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Gender at Work

A Social Psychological Perspective


Melanie C. Steffens and Ma. Àngels Viladot

While many women receive equal education, such equality is nowhere in sight when it comes to women’s and men’s career success: men still earn significantly more than women and are more likely to be promoted. In this book, the authors offer a state of the art review of applied social-psychological research on gender at work, shedding light on all the different ways that work-related perceptions, attributions, outcomes, and the like differ for women and men. Focusing on domains (e.g., engineering) and positions (e.g., leadership) that are marked by women’s underrepresentation, the first part of the book looks at gender at work in terms of stereotypes, attitudes, and social roles, including parenthood, while the second part takes a social identity and communication perspective, exploring the situations in which men and women interact at work. Many chapters focus on applied questions, such as career choice, effects of role models, and sexual harassment at work. Theories and findings are applied to these topics, with conclusions and recommendations drawn throughout the book.
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Chapter 5. Gender Attitudes


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Social psychologists define attitudes as evaluations of people or objects (discussed in Chapter 1). Thus, gender attitudes are general evaluations of women and men, comprising spontaneous gut reactions of like or dislike and more elaborate cognitions that may be positive or negative. Attitudes are a central construct in social psychology because they are important predictors of behavior. When looking at work on gender, there is considerable consensus on the following, pattern of findings: Attitudes toward women are more positive than attitudes toward men. Eagly and Mladinic (1989; see also Eagly, Mladinic, & Otto, 1991) examined attitudes and beliefs about men and women. Results showed that both female and male participants expressed more favorable attitudes and beliefs toward women than toward men. This effect was especially pronounced for female participants and particularly large for the so-called feminine-positive traits. More concretely, the most important source of women’s stronger favorability was participants’ tendency to ascribe warmth to women, which comprised attributes such as helpful, kind, and understanding, thus leading future researchers to refer to this finding as the women-are-wonderful effect.

Why are attitudes toward women so positive? One factor may pertain to social desirability (Eagly & Mladinic, 1989): The stronger favorability of ← 63 | 64 → women could have reflected participants’ monitoring of their responses to avoid appearing prejudiced against women. As mentioned earlier, people’s motivation to appear in a socially acceptable way is a common difficulty when approaching socially delicate topics (such as gender issues) using self-report...

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