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How do gender-based stereotypes influence female communication styles and the lack of

female executives?

Holly Elko

elkohn@dukes.jmu.edu

SCOM 280

Maymester: Session 1
GENDER STEREOTYPES ON LACK OF FEMALE EXECUTIVES 2

Abstract

This research proposal discusses the underrepresentation of female executives

among corporations. It questions how gender stereotypes of men and women influence

female communication styles. This issue is important to analyze in attempt to uncover the

reasons behind the phenomenon of such few women executives, and what women are

doing in response. Using a quantitative method, college students, middle managers, and

executives will be surveyed on their perceptions of certain gender stereotypes. This

research study will hope to discover truths of how language of a dominant group can be

used as a tool oppress subdominant groups.


GENDER STEREOTYPES ON LACK OF FEMALE EXECUTIVES 3

Despite the fact that women are increasingly pursuing careers in business and

corporations, the amount of female CEOs continues to be drastically low. Men seem to

have a monopoly over these executive positions, leading Oakley (2000) to believe the

glass ceiling is seen most clearly in the statistics. Although this issue has a simple

solution of hiring more women executives, doing so would disturb the status quo. The

men that are making hiring and promoting decisions benefit from other men remaining in

power. Across various organizations, the most powerful men create alliances and have an

informal social system that preserves their power (Oakley, 2000). If more women were

hired in these roles, it would disrupt the old boy network, causing men to lose control

across institutions (Oakley, 2000). Men who want to maintain this power see no

incentives for hiring women.

Aside from the underrepresentation of female executives, this topic is important

for the purpose of challenging stereotypes. Its crucial to understand how these

generalizations of gender roles reinforce the status quo. The majority of stereotypes are

negative perceptions of a group that make it difficult to perceive the group any other way.

For this reason, Portilla (2016) asserts that dominant groups create stereotypes of

subdominant groups. Because men have been the dominant group throughout history, it

can be concluded theyve constructed these perceptions of women. Schneider (2005) lists

common female stereotype traits as: emotional, sympathetic, sensitive, and affectionate;

while stereotypic males traits include dominant, aggressive, self-confident, rational, and

unemotional. People generally associate the later traits with that of an effective leader,

while perceiving women as less suitable for the job. (Schenider, 2005). Interestingly

enough, successful corporate leaders, men and women, tend to conform to the male
GENDER STEREOTYPES ON LACK OF FEMALE EXECUTIVES 4

stereotype; this includes behaviors such as dressing more masculine or hiding their true

emotions. (Peacock, 2013). This tells us stereotypical male characteristics almost always

hold value over femininity in the workplace.

Lastly and most importantly, this issue must be discussed because women will

and do make great executives. A study done by Business Insider reveals women scored

higher than men on 12 of the 16 leadership competencies, which included traits such as:

taking initiative, developing others, and innovating (Sherwin, 2014). Additionally,

companies that are fortunate enough to have female leaders are generally very successful.

Acting as executives, women such as: Indra Nooyi, Irene Rosenfeld, and Sheryl Sandberg

have generated substantial profit increases and overall benefited each of their companies

greatly (Powerful Business Women, 2017). The reasons women arent represented in

more leadership roles are supported by false perceptions of femininity and stereotypes

created to oppress. For these reasons, these questions must be asked: How do gender-

based stereotypes influence female communication styles? How does that effect the lack

of female executives?

In an effort to discover reasons behind the issue of too few female executives,

research on the topic within must be analyzed. The literature review section of this paper

will provide the reader with previous research on gender stereotypes, female

communication styles, management styles between genders, and the lack of female

executives. The methodology section will outline the data sources, operationalization

variables, and other ways in which this study can be conducted and analyzed. Finally, the

conclusion will discuss the overall importance of the project and any strengths or

limitations to consider.
GENDER STEREOTYPES ON LACK OF FEMALE EXECUTIVES 5

Literature Review

Gender Stereotypes

Researchers have studied gender-based stereotypes in various contexts, their

results conclude phenomenas such as: the construction of these stereotypes, how they

influence society as a whole, and the ways men and women act in response. One study

examined the congruence of childrens personal interest in toys and their attitudes

towards stereotypical tendencies (Dinella, Fulcher, & Weisgram, 2014). It proposed two

possible pathways children will take when interested in toys, one suggests stereotypes

shape interests, study 1, while the other says personal interests lead to the construction of

stereotypes, study 2. Researchers introduced novel toys to children in both studies; study

1 included toys with no gender association, the results concluded that the 3-4 year old

boys and girls held more interest in the toys associated with their gender, or both genders.

