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Journal of Vocational Behavior 62 (2003) 176–188

www.elsevier.com/locate/jvb

Stereotype threat and feedback seeking


in the workplace
Loriann Roberson,a,* Elizabeth A. Deitch,b Arthur P. Brief,b
and Caryn J. Blockc
a
Department of Management, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85257-4006, USA
b
Tulane University, New Orleans, LA, USA
c
TeachersÕ College, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA
Received 11 February 2002

Abstract

This study examined stereotype threat (Steele & Aronson, 1995) in workplace settings and
investigated relationships of stereotype threat to feedback seeking and feedback acceptance.
Results from a sample of 166 African American managers showed that solo status in the work
group predicted perceptions of stereotype threat. In addition, stereotype threat related posi-
tively to indirect feedback seeking and discounting of performance feedback from superiors.
These findings have important implications for understanding the causes of group differences
in job performance.
Ó 2002 Elsevier Science (USA). All rights reserved.

Keywords: Stereotype threat; Feedback seeking

1. Introduction

Research on seeking and using feedback has demonstrated its value for individual
and organizational performance (e.g., Ashford & Cummings, 1983; Callister, Kra-
mer, & Turban, 1999). Studies have examined both situational and individual factors
affecting employee feedback seeking and use (e.g., Williams, Miller, Steelman, &
Levy, 1999). Here, we explore, in a unique population—African American managers

*
Corresponding author. Fax: 1-480-965-8314.
E-mail address: loriann.roberson@asu.edu (L. Roberson).

0001-8791/02/$ - see front matter Ó 2002 Elsevier Science (USA). All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/S0001-8791(02)00056-8
L. Roberson et al. / Journal of Vocational Behavior 62 (2003) 176–188 177

and professionals—how another factor, stereotype threat, can influence feedback


seeking strategies and use of feedback. ‘‘Stereotype threat’’ (Steele & Aronson,
1995) has been defined as the fear of confirming a negative stereotype about oneÕs
group through oneÕs own behavior. We argue that perceptions of stereotype threat,
in part, are a product of being the only (or ‘‘solo’’) African American in oneÕs work
group. We argue further that the experience of stereotype threat can lead to subop-
timal feedback seeking behavior and feedback discounting.
Even after taking the problem of measurement bias into consideration, it appears
that the job performance of Whites often exceeds that of African Americans (e.g.,
Ford, Kraiger, & Schectman, 1986; Oppler, Campbell, Pulakos, & Borman, 1992).
While these differences are small, they are consistent, statistically significant, and oc-
cur across a wide variety of measures, including managerial and peer ratings and
knowledge and work sample tests (e.g., Greenhaus, Parasuraman, & Wormley,
1990; Schmidt, Greenthal, Hunter, Berner, & Seaton, 1977). Traditionally research-
ers have studied these differences using an internal trait perspective, which views
group differences in performance as due to differences in traits such as ability or skill,
or using a bias and discrimination perspective, which views differences as due to rat-
ing bias and treatment discrimination by superiors (Roberson & Block, 2001). These
perspectives frame group differences as a micro, individual level problem (Nkomo,
1992), and ignore the broad contextual effects of societal racism. Stereotype threat
offers another explanation for group differences, arguing that performance differ-
ences depend on the context, and result from societal stereotypes of the meaning
of race and situational features (Roberson & Block, 2001). It already is well known
that stereotype threat adversely affects test-taking performance in laboratory settings
(e.g., Steele, 1997). To date, however, the role that stereotype threat might play in the
workplace has yet to be explored.

1.1. Stereotype threat

Steele and Aronson (1995) proposed that members of any group about whom neg-
ative stereotypes exist will be subject to stereotype threat, characterized as a form of
self-evaluative apprehension or a fear of confirming a negative stereotype about oneÕs
group through oneÕs own behavior. Stereotype threat is activated in situations where
the stereotype is perceived as relevant to oneÕs performance and performance evalua-
tion. When activated, the apprehension is hypothesized to interfere with demanding
intellectual functioning by causing attention to be redirected from the task onto a
concern over oneÕs level of performance and the implications of performance for
self-views. This response is not necessarily the result of belief in the validity of the ste-
reotype. Rather, it results from the belief that others (e.g., evaluators, observers) will
be influenced by the stereotype when judging oneÕs performance. Steele and Aronson
(1995) reported on a series of four studies with Black college students that explored this
phenomenon. They argued that African Americans are more likely to experience ste-
reotype threat when performing intellectual tasks, as in such situations they risk con-
firming as self-characteristic a negative stereotype about their groupÕs intellectual
ability. This should not be the case for White students because no such stereotype
178 L. Roberson et al. / Journal of Vocational Behavior 62 (2003) 176–188

