Does Rejection Sensitivity Promote or Prevent Sexism in the Workplace?

In competitive workplace environments, women often aspire to achieve status equal to their male counterparts. But a new study suggests that women who are sensitive to rejection by male superiors may engage in self-silencing behaviors that actually promote, rather than prevent sexism. Self-silencing occurs when an individual refrains from verbalizing their opinions or beliefs for fear of being rejected by a person in a position of power or authority. To determine if this act impairs a woman’s ability to achieve equality in a work environment, Bonita London of the Department of Psychology at Stony Brook University led a study examining this unique phenomenon. “We propose that, to the extent that normatively stressful situations in institutions that have historically limited women’s participation activate concerns about gender-based rejection, women will more readily detect gender-rejection threat and, to protect against rejection, will cope by self-silencing,” said London.

Using the Rejection-Sensitivity (RS) model, London and her colleagues conducted a series of studies on female law students over the course of several weeks. The first several studies developed the basis for the Gender RS, using overall gender sensitivity, anxiety, fear and threat detection. The last two studies examined the direct relationship between Gender RS and self-silencing. London found that the participants who were more sensitive to gender-based rejection were more likely to avoid rejection through self-silencing than participants with low Gender RS. Although highly competitive environments may be stressful to both males and females, many of the females in the study believed their gender had a negative influence on stressful circumstances. These findings emphasize the need for further exploration of Gender RS and the effects it has on women’s advancement in the workplace. London added, “In this way, the Gender RS system suggests how individual self-protective responses to threatening institutional circumstances, in the aggregate, can contribute to the continuity of institutional sexism.”

London, B., Downey, G., Romero-Canyas, R., Rattan, A., & Tyson, D. (2011, December 19). Gender-Based Rejection Sensitivity and Academic Self-Silencing in Women. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026615

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  • Ursula


    January 13th, 2012 at 5:31 AM

    Look women in these situations have to find a way to get over all of that ok? There have been more times than I can count that I have been demeaned at work because I am a woman. But the best thing to do is to ignore it and move on. Show them that the words that they use against you have little meaning, and that is the truth if you don’t let them. You have to suck it up a little bit and not start to feel that way about yourself, because if you do, then they win.

  • bono


    January 13th, 2012 at 3:52 PM

    Just be confident in your own abilities and you never have to worry about any of this bothering you to begin with.



    January 15th, 2012 at 11:57 PM

    Although women need to be on their toes to be taken just as seriously,something I do not like,just giving up is not going to do them any good either..Any employee for that matter cannot afford to give up at the workplace.

  • Bob Campbell

    Bob Campbell

    January 16th, 2012 at 5:54 AM

    My feeling has always been this- if you are doing a good job at work then I don’t care one way or another if you are a man or a woman. And that is your problem that you have to live with if this is something that you allow to continue to bother you and affect your job performance.

  • Michell


    January 17th, 2012 at 5:19 AM

    It’s not so easy to keep doing your job if you feel like you are constantly being undermined and belittled at every turn

  • Yvonne A. Dowds

    Yvonne A. Dowds

    January 25th, 2012 at 6:22 PM

    Well I wouldn’t call it sexist behavior, but it does make you easier to push around or to just keep quiet on everything. I’ve read a few times the more likely you are to be assertive, the more likely you are to get a raise or promotion. Who do you remember more? The random guy you passed in the street or the one who was doing something out of the norm? If you’re too meek and mild, you won’t make an impression in the corporate world.

  • Keith Jordan

    Keith Jordan

    January 25th, 2012 at 8:57 PM

    In a workplace environment it’s normal to keep your mouth closed if you know your place in the hierarchy and want to keep your job. People who are more easily compliant get extra work passed onto them in my experience because they won’t whine about it. Or should I say most easy to manipulate? I’m not sure. Whatever it is, if speaking up is risking your job, in this economy what’s the smarter thing to do? Don’t do it.

  • charlenewatson


    January 31st, 2012 at 9:40 PM

    Thinking you’re going to get rejected, saying nothing, and then accusing everyone of being part of a sexist environment? Really? No. That would be like me going to school and never raising my hand, then to my teacher, “You’re racist! You never call on me.” If you want things you sometimes need to ask for them and put yourself front and center.

  • Elliot S.

    Elliot S.

    January 31st, 2012 at 10:30 PM

    All I’m really getting from this article is that women are not getting promoted or raises, nor being treated well because they are being wallflowers. I doubt it’s anything to do with sexism.

    Why weren’t any men studied in this? The entire study was biased from the beginning imho. Throw an equal amount of men into the study (maybe ones that work for a female-orientated company like Victoria’s Secret) and maybe I’ll consider the viewpoint.

  • paula melville

    paula melville

    February 11th, 2012 at 2:31 AM

    It’s quite ironic that this article says that gender sensitivity and rejection sensitivity causes sexism and yet the study itself was quite sexist because of it focusing purely on women and branding this as a female-only issue like they would period pain. Men could suffer from the same situation if the roles were reversed.

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