Despite progress toward equality in recent years, women continue to experience less favorable outcomes than men in many business settings. They are concentrated in low-paying jobs and receive lower average salaries. Further, when they succeed on various tasks or in various roles, their performance is often attributed to external factors (e.g., luck) rather than to their ability or effort. These negative effects are especially apparent when women seek or hold managerial-level positions; in this context, they receive lower ratings than men as job applicants and lower performance appraisals once they hold such positions. In addition, women appear to face more barriers than men in developing informal mentoring relationships and benefit less from such relationships, especially if their mentors are also women. Perhaps most disturbing, such negative effects seem to occur even when women are closely matched to men in terms of experience, specific job duties, education, and several other factors. (Heilman 2004)
Under these conditions, differences between women and men in terms of outcomes experienced are reduced, but they continue to exist. Although many factors contribute to these persistent and disturbing disadvantages for women, considerable evidence suggests that negative gender stereotypes—widely shared beliefs about the attributes of men and women—play an important role. Despite major changes in many societies in recent decades, gender stereotypes remain largely unchanged and are generally less favorable for women than for men. For instance, in recent research, Hosada and Stone (in press) found that women and men continue to be viewed as different with respect to many traits that have long been included in traditional gender stereotypes. For example, participants in Hosada and Stone’s study—more than 1,000 college students—reported that men are more forceful, assertive, aggressive, confident, and independent, whereas women are more nurturant, emotional, considerate, indecisive, and submissive. Perhaps most damaging to women is the fact that traits included in gender stereotypes for women appear to be less consistent with those required for managerial success than traits included in gender stereotypes for men. As a result, women are often seen as less qualified for managerial-level jobs. In sum, persistent gender stereotypes appear to work against women in many business settings, especially ones involving managerial-level positions. (Valian 2003)
To date, however, existing literature on this important topic has not considered the following question: Do such negative effects occur in another business context as well—that is, with respect to female entrepreneurs? This appears to be an important issue because mounting evidence suggests that the activities of entrepreneurs are crucial to the economic growth and prosperity of modern societies. Indeed, the new ventures started by entrepreneurs more than made up for the loss of millions of jobs in large, existing companies during the 1980s and 1990s and thus played a key role in the current strength of the U.S. economy. In this context, the fact that women are underrepresented among entrepreneurs and face daunting obstacles to assuming this role are disturbing. Thus, efforts to identify the factors that influence their decision to become entrepreneurs and their ultimate success seem both timely and important. The present research focused on one of these factors: perceptions of women who adopt the role of entrepreneur. At first glance, it might seem that women entrepreneurs would be subject to the same negative stereotypes and processes that adversely affect women in other business contexts. Recent findings have indicated that current stereotypes of entrepreneurs are heavily weighted toward traits traditionally viewed as “masculine.” Entrepreneurs are perceived as being more assertive, achievement oriented, and confident than managers and as having greater risk-taking propensity. In view of such stereotypes, it is possible that women might be viewed as even more unsuited for the role of entrepreneur as they are for the role of manager. However, one process may tend to alter this equation and tip it in favor of women entrepreneurs: the process of attribution augmenting. (Meyerson 2000)
Attribution augmenting refers to the following phenomenon: If causes that would be expected to facilitate a specific form of behavior and causes that would be expected to inhibit or prevent it are both present, yet the behavior actually occurs, then the facilitating causes are assigned extra weight or importance—they are augmented. We reasoned that such augmenting may occur for women entrepreneurs and can serve to enhance others’ perceptions of them. Several considerations point to this possibility. Thus, as a result of attributional augmenting, women who become entrepreneurs may be perceived more favorably with respect to these dimensions than women who occupy other business roles (e.g., managerial roles). In addition, because traits such as high motivation or desire for achievement are counter to traditional gender stereotypes, female entrepreneurs may also be perceived as less stereotypically feminine than women occupying other business roles. On the basis of this reasoning, we proposed the following hypotheses:
Hypothesis 1: Women who are described as entrepreneurs will be rated significantly more favorably than women who are described as managers with respect to several personal traits (e.g., assertiveness, decisiveness, ambition, seriousness about their careers, etc.) (Inzlicht 2000)
Hypothesis 2: Women who are described as entrepreneurs will be rated significantly more favorably than women who are described as managers in terms of attributions concerning the causes of their success (i.e., the extent to which such success is attributed to internal causes, such as ability or effort, or external causes, such as luck).