exists for their group. Steele and AronsonÕs (1995) series of studies demonstrated that
when African Americans experience stereotype threat, it results in performance lower
than that of Whites on intellectual tasks. When African Americans do not experience
stereotype threat, racial group differences in performance are diminished. Demon-
strating the generalizability of these results to other stigmatized groups, similar results
have been reported, for example, for women on mathematical tests (Spencer, Steele, &
Quinn, 1999), the elderly on memory tasks (Levy, 1996), and Hispanics on cognitive
ability tests (Gonzales & Blanton, 2000). A boundary condition for the stereotype
threat effect is that individuals must identify with and care about their performance
in the domain. Ironically, this means that the motivated and talented may be most vul-
nerable to stereotype threat (Aronson, Quinn, & Spencer, 1998). Steele (1997) has ar-
gued that stereotype threat operates not only in test settings, but also in other academic
settings, and contributes to lower academic achievement by African Americans and
lower rates of entrance for women in science and math-related careers (Steele, 1997).

1.2. Stereotype threat in work settings

We believe that stereotype threat also may operate in some work settings (Rober-
son & Block, 2001). One of the most persistent performance-relevant negative stereo-
types about African Americans is that of less intellectual ability compared to Whites
(Niemann & Dovidio, 1998). Thus, stereotype threat would be most likely to be ex-
perienced by African Americans in those jobs for which intelligence is believed to be
an important determinant. Most professional positions (e.g., manager, engineer, and
financial analyst) are jobs where intellectual ability is seen to be essential. Therefore,
in this study of African American employees, we examined individuals in profes-
sional jobs. In addition, those who have attained professional positions are likely
to care about their performance, another condition for stereotype threat.
Simply being an African American professional is not a sufficient condition for
stereotype threat to occur. As laboratory work has shown, stereotype threat is expe-
rienced when the stereotype is activated, which has been accomplished by race prim-
ing or task labeling. In work settings, we propose that aspects of the organizational
context serve this function, by influencing the meaning of race and the salience of
societal stereotypes. The context variable examined here is token or solo status in
the work group, which research has shown enhances the salience of stereotypes.
Kanter (1977) argued that the presence of tokens highlights group differences, result-
ing in tokens being viewed by others in terms of their identity group memberships.
Research also has found that individuals who are solo or token representatives of
their group feel distinctive, that is, visible, different, and stereotyped by others
(e.g., Cohen & Swim, 1995; Kanter, 1977; Niemann & Dovidio, 1998). Although
much of the literature on the effects of token or solo status has examined gender
as the salient group membership, similar results have been reported for racioethnic-
ity. For example, Niemann and Dovidio (1998) found that among university faculty
members, nonWhites reported greater feelings of distinctiveness than did White
faculty and, that among nonWhite faculty, those with solo status reported higher
levels of distinctiveness than did nonsolos.
L. Roberson et al. / Journal of Vocational Behavior 62 (2003) 176–188 179

Because solo status is seen as increasing the salience of racioethnicity and associ-
ated stereotypes, we hypothesize that solo status in the work group relates to greater
feelings of stereotype threat.