Study 2 gave children gender labeled toys, results showed those children who are gender-

schematic valued the toys associated with their gender, while gender-aschematic children

showed minimal bias when becoming interested in the toys. In conclusion, Dinella,

Fulcher, and Weisgram (2014) found these pathways are dependent on

social/environmental surroundings, personal interest, and gender schematicity.

Essentially, most gender normative children, that value sex aligning with gender, are

influenced by societys gender roles.

Learned gender stereotypes remain prevalent beyond childhood, which creates

stereotype threat, or fear of confirming a negative stereotype (Bowden, Hippel, Shochet,

& Wiryakusuma, 2011). An article containing multiple experiments, by various authors,

discusses the stereotype threat and how that influences female communication styles
GENDER STEREOTYPES ON LACK OF FEMALE EXECUTIVES 6

(Bowden et al., 2011). They gave female participants fake articles about effective

leadership skills; some articles included how male characteristics reflect the skills, others

didnt mention males at all. Results showed those who were told the gender differences

made their communication more masculine because of stereotype threat; the controlled

group didnt adopt their communication styles (Bowden, 2011). These conclusions

showing women intentionally acting masculine, resembles the fear some women have of

acting too feminine.

Stereotype threat effects decisions made in the professional and public sphere

(Barth, Rice, 2015). Focusing on hiring decisions, a study done by Barth and Rice (2015)

was interested in how the gender stereotype characteristics of evaluators influenced how

they perceived job applicants. Participants were given stereotype-congruent or

stereotype-incongruent sheet of paper that listed traits of either males or females; they are

then asked to evaluate a job applicant of the corresponding sex. After stereotype-

congruent priming, the results found men valued other male applicants over female; when

using stereotype-incongruent priming, men evaluators gave better ratings to female

applicants (Barth, 2015). Stereotype-congruent priming intended to reflect typical hiring

situation, where applicants are perceived to fit gender roles, such as: men being seen as

leaders with analytical ability or women working well with others and sensitive. Overall,

these stereotypes hurt women when being evaluated for positions, while benefitting men

(Barthe, 2015).

Once hired, women continue to face barriers when negotiating salaries

(McCormick, Morris, 2015). Stereotype threat of women being less competitive and

assertive than men can deter them from successful negotiations. A study conducted by
GENDER STEREOTYPES ON LACK OF FEMALE EXECUTIVES 7

McCormick and Morris (2015) analyzed differences in negotiation outcomes based on

sex, and how stereotype threat results in salary differences between sexes. They

researched face-to-face and e-mail negotiations between same-sex and mixed-sex.

Participants were given informational packets that included: guidelines, salary goal

sheets, and increased or minimized stereotype threat manipulation. The results concluded

that within the mixed-sex groups, in both face-to-face and email, the stereotype threat

positively increased men outcomes while negatively affecting the women (McCormick,

Morris, 2015). Within the same-sex pairs, no significant difference in outcome existed.

In addition to many others, this study shows the benefit men receive from gender-based

stereotypes and the harming effects it has on women.

Female communication styles. As a result of the social construction of gender and

stereotypes, researchers have found the communication styles of women to be associated

with a better sense of reading emotional non-verbal expressions, listening skills, and

sensitivity (Baird, Bradley, 2003: & Berryman-Fink, 1985: & Byron, 2007). A study

done by Byron (2007), predicted managers that are effective in reading non-verbal

emotions, also receive higher ratings of satisfaction from their employees. MBA students

and hospitality managers took a brief non-verbal emotional perception test, then, their

subordinates were asked to rate them on perceived supportiveness/persuasiveness , their

satisfaction with the manager, and the managers performance (Byron, 2007). The results

show female managers who more accurately perceived nonverbal emotions on the initial

test also received higher performance ratings (Byron, 2007). Although the stereotype of

women being more sensitive can be seen as negative, skills like reading the faces of your

employees are essential to effective management (Berryman-Fink, 1985).


