The effects of affirmative action on perceptions of women entering male dominated academic programs

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Boyaniwsky, Tara Marie
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With the enactment of affirmative action policies and the increase of women in traditionally male dominated areas of work and study, it is important to investigate how people perceive women selected under affirmative action in male sex-typed academic fields. One hundred and fifty-seven undergraduates, 112 females and 45 males, reviewed an application package of a male or female student who was accepted to either an Engineering (strongly male sex-typed) or Dentistry (slightly male sex-typed) program at a university that was or was not committed to an affirmative action policy. Participants rated the applicant on measures of perceived competence, interpersonal, activity, and potency characteristics; projected program progress; and the perceived role of qualifications and fairness of the application process. Consistent with the gender stereotyping hypotheses, female applica ts were perceived similarly to male applicants in the Dentistry program. Unexpectedly, however, female applicants were also perceived similarly to male applicants in the Engineering program. Contrary to the discounting hypotheses, female applicants associated with affirmative action were perceived just as favorably as applicants not associated with such policies. Discounting of the affirmative action recipients' qualifications was not evident, and the presence of the policy did not affect perceptions of the fairness of the decision process. Overall, female applicants accepted under affirmative action into male sex-typed academics were not discriminated against based on either their gender or the affirmative action label.