The Effect of Gender Stereotype Activation on Entrepreneurial Intentions

While gender stereotypes encourage more men to pursue entrepreneurship than women, explicitly stating that there is a stereotype can actually help nullify it.


Previous research tells us that gender stereotypes have powerful effects on cognition and behavior, reflecting as well as influencing the gap between men and women in many achievement-related spheres. These effects are especially salient in the field of entrepreneurship, which studies show is heavily associated with stereotypically masculine traits.

More recent research suggests that the manner in which these stereotypes are activated, either subtly or blatantly, may influence people’s response to the stereotype. More specifically, studies have shown that subtle (implicit) stereotype activation leads to attitudes and behaviors that are consistent with the stereotype, whereas blatant (more explicit) activation leads to attitudes and behaviors that are opposite, or in contrast, to the stereotype.

While previous research on stereotype activation theory has focused on academic and athletic test performance, this study extends this theory by focusing on entrepreneurship. In this study, the authors examine the impact of implicit and explicit activation of gender stereotypes on men and women’s intentions to pursue the traditionally masculine career of entrepreneurship. The authors randomly assigned undergraduate business students to one of 6 stereotype conditions and then assessed their entrepreneurial intentions after the experiment


In general, men had higher intentions to pursue entrepreneurship than did women. However, this varied by gender when stereotypes were explicitly stated versus implicitly stated. Men had higher entrepreneurial intention scores when presented with an implicit versus explicit masculine stereotype. In contrast, women expressed more desire to pursue entrepreneurship when masculine stereotypes about the field were made explicit versus when they were implicit and subtle, suggesting a desire to challenge the stated assumption. Men and women reported similar intentions when entrepreneurship was presented as gender neutral in the stereotype nullified condition.

  • When no stereotypical information was provided, men had significantly higher entrepreneurial intention scores than did women (average score of 3.44 vs. 2.66, respectively, out of the 5-point scale of entrepreneurial intention), confirming the authors’ hypothesis that entrepreneurship was automatically linked to masculine traits.
  • However, this significant gender difference in the control condition was eliminated in the nullified condition (average of 3.09 for men and 2.94 for women), indicating that associating entrepreneurship with both feminine and masculine traits can help close the gender gap in entrepreneurial intentions.
  • Men had higher entrepreneurial intention scores when presented with an implicit versus explicit masculine stereotype (average of 3.48 vs. 2.94, respectively).
  • Women had higher entrepreneurial intention scores when presented with explicit versus implicit masculine stereotypes (average of 2.93 vs. 2.43, respectively). In fact, women expressed more intention in the explicit stereotype condition than they did without stereotype priming (average of 2.93 vs. 2.66 points, respectively), perhaps implying that the implicit stereotype is already prevalent.
  • When entrepreneurship was presented as gender neutral in the stereotype nullified condition, men’s and women’s entrepreneurial intention scores (average of 3.09 for men and 2.94 for women) were statistically equivalent.
  • However, intentions in both feminine conditions (implicit and explicit) were statistically equivalent to responses in the control condition for both men and women, suggesting that the feminine stereotype activation did not change intentions the way masculine stereotype activation does. The authors underscore how additional research is needed to determine whether entrepreneurship can be activated as a feminine role.

In sum, the results were consistent with previous stereotype activation research, suggesting that explicitly discussing gender stereotypes can help individuals overcome them. The authors suggest that one reason for the persistence of gender differences in male-typed careers like entrepreneurship may be that when common masculine stereotypes associated with the role are not openly discussed, men and women are nonetheless subconsciously influenced by widely held stereotypes.


The authors randomly assigned 469 undergraduate business students (246 men and 223 women) to one of 6 experimental conditions – in which they read a one-page, fictitious news article about entrepreneurship – and then measured their entrepreneurial intentions. The study used a 2 x 6 experimental design with participant gender crossed with one of six stereotype activation conditions: control, explicit masculine stereotype, implicit masculine stereotype, explicit feminine stereotype, implicit feminine stereotype, and nullified stereotype.

In the control (i.e., no stereotype information) condition, participants read an article about entrepreneurship education that made no mention of gender or gender differences in entrepreneurship. The masculine and feminine stereotype articles were exactly the same as each other except for the characteristics and examples. In the implicit condition, the article simply described the masculine or feminine characteristics (aggressive, risk taking, and autonomous for men and caring, love to network, and humble for women); whereas in the explicit condition, these descriptions were paired with the phrase “entrepreneurs show characteristics of American masculinity/femininity.” In the nullified condition, the article stated that “entrepreneurs show characteristics of both men and women.”

After reading the news article, participants were asked one question on the content of the article to ensure they had read it carefully. After answering this question, the participants completed a four-item, 5-point scale of entrepreneurial intentions.

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