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The impact of styling on a woman’s perceived competency, warmth and likelihood of gaining leadership

Women make up almost half of the workforce and are gaining more and higher qualifications than men yet are still vastly underrepresented at higher levels of management. Constitutional and multidimensional frameworks of gender stereotyping, such as the think-manager-think-male phenomenon suggest that leadership is associated with masculine rather than feminine attributes. If women behave and present themselves in masculine way they run the risk of being disliked and harshly judged for not conforming to their gendered expectations. Women have to walk a fine line between behaving and appearing somewhat masculine but not too masculine and somewhat feminine but not too feminine. What women wear and how they present themselves can and will impact how they are perceived. Previous research has found that masculine styling can have a positive impact on perceived leadership abilities for women. There is still limited research around the effects of single, isolated styling elements. Therefore, this study aims to build upon Klatt, Eimler & Kramer’s research regarding the influence of styling elements and the evaluations on a woman's competence, warmth and likelihood of getting hired for a leadership position. In a 2x2x2x2 between-subject design, the effects of the styling elements pants/skirt, hair up/hair down, flats/heels, visible tattoo/no tattoo on leadership perceptions were tested. One hundred thirty-nine first-year psychology students completed an online survey evaluating a woman in a photograph. Participants were presented with one of the 16 possible photographs that exhibited the different styling combinations. Participants were asked to rate the woman in the picture with regards to their perceptions of that person's competence, warmth and likelihood they would hire them for a leadership position. Perceptions of masculinity and femininity were also recorded. A multivariate analysis revealed that women who wear their hair down or have a visible tattoo were rated the highest in warmth. While the combinations of wearing pants and having hair tied up increased the perceiver's ratings of competence. None of the styling elements influenced the person's likelihood of getting hired for a leadership position. Unexpectedly, photographs of the stimuli wearing pants were rated more feminine, and skirts were rated more masculine. These results contradict findings from previous research. A possible cause of these peculiar results could be due to the lack of diversity and the young age of participants within the sample population. This research highlights the need for further exploration to clarify the impacts that individual styling elements can have on women's perceived leadership ability. Outcomes from further research could provide a more definitive guideline for women to refer to when they are looking to attain a leadership role.
Type of thesis
Watt, M. (2020). The impact of styling on a woman’s perceived competency, warmth and likelihood of gaining leadership (Thesis, Master of Applied Psychology (MAppPsy)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/14088
The University of Waikato
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