1.3. Stereotype threat and feedback seeking behavior

Stereotype threat previously has been studied only in laboratory settings, where
negative effects on task performance have been observed. In work settings, stereo-
type threat may affect performance by influencing feedback seeking and utilization;
and, research has demonstrated the value of seeking and utilizing feedback for
enhancing work performance (e.g., Ashford & Tsui, 1991). We argue here that ste-
reotype threat may lead to the development of suboptimal feedback strategies, thus
depriving those who experience the threat of a valuable source of information
regarding current performance and directions for improvement.
Ashford (1986) outlined two basic strategies that individuals might use in seeking
feedback. Feedback can be sought through a direct inquiry strategy, where superiors
and/or peers are directly asked for feedback, or through indirect monitoring, where
the environment and others are covertly observed for reactions to oneÕs behavior.
Studies have shown that those who use a direct inquiry strategy for seeking feedback
are more likely to receive higher performance ratings from their superiors (Ashford
& Tsui, 1991). The indirect strategy, feedback monitoring, tends to provide more
ambiguous information than does direct feedback seeking, so it is less useful for per-
formance improvement (e.g., Ashford & Tsui, 1991). Individuals, however, are likely
to rely on a monitoring strategy for obtaining feedback when they perceive high
costs inherent in direct inquiry (Ashford & Northcraft, 1992; Morrison & Bies,
1991). The costs of inquiry are related to impression management; when self-presen-
tational concerns are salient, directly seeking feedback can appear to carry a rela-
tively high cost, as individuals may feel that others will view their feedback
seeking as a sign of low ability or insecurity (Williams et al., 1999). Research also
has found that contextual variables can influence the strength of impression manage-
ment concerns. For instance, Williams et al. (1999) found that perceived feedback
source supportiveness and positive peer reactions regarding feedback usefulness
can mitigate the effect of impression management concerns on direct feedback
seeking.
Self-presentational concerns are at the heart of the experience of stereotype threat;
threatened individuals fear that others are observing their performance and making
judgments in line with the relevant negative stereotype. Thus, African Americans ex-
periencing stereotype threat are likely to have enhanced impression management
concerns. In addition, stereotype threat also involves a distrust of the environ-
ment—if one believes that the stereotype will influence othersÕ judgments of oneÕs
performance, then the source of feedback will not be viewed as supportive, and peer
reactions may be viewed as irrelevant to oneÕs own situation, hence unlikely to mit-
igate such concerns. Therefore, we expect that threatened African Americans will be
more likely to rely on a monitoring strategy for obtaining feedback, which avoids
impression management costs; and less likely to rely on direct inquiry.
180 L. Roberson et al. / Journal of Vocational Behavior 62 (2003) 176–188

Another potentially suboptimal feedback strategy that has received some research
attention is discounting feedback, that is, doubting the veracity of the feedback re-
ceived (Cohen, Steele, & Ross, 1999). We believe that stereotype threat will encour-
age those threatened to discount feedback. Such an effect has been suggested by
researchers who have discussed the possibility that performance feedback, particu-
larly negative feedback, is more likely to be discounted and dismissed when given
across racial lines. Crocker and Major (1989) proposed that for those stigmatized
by negative stereotypes, prejudice from others is a plausible explanation for negative
feedback received from the nonstigmatized. Discounting negative feedback and at-
tributing it to prejudice is one way to protect self-esteem. Although negative feed-
back is more likely to be attributed to prejudice, positive feedback also may be
discounted and viewed as invalid if seen as due to the evaluatorÕs desire to appear
unprejudiced (Crocker & Major, 1989).
Several studies have supported this analysis. In Crocker, Voelkl, Testa, and Major
(1991), Black participants discounted negative and positive interpersonal feedback
from White evaluators and attributed it to prejudice when their race was known
to the evaluator, making prejudice a plausible explanation. Cohen et al. (1999) re-
ported similar results for negative feedback. Critical feedback resulted in greater at-
tributions to bias for Black students than for White students when all participants
believed that their racial identity was known to their evaluator; and, thus, prejudice
was a plausible explanation for outcomes. Cohen et al. argued further that stereotype
threat increases the chances that negative feedback will be rejected. If individuals be-
lieve that others doubt their abilities because of their race, critical feedback is more
likely to be viewed as evidence that they have been judged by the stereotype. Thus, it
seems plausible that stereotype threat may have an influence on discounting of
performance feedback.
In summary, we tested four hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1. Among African American professionals, solo status in the work group
associates positively with the experience of stereotype threat.

Hypothesis 2. Stereotype threat relates negatively to direct feedback seeking.

Hypothesis 3. Stereotype threat relates positively to indirect monitoring feedback


seeking.

Hypothesis 4. Stereotype threat relates positively to feedback discounting.

