Presumed Incompetent? Stigmatization and Affirmative Action Efforts

Madeline E. Heilman, Caryn J. Block, Jonathan A. Lucas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Two studies investigated whether a stigma of incompetence marks those associated with affirmative action programs. In an experiment, 129 male and female undergraduates reviewed the application materials of someone said to be recently hired for one of two jobs. The hiree was either a man or a woman, and the woman either was or was not associated with an affirmative action program. The affirmative action label was found to negatively affect the perceived competence of women hirees regardless of the degree to which the job was male sex-typed. A field investigation in which 184 White men provided information about their co-workers supported these results. It additionally demonstrated that the relationship between perceived competence and presumed affirmative action status held not only when co-workers were White women but when they were Black men and Black women as well. The affirmative action label also was associated with negative characterizations of activity and potency and, in the field study, interpersonal attributes and prognoses for career progress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)536-544
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Applied Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1992

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology


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