The Compassionate Sexist? How Benevolent Sexism Promotes and Undermines Gender Equality in the Workplace

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Abstract

Although sexist attitudes are generally thought to undermine support for employment equity (EE) policies supporting women, we argue that the effects of benevolent sexism are more complex. Across 4 studies, we extend the ambivalent sexism literature by examining both the positive and the negative effects benevolent sexism has for the support of gender-based EE policies. On the positive side, we show that individuals who endorse benevolent sexist attitudes on trait measures of sexism (Study 1) and individuals primed with benevolent sexist attitudes (Study 2) are more likely to support an EE policy, and that this effect is mediated by feelings of compassion. On the negative side, we find that this support extends only to EE policies that promote the hiring of women in feminine, and not in masculine, positions (Study 3 and 4). Thus, while benevolent sexism may appear to promote gender equality, it subtly undermines it by contributing to occupational gender segregation and leading to inaction in promoting women in positions in which they are underrepresented (i.e., masculine positions).

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