GENDER STEREOTYPES ON LACK OF FEMALE EXECUTIVES 8

A study conducted on Hawaiian college students examined their perceptions of

their own level of interaction involvement, or how attentive and perceptive they are in

interpersonal communication situations (Cambra, Klopf, 1983). Hundreds of students

took a test called the Interaction involvement scale, or IIS, which included statements

such as: I am keenly aware of how other perceive me in a conversation, and my mind

wanders during conversations and I often miss parts of what going on (Cambra, Klopf,

1983). The results support one main conclusion that females are more attentive and

perceptive in oral communication situations. Despite this research being conducted over

30 years ago, these interpersonal communication skills of women are still true more

recently (Byron, 2007).

Management styles. Researchers have studied the communication skills of

women and how that translates to them as effective managers. Cynthia Berryman-Fink

(1985), investigated the perceptions in place of women possessing communication skills

related to managerial effectiveness and what training they should receive to promote their

effectiveness. After asking male and female managers to answer these questions with an

open response, Berryman-Fink (1985), analyzed the frequency of similar responses. She

found both men and women saw skills such as: listening, nonverbal communication, and

attention to detail to be associated to female managerial effectiveness (Berryman-Fink,

1985). Responses to what training women should receive included: assertiveness,

confidence building, and public speaking (Berryman-Fink, 1985). The skills of the latter

represent typical qualities of successful male managers.

When analyzing how women are viewed, its important to disregard reality and

focus on the perceptions of the viewers. Furthering research on men and womens
GENDER STEREOTYPES ON LACK OF FEMALE EXECUTIVES 9

perception of leadership, one study questions how students perceive their group members

and if it differs based on groups (Neal, Waner, & Winter, 2001). Participants had been

placed in groups in the beginning of the semester, either all male, all female, or a mixed

gendered group. The students then took surveys rating the cooperativeness,

competitiveness, workload sharing, and leadership roles of their group members. The

researchers found no difference in perceptions of cooperation or sharing the workload,

but male and mixed gender groups perceived themselves as more competitive, and had

more natural leaders than the all female group (Neal, Waner, & Winter, 2001). This

revelation isnt uncommon, stereotypes tell women they are less competitive and possess

fewer leadership skills than men (McCormick, Morris, 2010).

Although negative stereotypes of women have prevented advancement in

executive positions, studies show some organizations prefer a more feminine style of

management (Ladegaard, 2011). Hans Ladegaard (2011) questioned the preferences of

different management styles, based on gender. He created a study by asking executives in

a Danish corporation to simply record their everyday task, such as giving direction to

staff (Ladegaard, 2011). The results showed male and female executives both seem to

prefer an indirect and more feminine style of management, but stated that no organization

should be exclusively one style.

Lack of executives. The drastic underrepresentation of women as female

executives has influenced researchers to study why this phenomenon occurs. Judith

Oakley (2000) found explanations for this such as: inadequate career opportunities and

gender differences in language styles. She examined conditions in large North-American-

based corporations by finding relevant data on corporate policies and preferred leadership
GENDER STEREOTYPES ON LACK OF FEMALE EXECUTIVES 10

styles; this enabled her to conclude that many these reasons are due to the status quo that

men seek to uphold (Oakley, 2000). Similarly, when women are the ones making

decisions, more females tend to be hired (Duncan, Skaggs, & Stainback, 2012). A social

science research study predicted that women representation of board representatives is

positively associated with female representation in management positions (establishment

level) (Duncan, Skaggs, & Stainback, 2012). Using multi-level modeling, the researchers

collected data on firms in Texas such as demographics of non-managers and firm

characteristics. The results show a significant positive relationship between female board

representation and managerial gender diversity.

There are several ideas on what women can do to break through this glass ceiling,

according to a study done by Brennda Wrigley (2002). She questioned the factors

reaffirming the glass ceiling, specifically within public relations and corporate

communication management. Wrigley (2002) asked only women questions such as: their

perception of the glass ceiling, why they think it remains, and how they believe they can

eliminate it. Focus groups and in-depth interviews concluded denial from women and

role socialization, their advice for breaking the glass ceiling includes: mentoring, working

harder, and changing jobs (Wrigley, 2002). These results portray the idea that women are

doing things wrong, such as working easier and in the wrong field or career. In reality,

the social constructions of gender and gender stereotypes have taught women normalized

ways to communication and behave.

