Mateo Cruz, Bentley University – Response to Systemic Stereotype Threat

On Bentley University Week: There are many challenges for women in STEM fields.

 Mateo Cruz, Mateo Cruz, assistant professor of management, explores responses to systemic stereotype threat in the workplace.

Dr. Mateo Cruz (Ph.D., Social-Organizational Psychology, Columbia University) is an Assistant Professor of Management at Bentley University. His primary research focuses on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) in workplace contexts using an intersectional lens. His most recent projects examine the different ways women and people of color contend with systemic stereotype threat in occupations where they face chronic underrepresentation. As a scholar-practitioner, Mateo’s work is guided by one central goal – to design and deliver evidence-based interventions that advance change leaders at the intersection of identities. He holds 15+ years of experience as an organization development (OD) consultant specializing in inclusive leadership, group & team dynamics, and organization change. He is a proud member of Bentley University’s Racial Justice Task Force and serves as a faculty advisor to The Gloria Cordes Larson Center for Women and Business. In 2020, Mateo received The Joseph M. Cronin Award for Excellence in Academic Advising and Mentoring.

Response to Systemic Stereotype Threat

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Consider the following scenario: It is your first day on the job as a female math professor. En route to your first faculty meeting, a senior male colleague approaches you with a printed agenda and curtly instructs: “Make 20 copies and bring them to the meeting.”

Researchers characterize this scenario as an acute stereotype-threatening cue. Although the interaction is brief, it can heighten anxiety and deplete executive resources needed for optimal performance. Much is known about how individuals respond to acute stereotype-threat, yet far less about how people contend with cues on an ongoing basis.

Our work, led by Dr. Caryn Block at Columbia University, examines how women in STEM navigate careers infused with systemic stereotype threat, a chronic form of stereotype threat that exists in work environments that espouse meritocracy, but implicitly signal that racial or gender disparities are a result of group deficiencies, not institutional factors. While there are many cognitive and behavioral strategies women engage to mitigate systemic stereotype threat, the strategies they choose cluster into three distinct response patterns. Each pattern is influenced by a woman’s perception of threat and her goals for managing a threatened identity. There is no one “right” way to respond, each pattern has associated costs and benefits. 

In an era with no shortage of advice about how women should navigate male-dominated careers, too often women are treated as a monolith. However, we know that not only do women respond to threats differently, but their responses are influenced by the organizational context where they work. Thus, for STEM interventions to be effective, we need less focus on “fixing the woman” and more on “fixing systems.”

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