Are Single Women Promoted into Leadership Positions in Business? Evidence of Incongruity Penalties of Single Women with Masculine Talents
59 Pages Posted: 14 Oct 2019
Date Written: September 30, 2019
We advance scholarship on gender inequality in leadership by drawing attention to a growing but less studied group: single women (non-mother) professionals. Our thesis is that single, non-mother status is perceived as incongruent with societal and role expectations of leadership for women, stunting their early career advancement in the workplace relative to other gender and marital status groups. In line with role expectations theory, we expect this incongruity with leadership to be penalizing under conditions that make singlehood status salient for women in the workplace, namely having gender inconsistent (stereotypically masculine) talents. Using a multi-method approach, we investigate the early career promotions of men and women MBAs and present evidence that supports our thesis. In Study 1, an experiment with MBA students, we observe a negative promotion bias against analytically-talented (masculine) single women MBAs whom participants assess as inferior leaders compared to otherwise identical analytically-talented single men, married men, and married women candidates. Study 2 provides external validity by analyzing the actual early career mobility outcomes of two cohorts of MBA graduates and shows consistent evidence of an incongruity penalty toward analytically-talented (masculine) single women. The combined studies unveil a discrimination-based penalty where singlehood status conflicts with the role of leadership ascribed to women when they excel in a masculine talent.
Keywords: Gender, Leadership, Marital Status, Single Women
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