'Chair' versus 'chairman': Gendered language reinforces stereotypes, study finds

Masculine job titles such as chairman, alderman and councilman contribute to assumptions about the titleholder's gender, according to a study published in The Leadership Quarterly

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Houston and Nashville, Tenn.-based Vanderbilt University, involved two experiments. 

The first asked participants to read about a hypothetical "chair" or "chairman" with a gender neutral name such as Taylor or Pat. Participants then wrote a paragraph about the hypothetical person, and the pronouns they used revealed their gender assumptions. 

Over half the participants assumed the "chair" was a man, even though their name was gender neutral. They were even more likely to assume the "chairman" was a man, the study found. 

The second experiment asked participants to read about a "chair" or "chairman" with the name Joan or John. They were then asked to recall the person's name from a list of four similar options: Joan, John, Joseph or Josie. 

The title "chairman" increased recall when the leader was a man, but decreased it when the leader was a woman. Using the title "chairman" increased the probability that a female leader would be wrongly recalled as a man, the study found. 

“Overall, we found that masculine leadership titles really do matter — they affect assumptions about and recollections of leaders' gender," said Allison Archer, PhD, a lead on the study and assistant professor of political science and communication at the University of Houston. "Masculine leadership titles reinforce stereotypes that tie men to leadership and undermine the connection between women and leadership.”

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