Working women who demonstrate stereotypical male behaviors are likely to face setbacks because they don't fit the female stereotype, according to research by Olivia O'Neill from George Mason University and Charles O'Reilly from Stanford University published online in the Journal of Occupational Psychology.
Although women have made considerable advancements in the workplace, they still lag behind men when it comes to the top posts. One explanation is that women who demonstrate the traits that are consistent with successful managers (self-confidence, assertiveness and dominance) are perceived negatively by some for not behaving in a traditionally feminine way. This has been called the 'backlash' effect. These women can be seen as more competent but also seen as less socially skilled, less likeable and less likely to be promoted.
To ascertain whether these women would benefit from self-monitoring behavior and be mindful of how they are perceived by others, this research collected information over two time periods. In 1986 and 1987, 80 MBA program students (47% women) completed personality and management questionnaires and, seven years later, follow-up questionnaires on their on their career history. The results showed that those women who displayed male characteristics and self-monitored their behavior were more likely to be promoted than those who did not self-monitor. This was not the case for men.
O'Neill commented: "Working women face a real dilemma: if they are seen to behave in a stereotypically male way, they may damage their chances of promotion, even though these traits are synonymous with successful managers. These findings suggest if these women learn how to self-monitor their behavior, they have a better chance of promotion."
The Journal of Occupational Psychology is published by BPS Journals in partnership with Wiley-Blackwell.
- Olivia A. O’Neill, Charles A. O’Reilly III. Reducing the backlash effect: Self-monitoring and women's promotions. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 2011; DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-8325.2010.02008.x
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