August 03, 2006

Business professor explores gender stereotyping

by Sun Min

CARBONDALE, IL. -- A researcher at Southern Illinois University Carbondale is studying gender stereotyping in the United States and Sweden. By examining the differences in the two cultures, scholars can assist organizations that are working to shatter the "glass ceiling" for women in business.

Steven J. Karau, associate professor of management in SIUC's College of Business and Administration, recently presented a paper entitled "Cultural and gender stereotyping of managerial roles in Sweden and the United States" at the annual conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology in Dallas, Texas. Eric M. Hansen, assistant professor of psychology at Malardalen University in Sweden, co-authored the paper.

"It is important to understand barriers that may prevent women from rising to the top levels in organizations despite some gains at lower levels in the organization – the so-called "glass ceiling" phenomenon," Karau said. "We should understand gender stereotyping as a factor and how it can influence judgments. It's also important to understand international influences on perceptions of women and managers. Because the vast majority of gender and management research has been done in the U.S. or Canada, we need a better understanding of other cultures."

In Karau's study, he asked college students in the U.S. and Sweden to rate a number of traits on the degree to which they are descriptive of either men in general, women in general, or middle managers. Prior work revealed there is greater overlap between traits ascribed to managers and traits ascribed to men than there is between manager traits and traits of women, a phenomenon called the "think manager-think male effect." Karau found that the "think manager-think male" effect only holds for male raters, and is much lower in Sweden than in the U.S.

Over the years, Karau has presented his research on gender and management issues at conferences all over the world. He believes his work could help improve opportunities for women. "My hope would be for organizations to rely more directly on people's qualifications and to become aware of potential contaminating factors in their judgments in order to make better hiring and promotion decisions such that every person has a chance to go as far as their talents will take them," he said.

Leading in research, scholarly and creative activities is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.