7.8 Agentic and communal occupational stereotypes in medical specializations in the Netherlands

Project info

Project consists of following studies
This PhD project investigates how both male and female doctors and medical students perceive the work culture of their specialization, and how this differs between male- and female-dominated medical fields. It further explores whether the creation of more diverse images of occupational success improves the fit that minorities experience within organizations, and whether this intervention would result in more sustainable cooperation because more individuals, not only those belonging to majority groups, will see themselves as part of a joint endeavour and are able to work together (i.e., challenge 7; Dealing with diversity/Reshaping organizational forms). Ultimately, these analyses will lead to designing interventionist strategies for more inclusive employment sectors.
Project start
End date
Behavioral theory
  • Identities
Utrecht University
Utrecht University
Utrecht University
Utrecht University
  • Social psychology
Work package
  • Work
Sustainability threat
  • External Shocks
  • Reshaping organizational forms
Theoretical background
A central concept within this project is the occupational stereotypes that students and doctors have of different medical specialties, that is the individual traits and characteristics that are perceived as required to become successful in the specific domain (Van Veelen & Derks, 2021). Previous research has suggested that, in the medical sector, this occupational stereotype is made up of mainly agentic traits (e.g., ambitious, self-confident, unemotional, Peters et al., 2012), which according to our stereotypes are more strongly associated with men than women. But there are also occupations in which the occupational stereotype is more strongly made up of communal traits, which are more strongly associated with women than men (Ellemers 2018, 281). Studies in other geographical settings have pointed out that gender segmentation in a certain medical specialization matters. For instance, women in male‐dominated professions will receive less support than their male colleagues, and moreover, women will typically receive more emotional support than men but obtain less informational and instrumental support (Wallace 2014, 11). These cooperation imbalances, create a vicious cycle in which men perceive more fit, opportunities, and are more likely to select and develop strong identification with male-dominated fields compared to women. In this PhD project we aim to transition into a virtuous cycle in which men and women perceive opportunities in each medical specialization and will see themselves as part of a joint endeavour. We will also examine possible positive spill-over effects of increased diversity and inclusion on work-life balance. Some central questions that the selected PhD-student will answer: To what extent does numerical representation of men and women in specializations predict the content of the occupational stereotype, with highly agentic stereotypes in male dominated specialties and more communal occupational stereotypes in female dominated specialties? What is the effect of numerical representation of men and women within specializations on male and female students’ selection of preferred specializations? Does the masculinity and femininity of these stereotypes predict ‘lack of fit’ among junior men and women, resulting in lower belonging and engagement to pursue a career in this specialization? Are similar ‘lack of fit’ principles at play for men in feminine sectors as there are for women in masculine sector? Is cooperation between individuals more sustainable (more positively evaluated, lower turnover intentions, more work engagement, higher professional identification, more strongly experienced as a joint endeavour) in specializations in which occupational stereotypes include a mix of agentic and communal traits (rather than only agentic traits)? The research results from PhD-project 3 will be linked to the historical processes uncovered in PhD-project 2 to gain a deeper understanding of the effects of stereotyping. For instance, can we trace the content of occupational stereotypes back to historical developments that are uncovered in PhD project 2? If so, can these developments inform us on how to improve occupational stereotypes so that they become more inviting for a diverse group of doctors? If not, why are current stereotypes specific to our era and can we use insights into why they change over time to change them for more inclusiveness in the future? Close communication and collaboration between PhD-projects 2 and 3 can also identify more concrete barriers that prevent women from entering certain specializations, which will help us formulate potential solutions to the problem. For instance, if the historical analysis of PhD-project 2 shows that specializations that worked in partnerships experienced a significantly lower influx of women than other specializations, partnerships could potentially be a more general barrier to women in the contemporary labour market and can thus be investigated as such in the context of PhD-project 3.
Research design
The selected PhD-student will use different research methods from social psychology to answer the research questions. First, two cross-sectional studies will be performed. The first survey focuses on medical specialists in a wide range of specializations (differing in numerical representation of women) in which we measure perceptions of occupational stereotypes, fit with these stereotypes and outcomes related to sustainable cooperation (e.g., organizational culture, perceived fit, professional identification, collaboration with colleagues, work engagement, turnover intentions). A second survey study will zoom in on medical students to assess with regard to different specializations their perceptions of numerical representation of men and women, perceived occupational stereotypes, fit with these stereotypes and attractiveness of the different specializations. Next, we perform experimental studies on male and female medical students in which we test an intervention based on manipulating the information provided about the occupational stereotypes (e.g., highly agentic, highly communal, mixed) . We measure whether this intervention indeed affects the attractiveness of different specializations e. Finally, we test our intervention in physiological studies in which we examine whether students show more physiological challenge and less threat when envisaging their future career as a doctor when they are presented with an occupational stereotype that fits their own perception of the kind of doctor they will be. In these studies we use the biopsychosocial model of challenge and threat (Blascovich & Tomaka, 1996) to assess patterns of cardiovascular activity that indicate whether individuals perceive their situation as a positive challenge or a difficult threat. We expect that a challenge motivational state is likely to boost sustainable cooperation as it may set in motion a virtuous cycle in which individuals are able to remain motivated and overcome challenges on their way to building a career as a medical doctor. Threat, on the other hand, may harm sustainable cooperation as it is more likely to produce a vicious cycle in which especially those students who experience a lack of fit may succumb under pressure and leave their specialization.
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