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Contextualizing the think crisis-think female stereotype in explaining the glass cliff: Gendered traits, gender, and type of crisis

, Leire Gartzia, Meera Komarraju, Cristina Aelenei
Published: 2 March 2021
PLoS ONE , Volume 16; doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0246576

Abstract: The glass cliff suggests that women are more likely to access leadership positions when organizations are facing a crisis. Although this phenomenon is well established, it is still largely unknown how variations in types of crises influence the strength of the think crisis-think female association, and whether female leaders and leaders with communal gendered traits are both affected by this association. We hypothesized that selection of stereotypically feminine traits (communal leaders) is specific to a relational crisis because of a fit between leader traits and traits required by the situation. We further expected that the selection of women also extends to other crisis situations because other factors such as their signaling change potential may play a role. We investigated the associations that participants made with candidates who varied across gendered traits and gender and between two crisis situations involving problems with either stereotypically feminine (e.g., an internal disharmony) or masculine (e.g., a financial problem) components, and a no crisis situation control. Results from three experimental studies (Ns = 319, 384, 385) supported our hypotheses by showing that communal leaders were most strongly associated with a relational crisis and least with a financial crisis, with the no crisis context situated in-between. This pattern was explained by higher relevance ratings for communal leadership behavior in the relational crisis versus financial crisis context, with the no crisis context situated in-between. In contrast, female leaders were most strongly associated with the relational crisis and least with the no crisis context, with the financial crisis situated in-between. Specific explanatory mechanisms related to the female-crisis association are explored and discussed. Our findings suggest that implicit motivations for valuing feminine/communal leadership and atypical leaders in crisis situations need further research.
Keywords: Behavior / Decision making / Experimental design / United States / Sexual and gender issues / Employment / Financial markets / Finance

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