminine wording (words associated with female stereotypes) across male- or female-dominated occupations among professionals (57% vs. 67%) or students (0.67% vs. 0.65%).

Identical job ads that used more masculine than feminine wording affected perceptions of gender diversity, job appeal, and anticipated belongingness but not of personal ability.

  • Job ads using more masculine wording were perceived by both men and women to have fewer women in the occupation than the same ad using more feminine wording (43% vs. 49%), regardless of whether they were male- or female-dominated occupations.
  • Job ads using more masculine wording were perceived by women to be less appealing than the same ads using more feminine wording (4.16 vs. 4.50 on a 6-point scale), regardless of whether they were male- or female-dominated occupations.
  • Job ads using masculine wording were perceived by men to be more appealing than the same ads using feminine wording (4.61 vs. 4.22), showing the opposite pattern to female participants, but it was not significantly different. 
  • Job ads using more masculine wording led women to have a lower sense that they would belong in the position or company than the same ads using more feminine wording (3.98 vs. 4.31 on a 7-point scale). However, men showed no difference in anticipated belonging based on either masculine or feminine wording.
  • Even though gendered language in job ads affected women’s perceptions of job appeal and anticipated belonging, it did not affect women’s perceived level of personal skill required for the job (4.89 vs. 4.99 for masculine vs. feminine wording).
  • Gendered wording of job advertisements signals who belongs and who does not. Masculine- worded ads reduced perceived belongingness, which in turn lead to less job appeal, regardless of one’s perception of their personal skill to perform that job.

In short, advertisements for stereotypically male jobs had more masculine wording, which led women to 1) think more men worked there, 2) believe they would not belong in that position, and 3) find the job less appealing. However, this wording did not affect their assessment of their abilities to do the job. These differences due to subtle language differences in how jobs are advertised may help explain the on-going gender gap in historically male-dominated fields.

In Study 1, 493 online job advertisements were randomly selected from monster.ca and workopolis.com across 11 occupations identified as highly male- or female-dominated (e.g., plumber, security guard vs. registered nurse, bookkeeper) based on U.S. labor statistics (231 ads for male-dominated, 262 ads for female-dominated). These were then coded for masculine and feminine words using published lists of agentic and communal words (e.g., individualistic , competitive vs. committed , supportive ) and masculine and feminine trait words (e.g., ambitious , assertive vs. compassionate , understanding ).

In Study 2, 3,640 job advertisements for university students were randomly selected from the on-campus co-operative job-posting site at the University of Waterloo, with 3,116 targeting male-dominated fields (e.g., engineering, math) and 524 targeting female-dominated fields (e.g., applied health studies, arts). As in Study 1, these were coded for masculine and feminine words.

In Study 3, 43 Canadian-born introductory psychology students (28 women) read a series of six job advertisements online, two from each job type (male-dominated, female-dominated, neutral). Within each job type, one was masculine worded and one was feminine worded, and these were manipulated to vary between participants. Participants then reported their perception of gender diversity for each job (2 items).

In Study 4, 96 English-fluent introductory psychology students (63 women) read the same job advertisements online from Study 3. Participants then assessed the job appeal (6 items) and anticipated belongingness (4 items), and ranked them from most appealing to least appealing.

In Study 5, 118 female Canadian-born introductory psychology students read one of the two job advertisements for real estate agents (one masculine worded, one feminine worded). Participants then reported their perceptions of their personal skills for the job (3 items), the same gender diversity questions from Study 3, and the same job appeal and belongingness questions from Study 4.

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