Hypothesis 3: Women who are described as entrepreneurs will be perceived as less stereotypically feminine than women who are described as managers. (Valian 2003)
We should add that attributional augmenting may also occur for women who become managers, especially in fields that are strongly sex-typed and perceived as more appropriate for men than for women. However, given that the perceived obstacles to becoming an entrepreneur are generally greater than those to becoming a manager, augmenting would be expected to occur more strongly for women who choose to become entrepreneurs. What about men who become entrepreneurs? As noted above, existing evidence suggests that they may well face weaker obstacles to adopting this role than do women. Thus, attributional augmenting would be expected to operate to a lesser degree for men and to be less likely to enhance perceptions of them with respect to personal traits and attributions about the causes of their success. On the basis of this reasoning, we proposed the following hypothesis:
Hypothesis 4: Men who are described as entrepreneurs will not be rated significantly more favorably than ones described as managers with respect to either personal traits or attributions concerning the causes of their success.
To test these hypotheses, we conducted three studies. In all three, raters examined photos of strangers and were told (in a between-subjects design) either that the photos showed entrepreneurs or that they showed managers. In Studies 1 and 2 we used photos of women, and in Study 3 we used photos of both women and men. (Long 2001)
Raters for Studies 1 and 2 were 82 employed adult men and women ranging in age from their early 20s to their early 70s (Mages = 41.5 years in Study 1, 36.2 years in Study 2). In terms of education, most were either college graduates or had completed some college education (78.4% in Study 1, 83.6% in Study 2). In Study 1, 70% were women and 30% were men; in Study 2, 65% were women and 35% were men. They held a wide range of jobs (e.g., secretarial: 20.5%; professional: 23.1%; technical: 17.9%; government: 28.2%; other, 10.3%). Forty-two raters participated in Study 1, and 40 additional raters participated in Study 2. Raters for Study 3 were 52 adult women (51.9%) and men (48.1%), ranging in age from their 20s to their 60s. Most had some college education (59.5%) or were college graduates (36.1%). They were employed in a wide range of fields: sales (8.5%), office/clerical (4.3%), technical (14.9%), government (8.5%), and professional (12.7%). Others were self-employed (12.7%). (Valian 2003)
All photos showed actual entrepreneurs. The photos of women in Studies 1 and 2 were taken from a publication prepared by a national organization with which the entrepreneurs were affiliated; this publication was widely distributed and was therefore in the public domain. The photos showed a head-and-shoulders view, and all were formal photos for which the entrepreneurs had posed. A total of 97 photos were available from this source. These were divided, by random selection, into two sets of photos, one for Study 1 and the other for Study 2. Raters in Study 1 rated 46 photos, and those in Study 2 saw and rated 51 photos. (This small difference in number resulted from a minor error in reproducing the photos, which were inadvertently divided into slightly unequal sets during the copying process.) Photos in both sets were presented in random order. Raters lived in a different state than the stimulus persons and were unacquainted with them. The entrepreneurs varied considerably in age (from their 30s to their 60s) and appearance. Most were of European descent (84%), but persons of Hispanic (4%), Asian (5%), and African American (7%) descent were also included. (Xie 2003)
In Study 3 we used 10 photos of men and 10 photos of women. The photos of women consisted of a random sample of 10 of the photos of women used in Studies 1 and 2. The photos of men also showed entrepreneurs. These photos were taken by the researchers or, in a few cases, were provided by the entrepreneurs themselves. Like the photos in Studies 1 and 2, they showed a head-and-shoulders view. All the men shown were Caucasian, but as was true for the photos in Studies 1 and 2, the entrepreneurs differed considerably in terms of age and appearance.