Summary. Researches have conducted extensive studies on the topics of gender

stereotypes, female communication styles, management styles, and the lack of female

executives. However, not much research has been done on the relationship between these
GENDER STEREOTYPES ON LACK OF FEMALE EXECUTIVES 11

concepts. Understanding socially constructed gender norms and its influence on the

perception of women is key in answering the research question proposed. Having

background on stereotype threat can help answer why gender stereotypes influence

female communication styles. While identifying perceptions of female management

styles can enable the researcher to discover why there are so few female executives.

Through more detailed observations into organizations specifically, my proposed study

will further enhance the notion of unfair gender stereotypes as barriers for women.

Methodology

Data Sources

When conducting research, one of the first and most important steps is choosing

appropriate participants. For this study in particular I will be examining three different

groups of people: college seniors interested in a corporate job, middle managers within

Fortune 500 companies, and top-level executives within Fortune 500 companies. Through

convenience sampling, I will be able to collect data from college students around my

campus, regional job fairs, and through the assistance of professors. I will also collect

some data from students in the SCOM subject pool, considering its free of charge. The

middle managers and executives of these large corporations will be contacted through

email, requesting 10 minutes of their time for a brief questionnaire. My sample size will

consist of 100 college students (50 male/50 female), 50 middle managers (25 male/25

female), and 16 executives (8 male, 8 female).

Procedures. The independent variable in this study is gender-based stereotypes and its

effect on the dependent variable of female communication styles. The relationship of

those two will serve as an independent variable on the lack of female executives as the
GENDER STEREOTYPES ON LACK OF FEMALE EXECUTIVES 12

dependent. Demographics of each participant will also serve as independent variables,

depending on the results. We will use Schneiders (2005) list of common female

stereotype traits: emotional, sympathetic, sensitive, and affectionate; and common male

stereotypes dominant, aggressive, self-confident, rational, and unemotional, as definitions

of our stereotype.

The group of college students will be given a survey containing a scale of

continuous variables (1-5), on the left 1 represents adult women, 3 represents gender

neutral and 5 represents adult male. Above each scale contains an adjective. There

will be 20 adjectives on communication style, either representing male stereotypes,

female stereotypes, or gender neutral. They will circle the number from adult woman to

adult male based on what they believe the adjective is describing. After collecting the

survey, participants will be given another sheet; this one will contain the same adjectives

as before but in a list format with a box next to each. They will be asked to check the

boxes of the adjectives they believe describes a successful CEO. The middle managers

will be given a similar format, except on the second sheet of paper they will be asked to

identity the adjectives they believe describe themselves as managers. This self-report data

will tell us how they perceive their communication styles to be. Finally, the group of

executives will receive the same survey, but on their second sheet of paper they will be

asked to check the adjectives that best describe their co-executives. In addition to these

forced choice responses, on the bottom of each second sheet will be an open-ended

question, simply asking the participant why they choose what they did.

These procedures were chosen in order to help me identify how perceptions of

successful CEOs can influence the change of female communication styles. The first
GENDER STEREOTYPES ON LACK OF FEMALE EXECUTIVES 13

group, of college seniors, provides a unique perspective of undergraduates attempting to

enter the corporate world. Their views on gender characteristics of successful CEOs will

provide us with insight before they're influenced by the corporate world. Based on the

fact that middle managers have experienced day-to-day work and growth in the company,

its crucial to study their current communicative habits. The successful executives must

be asked about their co-workers to show the communicative environment in these C-level

suites.

Pilot testing may need to be done on less students and middle managers in order

to save money and time. To ensure validity, I will give provide each participant with

informed consent, remove any and all bias from the survey, and carefully select my

sample size to represent the true parameters. In order to obtain reliability, I will continue

the study with a greater sample size and more variety in groups. For the current study, I

will compare the consistency of the data between the three groups discussed.

