The Backlash Against Aggressive Women

Previous research suggests that women, more than men, experience negative outcomes when they display dominance. A closer look, however, reveals ambiguity about the specific forms of dominance proscribed for women.  In a new Psychological Bulletin article, authors suggest that negative reactions to women’s dominance, a counter-stereotypical behavior, may require that the behavior be clearly encoded as counter-stereotypical—which is less likely when the behavior is expressed implicitly. This hypothesis was tested with a meta-analysis of studies on the evaluation of individuals behaving dominantly, including articles not directly investigating gender. Results revealed that dominance indeed hurts women’s, relative to men’s, likability (although the overall effect is small, d = −0.19, k = 63), as well as more downstream outcomes such as hireability (d = −0.58, k = 20). More important, however, dominance expressed explicitly (e.g., direct demands) affected women’s likability (d = −0.28) whereas implicit forms of dominance (e.g., eye contact) did not (d = 0.03). Finally, the effect of dominance on men’s and women’s perceived competence did not differ (d = 0.02, k = 31), consistent with the idea that it is interpersonal (rather than instrumental) evaluations that obstruct women leaders. Implications for theory, and for the success of male and female leaders, are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)

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