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Instructor’s Overview

The purpose of this module is to provide background information and a brief experiential exercise demonstrating how gender stereotypes can affect leadership perceptions and work-related decisions. The material is theoretically grounded in Robert Lord’s work on leadership categorization (e.g., Lord & Maher, 1991) and in the applied social psychology literature with regard to gender stereotyping. Practically, the module is based on the Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins (U.S., 1989) case that was heard before the U.S. Supreme Court (Fiske et al., 1991).

The module is organized into three basic sections: (a) leadership perceptions approach, (b) gender stereotyping in organizations, and (c) controlling stereotyping. In addition, a brief demonstration to use at the beginning of the class is included to help illustrate these points and enhance student involvement. Finally, some suggested films and videotapes are provided.


Gender Stereotypes Role Play Exercise

Use this exercise at the beginning of class to set the stage for the subsequent presentation and discussion. It might be good to set this up at the end of the class preceding this lecture.

  • Choose a male and a female volunteer from the class (although selecting the more assertive members of your class might also help with the exercise).
  • Have them mutually decide on an influence topic (e.g., a loan of $10, going to a certain movie, etc.).
  • Arbitrarily determine one of the pair as the "influencer" and the other as the "influencee".
  • The influencer has 2 minutes to persuade the influencee, whose role is to resist (even if that comes down to just saying no).
  • Have the class break up into small groups for a 3-5 minute discussion of their perceptions of the influencer (i.e., leader); how would you describe him/her?
  • Have the class as a whole share as many descriptive terms as possible.
  • Reverse roles with a new influence topic and repeat the discussion.
  • Summarize with 3-5 minutes of focused discussion around the differences in how these people were described.

Focus discussion around 3 core questions:

  • Were differences due to real differences in behavior, or were they influenced by gender stereotypes? How can you tell?
  • What is the role of gender stereotypes in leader perceptions? That is, do you think stereotypes affect who we tend to see as the person in control (i.e., the leader)? Why or why not?
  • Why are leadership perceptions important at all? Why do we need to "see" someone as a leader? Can perceptions influence our behaviors as followers?


Leadership and Gender Stereotypes References

Butler, D., & Geis, F. L. (1990). Nonverbal affect responses to male and female leaders: Implications for leadership evaluations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 48-59.

Fiske, S. T., Bersoff, D. N., Borgida, E., Deaux, K., & Heilman, M. E. (1991). Social science research on trial: Use of sex stereotyping research in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins. American Psychologist, 46, 1049-1060.

Lord, R. G., & Maher, K. J. (1991). Leadership and information processing: Linking perceptions and performance. Boston, MA: Unwin Hyman.

Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 109 S. Ct. 1775 (1989).


Suggested Films and Videocassettes

Discovering Psychology: Sex and Gender (Annenberg/CPB Project)

This video covers how our gender affects how we will be treated and explores the different biological, psychological, and social environments of males and females.

Leading Women, Leading Men. (Insight Media, #2N494). This 30-minute video investigates the relationship between gender-based roles and expectations and the requirements of effective leadership. It also discusses the development of current gender roles and the evolution of leadership theory.

May the Best Man Win: Sex Bias in the Workplace. (MTI Film & Video). This is a two-part videocassette. The first video is a 25-minute open-ended fictional drama that illustrates the issues involved in a possible instance of sex bias in the workplace (i.e., discrimination, stereotyping, the glass ceiling, the "mommy track", the "boys’ club"). This tape can stand alone, although most teachers use this video with the second video. The second video introduces experts from many fields who give their opinions on the drama and on sex bias and its prevention.

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