Gender quotas: Moral Credentialling

Moral credentialling (Monin & Miller, 2001) is a phenomenon where individuals are more likely to be discriminatory if they have previously proved to their own satisfaction that they are not prejudiced. For example, giving people the chance to endorse the election of Barack Obama as US President led to their subsequently describing a job as less suitable for Black people (Effron, Cameron, & Monin, 2009). People are motivated to self-enhance and show themselves that they are fair and just, so non-discriminatory behaviour licenses subsequent discrimination and makes it psychologically easier (Monin & Miller, 2001). This is supported by experimental evidence, where people were more likely to discriminate against women or Black people after they had already hired a well-qualified Black person (Monin & Miller, 2001). Quotas are likely to cause moral credentialling because businesses will feel that their “token” female employees prove that they are not discriminatory, and therefore in subsequent hiring decisions may feel licensed to hire men over women. Unfortunately, this effect can also occur vicariously – when members are exposed to the prior moral and egalitarian behaviour of the in-group, they are more likely to subsequently show prejudice (Kouchaki, 2011). Quotas may therefore increase discrimination and handicap moves to address wider gender imbalances in the organisation. However, other studies argue that there is still a positive long-term benefit to having disadvantaged group members in high-status positions. For instance, long-term exposure to Obama created positive exemplars and decreased implicit racial bias (Plant et al., 2009). On this basis, even “token” appointments from the disadvantaged group into high-status positions may help that group’s position in the longer term.

Effron, D. A., Cameron, J. S., & Monin, B. (2009). Endorsing Obama licenses favoring whites. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(3), 590–593. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2009.02.001.
Kouchaki, M. (2011). Vicarious moral licensing: The influence of others’ past moral actions on moral behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(4), 702–715. doi: 10.1037/a0024552.
Monin, B., & Miller, D. T. (2001). Moral credentials and the expression of prejudice. Journal of personality and social psychology, 81(1), 33–43. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.8I.I.33.
Plant, E. A., Devine, P. G., Cox, W. T., Columb, C., Miller, S. L., Goplen, J., & Peruche, B. M. (2009). The Obama effect: Decreasing implicit prejudice and stereotyping. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(4), 961–964. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2009.04.018.

Gender quotas: Threat

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.

Gender quotas: Collective Action

Another issue is the effect of quotas on collective action. According to Social Identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979) people have a sense of belonging to distinct social groups. The ability for individuals to move between different groups depends on the permeability of the group boundaries (is it easy to move into the higher status group?). When group boundaries are permeable, it suggests that individual merit will achieve advancement (Ellemers, Knippenberg Wilke, 1990). The possibility of improving one’s own status may reduce willingness to engage in collective action, where a disadvantaged group seeks to improve the whole group’s status (Taylor & McKirnan, 1984). This individual mobility also leads to a decrease in identification with the disadvantaged ingroup, which is crucial for collective action (Mummendey, Klink, Mielke, Wenzel, & Blanz, 1999). The first two studies are based on experimental groups, so may have limited validity, but the latter derives from a more valid field study. The implications are that because quotas cause group boundaries to be highly restrictive but permeable, they will reduce collective action. Additionally, seeing women in high-status positions encourages the belief that general inequality is not an issue, and that a woman’s individually disadvantaged status is due to her inadequate personal attributes and achievements (Wright & Taylor, 1999). In turn, this causes even less support for collective action. Therefore, it follows that the success of individual women because of quotas may demotivate others from engaging in collective action, which is detrimental to the possibility of social change for gender equality.

