“I’m not bossy, I’m the boss.”
So proclaims Beyoncé in a video in support of the #banbossy campaign. The campaign highlights how when little boys take charge, they’re often praised for being a “leader.” But when little girls do, they’re more likely to be scolded for being too “bossy.”
And it matters for grownups, too. Research and media stories abound with examples of how gender stereotypes disadvantage women leaders. A woman manager is less likely to be taken seriously by the people who work for her.
When men direct others, they’re often assumed to be assertive and competent. But when women direct others, they’re often disliked and labelled abrasive or bossy.
Our new study puts a twist on this narrative. Gender bias doesn’t merely disadvantage women, it also can disadvantage men. The reason? We don’t just stereotype men and women. We stereotype jobs.
Firefighters and nurses
Many jobs in the economy are gender-stereotyped. Firefighting is thought of as a man’s job, whereas nursing is thought of as women’s work.
Previous studies have shown that these stereotypes – which shape our expectations about whether a man or a woman is a better “fit” for a given job – are powerful because they can bias a whole host of employment outcomes. For instance, they influence the chances that a man or a woman will apply for the job, that he or she will be hired, the pay each would receive and even performance evaluations that determine promotions.
We examined borrowers’ missed payment rates as a measure of the authority they afford their managers. Making a payment on time signals that the borrower views the manager as someone whose authority is legitimate and whose directives should be followed. In contrast, missing a payment signals that the borrower feels he or she can approach his or her responsibilities to the manager more laxly. When borrowers miss payments, it suggests the manager lacks the ability to secure compliance and therefore lacks authority.
We found that it took only one interaction before clients assigned a gender to the job and began to treat anyone in that role (man or woman) based on that stereotype, which meant less authority if the loan manager position was seen as a “woman’s job.” So if a client’s first manager was a woman, they would tend to miss more payments on their loan – even if later transferred to a male manager – compared with one who was initially paired with a man. These effects persisted even when we accounted for other factors that might affect repayment, like income and loan size.