Women are less likely than men to be associated with leadership, and the awareness of this stereotype may undermine women's performance in leadership tasks. One way to circumvent this stereotype threat is to expose women to highly successful female role models. Although such exposures are known to decrease women's leadership aspirations and self-evaluations, it is currently unknown what the effects of role models are on actual behavior during a challenging leadership task. We investigated whether highly successful female role models empower women's behavior in a leadership task. In a virtual reality environment, 149 male and female students gave a public speech, while being subtly exposed to either a picture of Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel, Bill Clinton, or no picture. We recorded the length of speeches as an objective measure of empowered behavior in a stressful leadership task. Perceived speech quality was also coded by independent raters. Women spoke less than men when a Bill Clinton picture or no picture was presented. This gender difference disappeared when a picture of Hillary Clinton or Angela Merkel was presented, with women showing a significant increase when exposed to a female role model compared to a male role model or no role models. Longer speaking times also translated into higher perceived speech quality for female participants. Empowered behavior also mediated the effects of female role models on women's self-evaluated performance. In sum, subtle exposures to highly successful female leaders inspired women's behavior and self-evaluations in stressful leadership tasks.
► We examined the effect of successful role models on behavior in a leadership task. ► Exposures to female role models empowered women's behavior and self-evaluations. ► Exposure to female role models eliminated the gender performance gap. ► Role models did not affect men's leadership behavior.
- Sex role attitude;
- Role model