Ellemers, N., Knippenberg, A., & Wilke, H. (1990). The influence of permeability of group boundaries and stability of group status on strategies of individual mobility and social change. British Journal of Social Psychology, 29(3), 233–246.
Mummendey, A., Klink, A., Mielke, R., Wenzel, M., & Blanz, M. (1999). Socio-structural characteristics of intergroup relations and identity management strategies: Results from a field study in East Germany. European Journal of Social Psychology, 29(2-3), 259–285.
Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In W. G. Austin & S. Worchel (Eds.), The Social Psychology Of Intergroup Relations (pp. 33–47). Monterey: Brooks-Cole.
Taylor, D. M., & McKirnan, D. J. (1984). Theoretical contributions: A five-stage model of intergroup relations. British Journal of Social Psychology, 23(4), 291–300.
Wright, S. C., & Taylor, D. M. (1999). Success under tokenism: Co-option of the newcomer and the prevention of collective protest. British Journal of Social Psychology, 38(4), 369–396.

Gender quotas: System Justification

Institutional changes via quotas may also hasten the narrowing of the workplace gender gap due to system justification (Jost & Banaji, 1994) whereby people are motivated to defend the status quo regardless of whether it is unfair or illegitimate. Therefore, it follows that if the status quo becomes inclusive of females in high-status roles, people will begin to defend this new system. A related concept is injunctification, where people perceive the status quo as the most reasonable and desirable system (how things are is how things should be). Kay et al. (2009) ound that when people were told that many women were in politics, they tended to rate female MPs as more desirable – the more people see women occupying high-status positions, the more they accept that women should be occupying such positions. Quotas would therefore harness the system justification motive to encourage equality.

On the other hand, system justification can reinforce the gender imbalance – to defend the system that they would like to perceive as fair, people believe that fewer women are in high-status positions because they are less well-qualified, not because of prejudice (Crosby et al., 2006). Quotas can therefore cause the beneficiaries to be seen as incompetent (if they were adequately qualified, they would not need to get the job via quotas) – they become stigmatised, and lose credibility (Heilman, Block, & Lucas, 1992). This not only increases workplace tension and hostility towards beneficiaries, but damages women’s self-image and lowers their assessment of themselves – they devalue their performance and leadership skills, and feel more inadequate (Heilman, Simon, & Repper, 1987). They also have lower job commitment and satisfaction, perhaps because they do not feel personally important to the organisation (Chacko, 1982). Women who know they owe their position to quotas make more timid and limited decisions (Heilman & Alcott, 2001). The same study, however, also found that quota women who are confident of their ability make ambitious decisions in order to make a good impression, so in practice, these negative effects of quotas may not apply. This is supported by the fact that being hired via quotas can be beneficial for some women – one female movie executive described it as her first “big break” (Martinson, 2015). Furthermore, provided that promotion is not obviously based on gender, reaching powerful positions increases womens’ self-esteem because they feel their success is based on achievement (Unzueta, Gutiérrez, & Ghavami, 2010).

Chacko, T. I. (1982). Women and equal employment opportunity: Some unintended effects. Journal of Applied Psychology, 67(1), 119–123.
Heilman, M. E., & Alcott, V. B. (2001). What I think you think of me: Women’s reactions to being viewed as beneficiaries of preferential selection. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86(4), 574–582.
Heilman, M. E., Block, C. J., & Lucas, J. A. (1992). Presumed incompetent? Stigmatization and affirmative action efforts. Journal of Applied Psychology, 77 (4), 536–544.
Heilman, M. E., Simon, M. C., & Repper, D. P. (1987). Intentionally favored, unintentionally harmed? Impact of sex-based preferential selection on self-perceptions and self-evaluations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 72(1), 62–68.
Jost, J. T., & Banaji, M. R. (1994). The role of stereotyping in system-justification and the production of false consciousness. British Journal of Social Psychology, 33, 1–27.
Kay, A. C., Gaucher, D., Peach, J. M., Laurin, K., Friesen, J., Zanna, M. P., & Spencer, S. J. (2009). Inequality, discrimination, and the power of the status quo: Direct evidence for a motivation to see the way things are as the way they should be. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97(3), 421–434.
Unzueta, M. M., Gutiérrez, A. S., & Ghavami, N. (2010). How believing in affirmative action quotas affects White women’s self-image. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46 , 120–126. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2009.08.017.