A mixed between-subjects/within-subjects factorial design was used in which the description of the persons shown in the photos (entrepreneurs vs. managers) was a between-subjects factor, and the different stimulus persons rated by participants were a within-subjects factor. That is, participants rated a number of different photos, but all photos in the set they evaluated were described as showing either entrepreneurs or managers. In addition, in Study 3 we used a complete factorial design in which two variables—gender of stimulus person and ascribed role (managers or entrepreneurs)—were systematically varied. The major prediction for Study 3 was that there would be a significant interaction between these two variables such that ascribed role would exert stronger effects on ratings of women than on ratings of men.
For Studies 1 and 2, participants were recruited from several local organizations (e.g., a large public library, an insurance company, a retail chain). Participants were told that the study would involve examining photos of strangers and that on the basis of these photos; they would rate some of the strangers’ personal traits. Persons who agreed to participate (approximately 92% of those approached) were then given a booklet containing the photos they were to rate and a separate rating form. The rating form described the persons shown either as entrepreneurs or as managers; participants were randomly assigned to these two conditions. (Valian 2003)
The photos were presented in random order and were identified by number on the rating sheet. In Study 1, raters evaluated the stimulus persons (women who were described to them as being either managers or entrepreneurs) on the following dimensions: career seriousness, decisiveness, assertiveness, ambitiousness, sincerity, manipulativeness, masculinity–femininity, and attractiveness. These dimensions were chosen because they have been used successfully and informatively in previous, related research. In Study 2, raters evaluated the stimulus persons on the following dimensions: causes of career success (ability, motivation/effort, luck, and social skills), concern with one’s appearance (vain, conceited), masculinity–femininity, and attractiveness. All ratings in both studies (and in Study 3) were made on 5-point scales (1 = very low, 5 = very high). Pilot research indicated that rating all of the photos in each set on all the dimensions named above was perceived by participants as too time consuming (e.g., it would require rating 97 photos on 16 different dimensions). This was a major consideration in our decision to collect different dependent measures in the two studies. Raters in Study 3 evaluated each photo on the following dimensions: attractiveness, masculinity–femininity, career seriousness, decisiveness, assertiveness, ambition, and perceived causes of career success (ability, effort, luck, social skills). We deemed it appropriate for raters in these latter studies to rate each photo on a greater number of dimensions because the total number of photos was smaller. Stimulus persons in Study 3 were both men and women. (Xie 2003)
As noted earlier, the photos used in all three studies showed individuals who varied greatly in age and appearance. Clearly, such differences may influence ratings of the stimulus persons. However, this was not a focus of the present research, and no attempt was made to systematically vary the appearance of the stimulus persons. Rather, the major goal was to determine whether describing these persons as entrepreneurs as opposed to managers would influence the ratings they received. In view of this fact, we deemed it appropriate to collapse ratings across stimulus persons. Thus, dependent variables were mean ratings on each dimension for all stimulus persons in the photos. We reasoned that should differences in ratings emerge between the entrepreneur and manager conditions (in which participants saw identical sets of photos), this would suggest that such results could be generalized across a wide range of age and personal appearance.
Study 1: Ratings of Personal Traits
A multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) on the data for all trait measures yielded a significant effect of condition (managers vs. entrepreneurs), F (8, 89) = 4.28, p < .001 (?2 = .28, by Wilks’s lambda criterion). Follow-up univariate tests indicated that the effects of condition were significant for decisiveness, F (1, 96) = 5.94, p ; .02 (?2 = .06), and career seriousness, F (1, 96) = 5.66, p ; .02 (?2 = .06). For both measures, the women in the photos received significantly higher ratings when they were described as being entrepreneurs than when they were described as being managers (see Table 1). These findings offer partial support for Hypothesis 1.
