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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