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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02264

Does Exposure to Counterstereotypical Role Models Influence Girls’ and Women’s Gender Stereotypes and Career Choices? A Review of Social Psychological Research

  • 1UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Norway

Gender roles are formed in early childhood and continue to influence behavior through adolescence and adulthood, including the choice of academic majors and careers. In many countries, men are underrepresented in communal roles in health care, elementary education, and domestic functions (HEED fields, Croft, Schmader, & Block, 2015), whereas women are underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematical (STEM) fields (Beede et al., 2011) and top leadership positions (Leopold, Ratcheva, & Zahidi, 2016). Theories focusing on the development of gender roles suggest that across the lifespan people perceive certain roles to be more or less appropriate for their gender (e.g., Gender Schema Theory, Martin & Halverson, 1981; Social Role Theory, Eagly & Wood, 2011). Specifically, researchers have postulated that observing same-sex role models triggers learning processes whereby observers internalize gender-stereotypical knowledge of roles and act accordingly, which results in gender-congruent aspirations and behavior. It seems reasonable that if observing men and women in gender congruent roles fosters gender-congruent aspirations and behavior, then frequently observing gender-incongruent role models (e.g., male kindergarten teachers or female scientists and leaders) should reduce gender stereotyping and promote gender-counterstereotypical aspirations and behavior. In many countries, governments and societal decision-makers have formed initiatives based on the idea that exposure to gender-counterstereotypical role models influences aspirations and career choices among children, adolescents, and young adults. The present review gives an overview of research-based interventions involving observing or interacting with counterstereotypical role models, particularly focusing on outcomes for girls and women. Extending earlier reviews, we summarize laboratory-based and field-based studies and then critically discuss and integrate the findings in order to provide an overall picture of how counterstereotypical role models shape observers’ occupational aspirations and academic choices in childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. We conclude by outlining suggestions for future research and briefly discussing implications for future interventions.

Keywords: role models, stereotypes, stem, Leadership, Women, girls, Counterstereotypical

Received: 02 May 2018; Accepted: 31 Oct 2018.

Edited by:

Alice H. Eagly, Northwestern University, United States

Reviewed by:

Thekla Morgenroth, University of Exeter, United Kingdom
Georgina Randsley De Moura, University of Kent, United Kingdom  

Copyright: © 2018 Olsson and Martiny. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Miss. Maria I. Olsson, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø, Norway,