Follow-up univariate analyses also indicated that the effect of condition (entrepreneur vs. manager) was significant for ratings on the masculinity–femininity dimension, F (1, 96) = 23.22, p ; .001 (?2 = .20), and on the attractiveness dimension, F(1, 96) = 15.77, p ; .001 (?2 = .14). As shown in Table 1, participants rated the stimulus persons as less feminine but as more attractive when they were described as entrepreneurs than when they were described as managers. The former finding is consistent with Hypothesis 3. (Valian 2003)
Study 2: Attributions Concerning Success
Study 2 focused primarily on attributions concerning the causes of each stimulus person’s success (ability, motivation/effort, luck, social skills). A MANOVA performed on all dependent measures revealed a significant effect for condition (managers vs. entrepreneurs), F (8, 79) = 7.21, p < .001 (?2 = .42, by Wilks’s lambda criterion). Follow-up univariate analyses indicated that the effect of condition was significant for the attributional items relating to luck, F (1, 86) = 17.89, p ; .001 (?2 = .18), and social skills, F (1, 86) = 5.61, p ; .02 (?2 = .07). As shown in Table 2, the success of persons in the photos was attributed less to luck and more to specific abilities (i.e., social skills) when they were described as entrepreneurs than when they were described as managers. A similar pattern was obtained with respect to effort (entrepreneurs were rated higher than managers), but the effect of condition was not significant for this measure or for any of the other dependent measures. Overall, there was partial support for Hypothesis 2. (Xie 2003)
Additional univariate tests revealed that the effect of condition was significant for ratings on three other dimensions: masculinity–femininity, F(1, 86) = 3.82, p ; .003 (?2 = .05); attractiveness, F(1, 86) = 3.07, p ; .003 (?2 = .03); and vanity, F(1, 86) = 11.07, p ; .001 (?2 = .11). As shown in Table 2, women in the photos were rated as significantly less feminine and less vain but as more attractive when they were described as entrepreneurs than as managers. (Martell 2006)
Study 3: Complete Factorial Design
The major prediction investigated in Study 3 was that gender of stimulus person and ascribed role (manager, entrepreneur) would interact in influencing ratings of the persons shown in the photos. Specifically, we hypothesized that ascribed role would exert stronger effects on ratings of women than on ratings of men. A MANOVA performed on the data for the trait dimensions (career seriousness, decisiveness, assertiveness, ambition, attractiveness, masculinity–femininity) yielded a significant effect for gender of stimulus person, F (6, 43) = 7.15, p ; .01 (?2 = .50), and for the interaction between condition (ascribed role) and gender of stimulus person, F (6, 43) = 2.36, p ; .03 (?2 = .25). Follow-up univariate analyses indicated that the effect for gender of stimulus person stemmed from the fact that women were rated as significantly more feminine than men (for women, M = 3.20; for men, M = 2.13), F (1, 48) = 27.10, p ; .001 (?2 = .36). In addition, women were rated as significantly more attractive than men (for women, M = 2.63; for men, M = 2.13), F (1, 48) = 10.92, p ; .002 (?2 = .19). Univariate analyses performed to examine the interaction between condition and gender of stimulus person more closely indicated that this interaction was significant for two trait dimensions: assertiveness, F (1, 48) = 3.87, p ; .05 (?2 = .04), and decisiveness, F (1, 48) = 3.74, p ; .05 (?2 = .03). As predicted, condition (manager, entrepreneur) exerted a stronger effect on ratings of women than on ratings of men (see Table 3) for both of these dimensions. These findings provide support for Hypothesis 4. (Long 2001)
A MANOVA performed on the attributional measures (the extent to which any success obtained by the stimulus persons was due to ability, effort, luck, or social skills) yielded a significant mean effect only for gender of stimulus person, F(4, 45) = 2.64, p ; .05 (?2 = .18). Follow-up univariate analyses indicated that this effect stemmed from one dependent measure—the item relating to effort. Men to a greater extent than women were seen as succeeding because of effort (for men, M = 3.70; for women, M = 3.42, p ; .05). The multivariate effect for the interaction between gender of stimulus person and condition did not attain significance, F (4, 45) = 1.62, p ; .10. However, univariate analyses indicated that this interaction was significant for one dependent measure—the item relating to luck, F(1, 48) = 3.71, p ; .05 (?2 = .07). As predicted, women’s success was seen as stemming less from luck when they were described as entrepreneurs (see Table 3). Again, these findings are consistent with Hypothesis 4. (Valian 2003)
Results offered support for Hypotheses 1 and 2; as predicted, women shown in standard-format photos received higher ratings when they were described as being entrepreneurs than when they were described as being managers. This pattern was obtained both for personal traits (Hypothesis 1) and for the perceived causes of their success (i.e., attributions—Hypothesis 2), and it was found in three separate studies (Studies 1, 2, and 3). In more specific terms, the women were rated significantly higher on two traits—decisiveness and career seriousness—when described as entrepreneurs (Hypothesis 1). Similarly, their success was attributed less to luck and more to specific skills (i.e., social skills—Hypothesis 2). Finally, as predicted by Hypothesis 3, the women shown in the photos were viewed as less feminine when described as entrepreneurs than as managers. (Valian 2003)
Results obtained in Study 3 offer supports for the prediction that the effects of ascribed role (entrepreneur vs. manager) would be weaker for men than for women. In Study 3, which used a complete factorial design, men did not receive significantly higher ratings when described as entrepreneurs than when described as managers, but such effects did occur for women. Taken together, these findings suggest that women may benefit to a greater extent than men from assuming entrepreneurial roles, at least with respect to how they are perceived by persons unacquainted with them. One explanation for these findings is provided by the operation of attributional augmenting (e.g., Kelley, 1973; McClure, 1998). Reasoning based on the operation of this attributional mechanism leads to the prediction that women who become entrepreneurs will be perceived more favorably than women who adopt other business roles—that is, ones associated with weaker perceived barriers to entry. Further, reasoning based on this mechanism also leads to the prediction that such effects will occur more strongly for women than for men. Results of all three studies are, by and large, consistent with these predictions. Women received higher ratings when described as being entrepreneurs than as managers (Studies 1 and 2), but similar effects did not occur for men (Study 3). Indeed, Study 3 yielded the interaction between ascribed role and gender of stimulus person predicted by attributional augmenting. (Xie 2003)
It is important to note, however, that even the findings of Study 3 do not provide conclusive evidence that the present results stem solely from the operation of attributional augmenting. On the contrary, the possibility remains that other factors, too, played some role. Several such factors can be readily suggested. One involves the possible existence of a general positive stereotype for entrepreneurs. Such a positive entrepreneurial stereotype could certainly enhance ratings assigned to women described as entrepreneurs. However, it would also be expected to enhance ratings of men as well. Yet this was not the case in the present data: Only women benefited significantly from being described as entrepreneurs. (Heilman et. all 2004)
Unfortunately, these processes may occur only after women have become entrepreneurs, so these processes would not be expected, in and of themselves, to increase the number of women who choose to start their own businesses. However, it seems possible that if women who are considering the possibility of becoming entrepreneurs are made aware of the beneficial effects that may follow from doing so, such knowledge might actually encourage them to “take the plunge.” Two of us (Robert A. Baron and Gideon D. Markman) currently teach courses on entrepreneurship, and we hope that making this information available to women contemplating careers as entrepreneurs will encourage them to actually pursue this option. (Long 2001)
Second, from a broader perspective, the present findings add to the small but growing body of literature seeking to establish closer conceptual links between psychology and the rapidly expanding field of entrepreneurship. The research reported here adds to this literature by suggesting that basic principles of attribution and social cognition can shed new light on important questions relating to entrepreneurship—for instance, how female entrepreneurs are perceived by other persons. Because perceptions of entrepreneurs often influence important decisions about them by venture capitalists, potential customers, prospective employees, and others, such perceptions may strongly affect entrepreneurs’ success in establishing new ventures. In the past, psychologists have devoted relatively little attention to the study of entrepreneurs and the factors that influence their success. Given the major contribution of entrepreneurs to modern economies, however, it seems important—and potentially very useful—to bring the tools, findings, and principles of modern psychology to bear on this topic. The research reported here represents one step in the direction of encouraging this process. (Heilman et. all 2004)
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