The impact of female role models on women’s leadership aspirations and self-perceptions after a leadership task were assessed across two laboratory studies. These studies tested the prediction that upward social comparisons to high-level female leaders will have a relatively detrimental impact on women’s self-perceptions and leadership aspirations compared to male and less elite female leaders. In Study 1 (N = 60), women were presented with both female and male leaders before serving as leaders of ostensible three-person groups in an immersive virtual environment. This study established the relatively deflating impact of high-level female leaders, compared to high-level male leaders and the control condition, on participants’ self-perceptions. Using a similar methodology, Study 2 (N = 57) further demonstrated that the impact of elite female leaders on participants’ self-perceptions in turn adversely affects their leadership aspirations. This study also showed more positive responses to non-elite female leaders with whom participants more strongly identify and who increase counter-stereotypic thinking. Taken together, these studies point to a potential dark side of elite female leaders as role models in a domain where individuals are possible targets of a negative stereotype. However, they also point to the relatively more beneficial impact of female role models who disconfirm the negative stereotype.

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Copyright © 2011 The Author(s). Article first published online: 2 MARCH 2011. DOI: 10.1177/0361684310385216.

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Hoyt, C. L., and S. Simon. "Female Leaders: Injurious or Inspiring Role Models for Women?" Psychology of Women Quarterly 35, no. 1 (March 02, 2011): 143-57. doi:10.1177/0361684310385216.