Communicative strategies for organizational survival : an analysis of stereotype threat of women in petroleum engineering

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Heller, Abigail A.

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This study investigated stereotype threat of women in petroleum engineering, a traditionally male-dominated industry. There were two main purposes to understanding communicative aspects of stereotype threat: 1) the creation of a typology of stereotype threats received and 2) the elaboration of coping strategies used to mitigate threats. This research examined contextual factors that influence women’s coping, including socialization, psychological inoculations, and memorable messages. This work is a contribution to communication research as it examines these components through the lens of scripts, which considers stereotype threat from a new perspective that suggests people are active participants in mitigating threats.

To complete this study, I performed 61 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with current or former female petroleum engineers. Through constant comparison (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) I analyzed the data and produced an initial set of 13 different stereotype threats and 11 distinct coping strategies. Upon further comparison, the threats and coping strategies were each consolidated further to five core categories. This typology aligns threats on a spectrum that runs from passive actions to overt actions, and threats closely adhere to the underperformance benchmarks of previous stereotype threat research (Aronson & McGlone, 2009). The coping strategies address specific actions women take to mitigate threats, and the strategies align with the long-term responses to stereotype threat proposed by Block, Koch, Liberman, Merriweather, and Roberson (2011). In addition, the coping strategies execute problem- and emotion-based coping (Folkman and Lazarus, 1980). A distinctive feature of coping is dualistic subversions, which is when women use a subverted stereotype threat to mitigate it. Finally, this study suggests that stereotype threats and coping strategies result from childhood socialization practices, a process that writes scripts workers rely upon throughout their careers. This study is a contribution to organizational communication in how it examines ways messages are communicated in male-dominated careers and how women can use communication to mitigate negative expectations that arise in those environments. In addition, it looks at communication events that encourage women to enter male-dominated careers. Finally, it adds to communication theory because it uncovers additional ways that people use scripts to mitigate stereotyping.



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