A Gender Bias in the Attribution of Creativity: Archival and Experimental Evidence for the Perceived Association Between Masculinity and Creative Thinking

Common views of creativity favor stereotypically masculine traits, leading people to perceive women as less creative, and less deserving of recognition and reward.


Women make up more than half the labor force, yet remain greatly underrepresented in leadership roles. Such roles increasingly emphasize the importance of creativity, which is commonly described as divergent and “outside the box” thinking, which veers sharply away from existing perspectives, rather than simply “connecting the dots” by following or building on what others have done. In other words, creative types are seen as independent, daring, and rebellious—qualities that are stereotypically associated more with men. In a series of five studies, the authors tested the relationship between popular views of creativity, stereotypically masculine traits, and perceptions of women’s and men’s creativity. Using both experimental and archival data, they examined gender stereotypes and perceived creativity in contexts including TED talks, senior executive evaluations, and architectural and fashion design.


Women were perceived as less creative than men because participants associated creativity with stereotypically masculine traits.

  • In a pretest, participants strongly associated creative ideas—but not high-quality ideas—with “thinking outside the box rather than “connecting the dots,” in both arts and business (associations of over +1.5 on a scale of -4 convergent to +4 divergent).
  • In study 1, survey participants rated 8 stereotypically masculine traits (such as risk-taking) as more important to creativity than 8 stereotypically feminine traits (such as cooperation) regardless of whether creativity was presented as “thinking outside the box” (7.22 vs. 5.10 on a 9-point scale) or “connecting the dots” (6.26 vs. 4.85 on a 9-point scale).
  • In study 2, survey participants who viewed identical photos of creative work rated the designer as more creative when they believed the designer to be a man rather than a woman in a male-stereotyped field (i.e. architecture; 8.00 vs. 7.41 on a 9-point scale) but not a female-stereotyped one (i.e. fashion design), including after controlling for perceived competence.
  • In study 3, TED talk viewers rated men’s talks as more “ingenious” than women’s, even if the talks were equally “informative” and “persuasive.” Among the 100 most viewed talks overall, pre-existing viewer ratings for “ingenious” were higher for men’s than women’s talks (7.49% vs. 4.43%). After accounting for the topic of the talk, the same effect was found within 5 of the 6 most popular categories (technology, entertainment, business, science, and global issues, but not design).
  • In study 4, male senior executives were rated as more creative thinkers than female senior executives by their supervisors but not their direct reports. Direct reports rated men’s and women’s creativity similarly (5.00 vs. 5.11 on a 6-point scale), while supervisors—who have been shown to rely more on stereotypes—rated men similarly but women less favorably (4.99 vs. 4.53).
  • In study 5, stereotypically masculine risk-taking behavior enhanced perceptions of men’s creativity, but not women’s. After reading a manager’s strategic plan, survey respondents did not rate creativity differently between men and women in the baseline condition, but rated the male manager as most creative than the female manager when the plan was explicitly described as “risky.”
    • For men, a “risky” plan increased perceived agency, leading to greater perceived creativity and deservingness of a bonus or promotion. For women, a “risky” plan did not change any perceptions.

These findings suggest that biases in perceived creativity may contribute to women’s underrepresentation in corporate leadership, technology, film, and other fields valuing creativity.


The pretest recruited 83 adults from Amazon Mechanical Turk (mTurk). Participants were randomly assigned to consider approaches leading to either a “creative” or a “high quality” idea in two domains, arts (music) and business (a product). Participants chose either a divergent (scored +1) or a convergent (scored -1) approach from a series of pairs (4 items). Study 1 recruited 80 adults from mTurk. Participants were randomly assigned to read a brief description of creativity as either divergent or convergent. Participants rated the importance to creativity of 8 stereotypically masculine and 8 stereotypically feminine traits, on a 9-point scale. Study 2 recruited 169 adults from mTurk. Participants were randomly assigned to read about either a female or male professional, in either architecture or fashion design. Participants viewed three photographs of the professional’s work (houses or fashion designs, identical for female and male) and rated the professional’s creativity (3 items) and competence (2 items) on a 9-point scale. Study 3 analyzed viewer ratings of the 100 most viewed TED talks as of February 12, 2015 (28% female speakers), and the 100 most viewed in each of the 6 most popular categories as of April 22-25, 2015. Viewers rated talks using up to 3 descriptors from a list of 14, including “ingenious,” “informative,” and “persuasive,” with “ingenious” considered the best descriptor of creativity. TED.com showed ratings breakdowns by percentage for each descriptor for each talk. Study 4 analyzed workplace evaluations of 134 MBA students also working full-time as senior-level executives. 403 direct reports and 187 supervisors rated the executives on dimensions including innovative thinking (1 item) and competence (2 items) on a 6-point scale. Study 5 recruited 125 adults from Clearvoice, a national online panel. Participants read about a manager’s strategic growth plan. Participants were randomly assigned to read about either a female or male manager, with or without an additional sentence describing the manager’s plan as “risky” (considered an example of stereotypically masculine behavior). Participants rated the manager’s creativity (2 items), agency (10 items), competence (3 items), and deservingness of a bonus, raise, or promotion (3 items) on a 7-point scale.

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