Does Using Gender-Neutral Language Impact Stereotypes of Women in Leadership Positions?

A new study led by Allison M.N. Archer of the University of Houston and co-authored by Cindy D. Kam of Vanderbilt University in Nashville examined the effects of using gender-neutral language such as “chair” versus traditional terms such as “chairman.”

In the study, participants read about a hypothetical “chair” or “chairman” of a paperclip company, a state legislative Ways and Means Committee, or a sociology department at a university. The researchers purposefully chose a gender-neutral name for the leader: Taylor or Pat Simmons. Respondents were told about Simmons’ leadership position, age, and time spent at their institution. They were also given some information about the company, committee, or department. After reading this brief paragraph, individuals were asked to write, in five complete sentences, what a typical morning for Chair or Chairman Simmons might look like.

“The pronouns used in participants’ sentences revealed their assumptions about Simmons’ gender. Our results first reflect the stereotype that leadership positions belong to men: when reading about Chair Simmons, a little more than half of respondents assumed the leader was a man even though Simmons’ gender was not specified,” said Dr. Archer, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Houston. When reading about Chairman Simmons, study participants became more likely to assume the leader was a man than in the chair condition. “The results suggest masculine language further accentuates stereotypes that men hold leadership positions,” she added.

“Overall, we found that masculine leadership titles really do matter,” concludes Dr. Archer. “Titles like ‘chairman’ increase people’s assumptions that men are in leadership positions and decrease recollections that women hold such positions of power. This suggests gender-neutral and masculine leadership titles are not just synonyms for each other. Masculine leadership titles reinforce stereotypes that tie men to leadership and undermine the connection between women and leadership.”

Dr. Archer is a graduate of Emory University in Atlanta. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in political science from Vanderbilt University.

The full study, “She Is the Chair(man): Gender, Language, and Leadership,” was published on the website of The Leadership Quarterly. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/StudyWomen's Studies


RSSComments (0)

Leave a Reply