Gender quotas: gender roles

Although the Sex Discrimination Act (1975) made it unlawful to purposefully discriminate against women, imbalances may arise from hiring and promotion decisions unconsciously based on stereotypes about inherent differences between men and women’s traits and abilities. These stereotypes create gender roles which prescribe types of work that men and women are suitable for. Role Incongruity theory (Eagly & Karau, 2002) posits that people associate leadership with men, and that the feminine gender role is perceived as a poor fit with leadership requirements.  This leads to a preference for men in high-status roles, and even when women reach these, their behaviour is negatively evaluated, although identical behaviour might be praised in a man (Eagly & Karau, 2002). Quotas could therefore increase diversity by bypassing this prejudiced selection process (Crosby, Iyer, & Sincharoen, 2006).

Furthermore, quotas may eliminate these gender roles altogether, because experience of working with women who disprove the stereotype of poor leadership tends to reduce people’s biases (Dasgupta & Asgari, 2004). One ecologically valid study (De Paola et al., 2010) looked at the effects of applying gender quotas to elections for Italian municipalities – such a policy was in place for two years before being repealed. Representation of women in politics increased in municipalities with elections during the quota period, and this effect persisted for years after the abolition of quotas. A similar reduction in stereotypes has also been shown in Indian village councils (Beaman, Chattopadhyay, Duflo, Pande, & Topalova, 2009). This suggests a long-term benefit from quotas.

Beaman, L. A., Chattopadhyay, R., Duflo, E., Pande, R., & Topalova, P. (2009, November). Powerful women: Does exposure reduce bias? Quarterly Journal of Economics, 124(4), 1497–1540.
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.
Dasgupta, N., & Asgari, S. (2004). Seeing is believing: Exposure to counterstereotypic women leaders and its effect on the malleability of automatic gender stereotyping. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40(5), 642–658. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2004.02.003.
De Paola, M., Scoppa, V., & Lombardo, R. (2010). Can gender quotas break down negative stereotypes? Evidence from changes in electoral rules. Journal of Public Economics, 94(5), 344–353.
Eagly, A. H., & Karau, S. J. (2002). Role congruity theory of prejudice toward female leaders. Psychological Review, 109(3), 573–598. doi: 10.1037//0033-295X.109.3.573.

Calls for gender quotas

Gender quotas are the requirement that women should form a particular percentage of the sample of individuals under consideration: organisations or businesses must employ a certain percentage of female employees, or appoint a certain number of women on their board of directors; political parties must ensure that a proportion of their candidates are women, and legislatures must set aside a certain percentage of seats for female representatives.

Gender quotas are currently illegal in the UK because of claims of reverse discrimination against men (ie. that less-qualified women will get the job just because they are women).

However, there has recently been a lot of coverage in the media about the possibility of introducing gender quotas to increase diversity and female representation in high-status jobs.  For example:

  • An LSE report states that quotas should be mandatory across business sectors in Britain, as well as in political parties.
  • Others have called for them in the judiciary, because on 24% of judges are women.  However, one supreme court justice says that it would be unfair to men.

One amazing finding is that companies perform less effectively when they have male-only boardrooms – in the UK, they lose up to $74billion of profit compared to boards with at least one female executive (Lagerberg, 2015).

The next couple of posts will analyse why gender quotas could have both positive and negative effects, based on psychological theory and research.  So stay tuned!

Boycotting sexist music

Happy New Year!

Here’s an interesting question that I think may have a range of opinions – should we boycott music/artisits that we deem to have sexist music videos and sexist language?

So many songs include sexist lyrics and videos (mostly sexually objectifying women).  However… they are usually very catchy tunes.  Is it possible to ignore the sexism and just appreciate the music?  I can’t.  I try, but I think it’s impossible – I’ve noticed it too many times that now I check for it in every song.  I stop listening to songs that I deem derogatory because it upsets me.  It upsets me that little boys and girls listen to those songs and that however much they may not notice the lyrics or however much they know that women should not be treated like objects, I feel like the lyrics must enter some part of their brain, and it must be processed somewhere, unconsciously.

