Sex Roles [sers] pp1103-sers-480105 February 13, 2004 22:50 Style ﬁle version June 3rd, 2002
Sex Roles, Vol. 50, Nos. 5/6, March 2004 (
The Inﬂuence of Social Status on Token Women Leaders’
Expectations About Leading Male-Dominated Groups
Theodore W. McDonald,
Loren L. Toussaint,
and Jennifer A. Schweiger
Prior research has shown that women report mostly negative expectations about being a
gender-token in male-dominated work groups. We speculate that this is partially caused by
the socially ascribed status devaluation of women. In this study we investigated the degree to
which elevated social status may lessen negative expectations of gender-token women assigned
to leadership positions. Sixty-three undergraduate women participated in 1 of 3 tokenism
conditions: (1) nontoken, (2) gender-token, and (3) high-status gender-token. In all conditions
participants were led to believe that they would be leading a group of men in a decision-making
exercise. Leader expectations were then assessed. The results suggest that increased social
status may help prevent gender-token women from developing negative expectations about
interactions with male-dominated work groups.
KEY WORDS: gender; status; tokenism; leadership.
The past several decades have seen several re-
markable transformations in the workplace in indus-
trialized, Western countries. One of the most strik-
ing changes that have occurred is the large increase
in workforce participation by women (Budig, 2002;
Burke, 2001; Konrad & Cannings, 1997; Neubert,
1999). Although many women have been employed
in “lower paying, feminized occupations” (Budig,
2002, p. 258), there has been extensive interest in the
small numbers of women who are employed in ﬁelds
that have traditionally been populated almost exclu-
sively by men (Floge & Merrill, 1986; Greed, 2000;
Hammond & Mahoney, 1983; Kanter, 1977a, 1977b;
Linehan, 2002; Ott, 1989; Yoder, Adams, & Prince,
1983). The experiences of these women, known as
“tokens” (Kanter, 1977a) because of their numeri-
cal scarcity, have been carefully documented by many
Social scientists have closely assessed how token
women in male-dominated ﬁelds have been received
Department of Psychology, Boise State University, Boise, Idaho.
Idaho State University, Pocatello, Idaho.
University of New Haven, West Haven, Connecticut.
To whom correspondence should be addressed at Department
of Psychology, MS-1715, Boise State University, 1910 University
Drive, Boise, Idaho 83725-1715; e-mail: email@example.com.
by their male counterparts, as well as how they have
performed and how they have felt about their organi-
zational experiences. As we will describe in some de-
tail, it has been found that token women tend to feel
isolated, to be contrasted against their male peers, and
to experience heightened pressure to perform well,
both when they are members of a male-dominated
work group and when they are tasked with leading
such a group. It has also been found that token men
generally do not have the same negative outcomes
(in fact, they may beneﬁt from their token status).
Why token women have negative tokenism experi-
ences, and token men often do not, is an important
question with many implications for the workplace.
The purpose of this paper is to review the literature
on token women, and then to present the results of
a study that offers one possible answer as to why to-
ken women tend to experience difﬁculties in organiza-
tional settings—because they are ascribed by society
lower status than are men.
TOKEN WOMEN IN THE WORKFORCE
In her pioneering work on tokenism, Kanter
(1977a, 1977b) described tokens as individuals who
2004 Plenum Publishing Corporation