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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Interpersonal triggers and cultural moderators of social identity threat Hall, William M.


Social identity threat has most often been examined as impairing academic achievement among female and minority students. But for those who successfully advance into graduate school and professional settings, social identity threat might continue to be triggered by ambiguously negative interactions with others. My goal was to investigate the experience of social identity threat among samples of professionals in the workplace and students training in STEM programs with the aim of identifying triggers of threat, contextual and interpersonal buffers against threat, and cognitive consequences. To do this I conducted a series of studies in which I explored two research questions: 1) What are the antecedents and consequences of social identity threat in STEM workplace conversations? 2) Do gender inclusive policies and/or a higher representation of women in a workplace reduce the experience of social identity threat in workplace conversations? I used a series of daily diary studies and an experiment to answer these questions. To test whether interpersonal experiences in STEM workplaces and graduate programs are a source of social identity threat for women, participants reported their interactions with colleagues using daily dairies over the course of two weeks. Across three samples, results of multilevel modeling revealed that: 1) women (but not men) reported greater daily experiences of social identity threat on days when their conversations with men (but not women) cued a lack of acceptance, and 2) these daily fluctuations of social identity threat predicted feelings of mental burnout, consistent with a capacity deficit model of social identity threat. The two workplace samples, along with an experiment with undergraduate engineers, were used to examine whether gender inclusive workplace policies and practice and/or a higher representation of women in a workplace relate to improved cross-sex interactions and reduced social identity threat for women in STEM settings. Results revealed that female engineers’ daily actual and anticipated experience of social identity threat was lower in companies perceived to have more gender inclusive policies, as mediated by more positive conversations with male colleagues. The implications for reducing social identity threat in naturalistic settings are discussed.

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