Gender-specific vocabulary reinforces stereotypes that women cannot be leaders

(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists have shown a difference in the perception of gender-neutral English words denoting leadership positions and words ending in the root “man” (“man”).

It turned out that the use of gender-specific vocabulary supports stereotypes that women cannot hold leadership positions, which can undermine their self-confidence.

Disputes about the use of gender-specific or neutral vocabulary to describe leadership positions and titles affect almost all areas of life.

In English-speaking countries, the possibility of replacing words such as “alderman” (“member of the municipal council”) or “councilman” (“counselor”) with their gender-neutral counterparts, for example, “council member” is being considered. Since the latter do not contain the root “man”, which translates not only as “man”, but also as “man”.

Some researchers believe that male gender-specific language can reinforce stereotypes that only men can hold leadership positions and undermine women’s confidence that they can be good leaders.

Scientists from the University of Houston (USA) tested this hypothesis. In The Leadership Quarterly, they presented the results of two experiments.

In the first, participants were asked to read a note about a hypothetical chairman, who was called “chairman” in one case and “chair” in another. At the same time, the name of the chairman was neutral, for example, Taylor Simmons.

Respondents read about Simmons’ position, age, and work experience. After reading, participants were asked to write down what a typical chairman’s morning might look like. The results reflected the stereotype that leadership positions are dominated by men.

When reading about Simmons, more than half of the participants considered him a man – despite the fact that the gender was never mentioned in the article.

In addition, respondents were more likely to refer to the chairman as a man if he was called “chairman” in the text, confirming that the use of the root “man” fuels stereotypes.

In the second experiment, the gender of the chairman was specified in the text (again “chairman” or “chair”), his/her name was either Joan or John Davenport.

After reading the note, the participants shared their opinion about the chairman and then they were asked to remember the name.

They could choose between John, Joan, Joseph, Josie, or say they didn’t remember. The term “chairman” increased the accuracy of remembering the male name, but reduced the success of remembering the female one.

At the same time, the scientists did not find any evidence that the gender of the participants mattered. Women were no less susceptible to prejudice than men.

This may be due to the fact that gender stereotypes are transmitted and reinforced at the societal level, and may be manifested unconsciously and inadvertently.


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