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The stereotype fit hypothesis suggests that group members will experience discrimination in different social roles or positions to the extent that their group stereotypically does not have characteristics associated with success in the position. For instance, women may not be considered a good fit for a managerial position if being aggressive is seen as a characteristic of a successful manager. Due to stereotype fit, men may be considered more qualified for the position and are not only more likely to be hired, but are also more likely to be promoted as well.
Women and the workplace
The stereotype fit hypothesis was developed by Heilman in order to evaluate the then current role of women in high-power positions in the workplace. Since Heilman's initial research, many studies have been conducted to determine how women are affected by job positions which are considered to be more masculine. For example, Lyness & Heilman (2006) utilized archival organizational data from a multinational finances company to study the effects of stereotype fit on performance evaluations and promotions. Their study found upper-level female managers were rated more negatively than men in similar or lower positions and females in lower management positions. The authors also found that out of those promoted, females received more favorable ratings than their male counterparts – suggesting a more stringent threshold for promotion for women (see shifting standards). In a similar study by Eagle & Karau (2002), because of male-manager stereotypes, women are seen as less likely to fit managerial roles and, as a result, when they do achieve those positions, are looked on less favorably when performing the same managerial duties.
The stigma of women in the workplace, however, is not set in stone. According to a study by Heilman (2001), women have made considerable progress in attaining managerial positions, but there are still obstacles in the way of organizational equality; if there is any uncertainty about their skills, women are still likely to be viewed as incompetent or socially rejected.
Race and the workplace
The stereotype fit hypothesis, however, is not only confined to gender. Researchers have also studied the effect of racial and ethnical characteristics on job acquisition and placement in leadership roles. For example, in a study conducted by Rosette, Phillips and Leonardelli (2008), participants were asked to read an article about a fictitious business project involving either a racially ambiguous "leader" of the project or an "employee" working on the project. Leaders were assumed to be White more often than non-leaders – suggesting a congruity exists between the white stereotype and the leadership prototype. This suggests that stereotype fit is just as applicable when using race or ethnicity as a guideline for placement in the workforce.
An additional effect of the stereotype fit hypothesis includes rewarding certain groups over others. Studies conducted by Steele and Ambady (2004) show that when Asian women were considered for job placement as a computer technician, if the participant's Asian identity was salient over their identity as a female, they were more likely to be given a better recommendation and starting pay.
- Whitley, B.E. & Kite, M.E. (2010). The psychology of prejudice and discrimination. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2006, pp. 394, 397, ISBN 978-0-534-64271-6.
- Heilman, M. (2001). "Description and prescription: How gender stereotypes prevent women's ascent up the organizational ladder". Journal of Social Issues, Gender, Hierarchy, and Leadership 57 (4): 657-674. DOI:10.1111/0022-4537.00234
- Lyness K.S., & Heilman, M. E. (2006). "When fit is fundamental: Performance evaluations and promotions of upper-level female and male managers". Journal of Applied Psychology, 91 (4): 777-785. DOI:10.1016/S0021-9010(06)61892-X
- Eagly, A.H., & Karau, S.J. (2002). "Role congruity theory of prejudice toward female leaders". Psychological Review 109 (3): 573-598. DOI:10.1037/0033-295X.109.3.573
- Rosette, A. S., Phillips, K. W., & Leonardelli, G. J. (2008). "The white standard: racial bias in leader categorization". Journal of Applied Psychology 93(4): 777-758. DOI:10.1037/0021-9010.93.4.758
- Steele, J., & Ambady, N. (2004, January). "Unintended discrimination and preferential treatment through category activation in a mock job interview". Paper presented at the meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Austin, TX.
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