It might seem like overreacting, but I can’t stand hearing that he “fucked two bitches before [he] saw you”, or that she doesn’t let herself have a choice: ” When you need that I’mma let you have it”.  I can’t stand hearing that women are passive characters in sexual interaction – men fuck, nail, and screw; women get fucked, get nailed, get screwed.  I’m sick of women being disrespected by being called sluts, whores, bitches etc – it’s highly dehumanising.  As a matter of fact, psychological literature suggests that when people dehumanise others, they are more likely to be violent towards them.

So, I asked my boyfriend to stop listening to this music too.  Or at least to put his headphones in, so I don’t have to suffer it.  He says he doesn’t listen to lyrics, only to the song.  I think they’re both one and the same.


PS. On a brighter note – Rizzle Kicks is safe from all derogatory language (I think) so continue to listen to them all you like!  I’m sure there are others too 🙂 I like Alessia Cara at the moment.


I was having a chat with a lecturer recently – we discussed how terrifyingly sad and frustrating it is when languages begin to die out – especially when it’s yours.  Language seems to make your identity, somehow.   People may scoff at my love for Wales.  My little island in the very North West.  My little village, and my little family and my little language.  I’m not sure why I have such a strong love for my country, or why it is such a part of my identity.  I’m not sure why being part of the United Kingdom is not part of my identity.  I don’t really  identify as “British”.  Possibly, it is because of our history of being oppressed – the way our prince’s were slaughtered, the way our language was literally beaten and humiliated out of us, the way our heritage is belittled.  Possibly it’s because some people still call us a “Principality”.  Possibly it’s because some people complain about our bilingual road signs, our Welsh GCSEs, our choice to put money into our language.  Those things make me want to defend the place that means so much to me.

So I always tell people – “I’m first-language Welsh” to make it very clear that that is who I am.  That I’m proud of being Welsh – not British, not a monoglot.  I’m not saying that identifying as British or only speaking English is a bad thing in any way – it just intrigues me that I find it so crucial to let people know who I am, and that my language is the way I do that.

I wear my silver dragon around my neck to remind me that I have a place to belong, I have a family within Welsh speakers, I have a colourful history to teach my children – and to remind me that however bad things get, I will always be able to see the snow-covered mountains of North Wales.  I think that’s why it’s important to me to state my identity in one word – Welsh.

Diolch, Lois.


“Sometimes, anxiety doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with you.  You can’t change your personality, and why would you want to?  You’re such a lovely girl.”

I recently realised that there are many Facebook communities/pages for people with mental health issues, each one specific to an issue, such as anxiety or depression (you may think that I’ve lived under a rock most of my life).  On these pages, people post inspiring messages, positive stories, issues they are dealing with, questions about coping, and even screams for help.  And every comment is supportive, and usually contains a “I feel exactly the same way”.

“Anxiety is a burden.  But having anxiety doesn’t make you a burden.”

I don’t specialise in this type of psychology (I wish I could research everything!), but with this strange feeling of community, and of unconditional understanding, a weight is lifted, that I’m certain helps people through their most difficult moments.  An invisible support system that is available 24/7 with no judgements.  Social media has the power to do great things.

However, can it become an issue, and have a negative effect when reading about millions of other people’s awful stories and worries?  Is there a limit to how many people should have the same problems as you, and does too many cause a worry that things will never get better?

Here are just two papers to have a look at  to peak your interest:

The Yin and Yang of support from significant others: Influence of general social support and partner support of avoidance in the context of treatment for social anxiety disorder (Ronald, Peters, Carpenter and Gaston, 2015).

Perceived social support helps, but does not buffer the negative impact of anxiety disorders on quality of life and perceived stress (Panayiotou and Karekla, 2013).