Tina Kiefer, a professor of organizational behavior at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, fell upon the exercise accidentally, while leading a workshop full of executives who did not speak much English. Since then it has been adopted by organizational psychologists across the world.
In terms of gender, the results are almost always the same. Both men and women almost always draw men.
“Even when the drawings are gender neutral,” which is uncommon, Dr. Kiefer said in an email, “the majority of groups present the drawing using language that indicates male (he) rather than neutral or female.”
And yet, her clients often insisted that what they meant by “he” is actually “both.”
When we “process information through the lens of stereotype” our interpretation may be “consistent with stereotyped expectations rather than objective reality,” said Nilanjana Dasgupta, a professor of Psychological & Brain Sciences at University of Massachusetts at Amherst. When people are consistently exposed to leaders who fit one profile, they will be more likely to notice leaders who fit that same profile in the future. That’s how the self-reinforcing “confirmation bias” cycle works, she said. She added that she would be interested in seeing similar studies on the role of race, something these studies did not investigate.
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