Confronting sexism may be 'antidote' for workplace distress

November 29, 2010

Women who publicly confront instances of sexism in the workplace tend to feel more capable and competent in their jobs and about themselves in general, a new study shows.

The research from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln examined how both men and women perceive, react to and relate to everyday episodes of workplace prejudice, and found that women who challenge sexist behavior experience psychological benefits such as self-esteem, empowerment and competence.

"Most everyday instances of prejudice are somewhat subtle, but things like sexist jokes can undermine workplace performance and perceptions of competence and control for women," said Sarah Gervais, assistant professor of psychology at UNL and the study's lead author.

"Importantly, directly challenging such instances of sexism can serve as an antidote for negative psychological effects -- turning a negative event into an instance that makes women feel better about themselves and their work, and even to feel empowered."

For the study, researchers set up a simulated online interaction. After participants were presented with a sexist comment that was openly directed at a woman in the group, they were given the chance to respond publicly to the statement and discuss its appropriateness.

The analysis showed that workers of both sexes most likely to confront the comment were the ones who were more "communal oriented" -- that is, they saw their workplace as a community, and were naturally more willing to help others, with no expectation of getting anything in return.

Unlike women who confronted the sexist remark, calling out the employee's sexist behavior had little relationship to men's general feelings of competence, self-esteem or empowerment at work. That suggests, Gervais said, that confronting workplace prejudice may be particularly important for those who are the traditional victims of the behavior -- in this case, women.

Gervais said the study's findings also could help employers look at confrontation of workplace prejudice in a different light, promoting a work culture that would foster greater understanding between employees.

The study is the first to examine employees' communal orientation as a factor in confronting workplace prejudice, and suggests that companies may want to think about ways to reward workers for helping others, Gervais said.

Also according to the study: "Challenging prejudice can be good for the workplace and can help overcome some of the negative effects victims of prejudice might experience," she said. "The next time you hear a prejudiced statement, it could be an opportunity to make a difference for yourself and others."
-end-
The study, which appeared in a recent edition of the journal Sex Roles, was authored by UNL's Gervais and Amy L. Hilliard, and Theresa K. Vescio of Penn State University.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Related Behavior Articles from Brightsurf:

Variety in the migratory behavior of blackcaps
The birds have variable migration strategies.

Fishing for a theory of emergent behavior
Researchers at the University of Tsukuba quantified the collective action of small schools of fish using information theory.

How synaptic changes translate to behavior changes
Learning changes behavior by altering many connections between brain cells in a variety of ways all at the same time, according to a study of sea slugs recently published in JNeurosci.

I won't have what he's having: The brain and socially motivated behavior
Monkeys devalue rewards when they anticipate that another monkey will get them instead.

Unlocking animal behavior through motion
Using physics to study different types of animal motion, such as burrowing worms or flying flocks, can reveal how animals behave in different settings.

AI to help monitor behavior
Algorithms based on artificial intelligence do better at supporting educational and clinical decision-making, according to a new study.

Increasing opportunities for sustainable behavior
To mitigate climate change and safeguard ecosystems, we need to make drastic changes in our consumption and transport behaviors.

Predicting a protein's behavior from its appearance
Researchers at EPFL have developed a new way to predict a protein's interactions with other proteins and biomolecules, and its biochemical activity, merely by observing its surface.

Spirituality affects the behavior of mortgagers
According to Olga Miroshnichenko, a Sc.D in Economics, and a Professor at the Department of Economics and Finance, Tyumen State University, morals affect the thinking of mortgage payers and help them avoid past due payments.

Asking if behavior can be changed on climate crisis
One of the more complex problems facing social psychologists today is whether any intervention can move people to change their behavior about climate change and protecting the environment for the sake of future generations.

Read More: Behavior News and Behavior Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.