Successful Female Leaders Empower Women's Behavior In Leadership Tasks
Subtle exposure to highly successful female leaders improves women’s performance and self-evaluations in stressful leadership tasks.
Although there are more women than ever in top leadership positions worldwide, leader stereotypes remain predominantly masculine, which can undermine women’s performance in leadership-related tasks like motivating employees, managerial decision-making, or negotiating. One way to counteract negative stereotypes is to expose women to examples of women leaders who succeed, thus disproving the stereotype. This strategy has proven to be successful in stereotypically masculine fields such as math and science, in which successful role models tend to have positive effects on women’s performance.
This study explores the effects of “priming” (subtle exposure to images of highly successful female role models) on women’s behavior during a leadership task. Female and male students were asked to give a public speech in a room with a poster of Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel, Bill Clinton, or no picture. Researchers recorded the length of the speech as an objective measure of empowered behavior in a stressful leadership task. Independent raters coded the quality of the speeches as well.
Exposure to female role models improves women’s performance and self-evaluations while eliminating the gender performance gap. Exposure to female role models does not affect men’s leadership behavior.
- The gender leadership gap disappeared when women were exposed to a female role model: Female speakers who spoke in front of an image of Hillary Clinton increased their speech times by 24%, and those who spoke in front of an image of Angela Merkel increase their speech times by 49%, compared to the average of the control conditions.
- When women spoke in front of female role models, their speeches were rated higher in quality, increasing from 2.6 to 3.0 on a 5-point scale, and they more positively perceived their own performance.
- Women spoke less than men in both of the control conditions: when a Bill Clinton or no picture was present. Women spoke for 216 seconds, while men spoke for 236 seconds, on average.
- There was no effect of female or male role models on male participants’ speech length or quality.
Subtle exposures to highly successful female leaders improved women’s performance and self-evaluations in stressful leadership tasks.
This study evaluated 149 male and female students from a Swiss University who were assigned to give a persuasive public speech in front of a 12-person audience in a Virtual Reality Environment. Students were told to give a persuasive political speech arguing against an increase of student fees. In the virtual room was a picture hanging of Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel, Bill Clinton, or no picture. Researchers recorded the length of the speech as an objective measure of empowered behavior in a stressful leadership task. Independent raters coded perceived speech quality using a 5-point global impression coding scale to analyze the structure, fluency, and nonverbal behaviors such as body posture and voice quality. Immediately following the speech, students self-evaluated the success of their performance on a scale of 5.