Does Stereotype Threat Affect Women in Academic Medicine?

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Abstract

Multiple complex factors contribute to the slow pace of women's advancement into leadership positions in academic medicine. In this article, the authors propose that stereotype threat—under which individuals who are members of a group characterized by negative stereotypes in a particular domain perform below their actual abilities in that domain when group membership is emphasized—may play an important role in the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions in academic medicine. Research to objectively assess the impact of stereotype threat for women in academic medicine is feasible and necessary to confirm this hypothesis. Still, a number of conditions present in the academic medicine community today have been shown to trigger stereotype threat in other settings, and stereotype threat fits with existing research on gender in academic medicine. In the meantime, academic health centers should implement relatively simple measures supported by experimental evidence from other settings to reduce the risk of stereotype threat, including (1) introducing the concept of stereotype threat to the academic medicine community, (2) engaging all stakeholders, male and female, to promote identity safety by enacting and making faculty aware of policies to monitor potential instances of discrimination, and training faculty to provide performance feedback that is free of gender bias, (3) counteracting the effects of sex segregation at academic health centers by increasing exposure to successful female leaders, (4) reducing gender stereotype priming by avoiding stereotypically male criteria for promotion, grants, and awards, and (5) building leadership efficacy among female physicians and scientists.

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