Gender quotas: Threat

Thoughts Topical

Integrated Threat theory (Stephan & Stephan, 2000) states that a dominant group (men in this instance) will oppose policies such as gender quotas that cause them to feel threatened. Women who are quota beneficiaries pose realistic threats because they are seen as competition for jobs, promotions, and potential income, and quota policies themselves pose a symbolic threat because they threaten existing work values and ideas of meritocracy (Renfro, Duran, Stephan, & Clason, 2006). This is the case even if men are already advantaged: the English judiciary is highly unbalanced in terms of gender (only 24% of judges are women), but one British supreme court judge, commenting on the possible introduction of gender quotas for the judiciary, said that male candidates might feel that “the cards are stacked against them” (Proudman, 2015). This is supported by findings that people oppose gender quotas when their in-group has something to lose, but base their opinions on fairness when their in-group has nothing to lose (Lowery, Unzueta, Knowles, & Goff, 2006). Moreover, perceived reverse discrimination against the dominant group (men) in favour of the disadvantaged group (women) increases tension and intolerance towards women (Crosby et al., 2006). Quotas may therefore increase workplace hostility and exacerbate prejudice due to perceived competition for powerful positions, thus failing to reduce imbalance in the long term.

Crosby, F. J., Iyer, A., & Sincharoen, S. (2006). Understanding affirmative action. Annual Review of Psychology, 57, 585–611. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.57.102904.190029.

Lowery, B. S., Unzueta, M. M., Knowles, E. D., & Goff, P. A. (2006). Concern for the in-group and opposition to affirmative action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90(6), 961–974. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.90.6.961.

Renfro, C., Duran, A., Stephan, W. G., & Clason, D. L. (2006). The role of threat in attitudes toward affirmative action and its beneficiaries. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 36(1), 41–74.

Stephan, W. G., & Stephan, C. W. (2000). An integrated threat theory of prejudice. In S. Oskamp (Ed.), Reducing Prejudice and Discrimination (pp. 23–45). Mahwah: Laurence Erlbaum.