More than one person has recently drawn my attention to another study that “women who experience stereotype threat regarding leadership abilities react against the stereotype by adopting a more masculine communication style.”
Results indicate that women who experience stereotype threat regarding leadership abilities react against the stereotype by adopting a more masculine communication style. Study 2 provides evidence that self-affirmation eliminates this effect of stereotype threat on women’s communication styles. A third study demonstrates an ironic consequence of this effect of stereotype threat on women’s communication—when women under stereotype threat adopt a more masculine communication style, they are rated as less warm and likeable, and evaluators indicate less willingness to comply with their requests.
Double-binds are ever interesting to me, as I’ve previously noted. But the older I get, the less I care whether I’m perceived to be warm and likeable. I find that a more masculine communication style has compensating benefits outweighing the inward ratings of others. “But Big K,” one might reply, “note the consequence that ‘evaluators indicate less willingness to comply with their requests.’” Yes, they may indicate it, but do their indicators of their willish feelings correlate with actual reduced compliance with leaders’ requests? Consider the parallel: Powerful men may tick people off, and indeed subordinates of powerful jerks may say, “See if I do what he says!” But if they then actually do what the unlikeable or chilly man says, then how much does, e.g., former Vice President Dick Cheney need to care if he’s rated as less warm and likeable? Yes, that’s right, I just painted myself into a corner in which I aim to be like Dick Cheney.
I’d better end on a more pointful point, which is this: Depending on the context in which one is ‘rated,’ there may be a few rather different ways for women to manage communication in light of stereotype threat. One could be overt recognition of the threat and a conscientious attempt to avoid the adaptive preference for more masculine communication styles. As stated in the previous post on negotiation, a successful strategy can also include upping one’s feminine signals to generate audience approval, “expressing interest in relationships, community well-being, and the compensator’s point of view.” In contexts in which one is negotiating with more powerful agents, this can apparently mean earning a full million dollars more over one’s life! But perhaps another approach, in leadership contexts, could be the more clear-headed embrace of a reduction in one’s warmth and likeability, divesting oneself of traditionally feminine virtues, especially if said reduction is accompanied by traditionally (but surely not exclusively) masculine social benefits, and a reduction in stereotype-threat.
Of course, the older I get, the more easily I can afford to be unconcerned with my likeability (literally, monetarily, I can afford it, as I no longer have to negotiate salaries much).