Date of Award

8-2017

Level of Access

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

Advisor

Shannon K. McCoy

Second Committee Member

Jordan P. LaBouff

Third Committee Member

Crystal L. Hoyt

Additional Committee Members

Shawn Ell

Thane Fremouw

Abstract

Women’s underrepresentation in high level leadership positions is a well-documented phenomenon (Center for American Progress, 2015) that has a number of contributing factors. One may be contextual factors such as the acceptable traits of a leader. One theory regarding this is role-congruity theory (Eagly & Karau, 2002), which states that due to men historically filling leadership positions, the agentic traits associated with men (i.e., dominance, assertiveness) have become associated with leadership itself. This creates an incongruity with women’s acceptable roles which revolve around communality (i.e., cooperation, sensitivity). Due to this incongruity, women find it more difficult to break into leadership than men do (Bongiorno et al., 2014) and are more disliked when they do become leaders (Lyness & Heilman, 2006). However, research regarding women’s representation in STEM fields suggest that when the roles of a domain are framed as requiring communal traits, women’s interest in STEM increased (Diekman, et al., 2011).

A less studied factor contributing to women’s leadership representation could be individual differences in women’s beliefs about their group’s position in society. Specifically, identifying as a feminist (Zucker, 2004) may help to attract women to leadership positions, both as a way of promoting themselves as well as positioning themselves to help other women.

Over the course of four studies, I studied both the effects of feminist identification as well as leadership role framing on outcomes related to women’s representation in leadership. I hypothesized that when leadership was framed as requiring communal traits (which fits women’s traditional gender roles), women would have more positive leadership-related outcomes than when leadership was framed as requiring agentic traits.

Overall, I found that leadership framing on its own did not affect women’s leadership outcomes. However, across four studies, there was converging evidence that that when leadership was framed as requiring agentic traits, higher feminist identification in women was associated with lower distress (pilot study, Study 2), higher interest and identification (pilot study, Study 1), and higher self-efficacy (pilot study, Study 1) and that feminist identification may exert its effects on leadership outcomes through relationships with collective action, social support, and perceived sexism (Study 3).

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