Analysis. When analyzing the data, the three groups will have to be examined

individually and collectively. Using two-way, factorial analysis of variance, the two

independent variables of gender stereotypes and female communication style will be

tested against the lack of female executives. I will be operationalizing gender

stereotypes to be when a participants response of the adjective aligns with a particular

stereotype. For ex: emotional as 1:adult woman, or aggressive as 5:adult male. In

order to define female communication styles, I will analyze middle managers responses

against each groups attitudes towards the adjectives. If more women describe themselves

with masculine stereotypes, this could tell us theyre reacting against the stereotype

threat, in attempts to communicate or be perceived more masculine. When looking at the


GENDER STEREOTYPES ON LACK OF FEMALE EXECUTIVES 14

group of college seniors, the amount of similar characteristics between adult male and

successful CEOs will show perceptions of stereotypical males becoming successful.

Analyzing the similarities and differences in responses between male and female students

will show perceptions of corporate executives based on gender.

Comparing the data between college senior and middle managers will show a

distinction between what students believe are good communication skills to have and

what skills managers have that have already made them successful. The managers also

answering on adult males and adult females can enable us to see if gender stereotypes

lessen after age of participant and overall professional experience. When looking at the

responses of current executives, its essential to understand what they represent. The data

associated with this group is key in answering the question on the lack of female

executives. If their responses indicate more male characteristics, its clear these

stereotypes are valued throughout the organization.

Permissions, limitations, and ethics. Firstly, and most importantly, each participant

will receive an informed consent form. This will ensure weve communicated risks and

benefits, answered any questions, and secured their written permission. Permissions

required for the college seniors could be from the school itself or from professors that

could provide classroom time. In order to survey middle managers and executives, I

might need permission from their secretaries or scheduling assistant in order to even

contact them. The limitations involved in this study also rely heavily on the availability

of the participants and the time required to reach all of them at once. In addition to time,

the amount of money required to conduct this study could be a limitation. In order to
GENDER STEREOTYPES ON LACK OF FEMALE EXECUTIVES 15

analyze the frequencies of similar characteristics, and relationships between gender of

participant and the nature of their responses, expensive software programs are needed.

Ethical issues are an important factor to consider. In order to remain ethical,

confidentiality will be used for each participant. No one outside of the researchers will

know the identity of the participants. This is especially important when analyzing the data

of well-known executives. However, due to demographics having a potential impact on

our data, anonymity will not be provided. Another ethical concern could include bias

among participants that done want to seem sexist. To lessen this concern, I chose to

collect the first sheet of paper before the second so participants are less likely to

remember their Reponses. Also, because the majority of this study relies on self-reporting

data, the factor of social desirability bias must be considered. In order to ensure my

research proposal meets ethical standards, I will also need to have it reviewed and

approved by an Institutional Review Board, perhaps the one run by James Madison

University.

Conclusion

Due to the fact that women are increasingly pursuing careers in the professional

world, concepts of representation must be discussed. The negative gender stereotypes of

women have caused an overall perception towards women in society as not fit as leaders.

This proposal is very important because research has shown women make great

executives, regardless if theyre confirming stereotypes or not. The strengths of this paper

include the extensive research done on the topics of stereotypes, communication styles,

and lack of female executives. Some limitations include the time allowed for the proposal

to be written and the broadness of the topic.


GENDER STEREOTYPES ON LACK OF FEMALE EXECUTIVES 16

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GENDER STEREOTYPES ON LACK OF FEMALE EXECUTIVES 19

Appendices

Directions: given each adjective, circle on the scale from 1-5 whether the adjective seems
to describe an adult female, an adult male, gender neutral, or if its somewhere in between

Adult female Gender Neutral Adult Male

1. Emotional 1 2 3 4 5

2. Aggressive 1 2 3 4 5

3. Self-confident 1 2 3 4 5

4. Sympathetic 1 2 3 4 5

5. Dominant 1 2 3 4 5

6. Sensitive 1 2 3 4 5

7. Unemotional 1 2 3 4 5

8. Rational 1 2 3 4 5

9. Etc. 1 2 3 4 5

Second Sheet

Check the adjectives you would use to describe (a successful CEO, your own

communication traits, your co-executives communication traits)

____ Emotional ____ Sympathetic

____ Self-confident ____Sensitive

____ Dominant ____Unemotional

____ Rational ____Aggressive

Briefly explain why you chose these adjectives: