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Breaking down barriers for women in the workplace

Gender Equity

Traci Sitzmann researched some measures women can take to overcome discrimination in male-dominated positions

Why is a woman labeled as “ice queen” when she lands a leadership position while possessing the same traits as her male counterpart? Traci Sitzmann, PhD, associate professor of Management, studied the effects of discrimination in the workplace for women and how attractive women can overcome these stereotypes in male-dominant industries.

Sitzmann, recently featured in CNN Money for her research in this area, conducted three studies to establish an intervention for mitigating the beauty is beastly effect, a phenomenon in which physically attractive women are discriminated against when applying for masculine sex-typed jobs.

Such discrimination occurs because society connects stereotypically male traits with leadership. On the other hand, we think of feminist traits like gentleness and nurturing as inconsistent with strong leadership.

“What often happens is a woman goes into a leadership role or role that is not typically female, and she’s being evaluated based on being a woman. So, if you’re behaving like a woman, and you’re in a male sex-type job, you’re a misfit for the job. You’re not engaging in the right behaviors.”

Attractive women also need to worry about being treated as an object rather than being valued for their brain power and competency. Through her research, Sitzmann set out to determine exactly how women can overcome these stereotypes.

How to beat female stereotypes

The study found that women who were interviewing for leadership positions in male-dominated industries were more likely to be hired if they acknowledged their sex or physical appearance was different than the typical applicant. This phenomenon is aptly named the acknowledgment intervention.

When a woman said, ‘I know that I don’t look like your typical construction worker, and there are not a lot of women working in the industry,’ she was more likely to be hired.”

By acknowledging her differences, the woman applying for a construction job demonstrated traits necessary for the job like willingness to take risks, independence, and assertiveness. Possessing these stereotypical male traits are necessary for a woman to succeed in a male-dominated industry like construction. What that all boils down to is by acknowledging her difference, she showed the traits needed for the job and was more likely to be hired.

On the other hand, the acknowledgment of such differences can backfire. The study concluded that an unattractive applicant was rated significantly worse when she acknowledged her appearance. To avoid such a mistake, make sure you have an accurate self-perception before making any acknowledgments in the interview.

Although there are many studies on discrimination against women in the workplace, this study was the first to develop and test the effects of a theory-driven intervention for mitigating the beauty is beastly effect.

The takeaway from Sitzmann’s research is simply acknowledging one’s physical appearance and gender reduces employment discrimination against attractive women applying for a stereotypical masculine job.