2. Method

2.1. Participants and procedure

Four hundred seventy-nine surveys were mailed to all members of a national asso-
ciation of African American professionals employed in utilities industries. The
L. Roberson et al. / Journal of Vocational Behavior 62 (2003) 176–188 181

response rate was 35% (166 returned), with 72 women and 93 men responding (one re-
spondent failed to indicate sex). The average age of respondents was 44.09 years
(SD ¼ 7:35), and mean organizational tenure was 15.84 years (SD ¼ 9:36). Respon-
dents received a cover letter that described the questionnaire as a survey of work expe-
riences and attitudes. Respondents were informed that all members of their
professional association had been asked to participate in the survey. The cover letter
also informed respondents that there was no identifying information on the question-
naire and that they were ensured anonymity of responses. The survey instrument in-
cluded items measuring all variables, as well as requests for demographic information.

2.2. Measures

2.2.1. Solo status


Solo status was assessed by asking participants to indicate the number of racioeth-
nic minorities in their department or work group. Individuals who reported that they
were the only minority member of their department or work group were counted as
‘‘solos.’’

2.2.2. Stereotype threat


In previous research, stereotype threat has been manipulated, not measured.
Steele and Aronson (1995) used a questionnaire measure of stereotype threat in
one of their laboratory studies, and this measure was adapted for the current study.
As an example, one of Steele and AronsonÕs original items was, ‘‘Some people feel I
have less verbal ability because of my race’’. For the current research, this item was
adapted to read, ‘‘Some people feel I have less ability because of my race.’’ Five items
were used, and following Steele and Aronson, respondents reported their agreement
with the items using seven point Likert-type rating scales, with anchors ranging from
1 ¼ strongly disagree to 7 ¼ strongly agree. Steele and Aronson (1995) did not report
reliability information on their scale, however, validity was demonstrated in that
scores of black participants were significantly higher than scores of white partici-
pants. In our sample, the internal consistency coefficient (Cronbach, 1951) for this
scale was a ¼ :77.

2.2.3. Feedback seeking strategies


Scales for direct inquiry feedback seeking (four items) and for feedback monitor-
ing (seven items) were drawn from past work by Ashford (1986) and Ashford and
Tsui (1991). Respondents were asked how frequently they engaged in various feed-
back seeking strategies, using a five-point Likert scale (1 ¼ very infrequently; 5 ¼ very
frequently). Our four-item direct inquiry scale contained two items from Ashford
(1986) and two items from Ashford and Tsui (1991). The four direct inquiry items
were ‘‘How frequently do you: (1) directly ask your manager for information con-
cerning your performance?; (2) directly ask your manager for informal appraisals
of your work?; (3) seek information from your peers/co-workers about your perfor-
mance; and (4) directly ask peers/co-workers for feedback concerning work in pro-
gress?’’ Ashford (1986) reported an interitem correlation of .33; while Ashford and
182 L. Roberson et al. / Journal of Vocational Behavior 62 (2003) 176–188

Tsui reported a coefficient a of .75 in samples of utility employees and mid-level


managers of a public service agency, respectively. In our sample, the internal consis-
tency coefficient for the four-item scale was .81.
Our seven-item feedback monitoring scale contained four items from Ashford
(1986), who reported a reliability of .77, and three items from Ashford and Tsui
(1991), who reported an alpha of .75. The seven items were, ‘‘How often do you:
(1) compare yourself with your peers; (2) observe what behaviors your manager re-
wards and use this as feedback on your own performance; (3) pay attention to how
your manager acts toward you in order to understand how he/she perceives your
work performance; (4) observe the characteristics of people who are rewarded by
your manager and use this information; (5) pay attention to how your peers act to-
ward you in order to understand how they perceive your work performance; (6) pay
attention to informal, unsolicited feedback from others, (7) pay attention to casual
remarks that your manager and peers make?’’ In our sample, internal consistency co-
efficient for the seven items was .80. Ashford (1986) and Ashford and Tsui (1991)
demonstrated the predictive validity of these items. In addition, their items have been
frequently used by other researchers studying feedback-seeking (e.g., Morrison,
1993; Vandewalle & Cummings, 1997).

2.2.4. Feedback discounting


Discounting of performance feedback was assessed using four items adapted from
Crocker et al. (1991). Crocker et al. studied attributions for feedback in the labora-
tory. One of their original items asked, ‘‘to what extent was the other studentÕs re-
sponse to you influenced by his/her racism?’’ For the current research, this was
adapted to read, ‘‘To what extent do you believe that your managerÕs evaluations
of your performance are influenced by his/her prejudice?’’ Respondents used a six-
point response scale (1 ¼ not at all, 6 ¼ completely) to respond to the items. Crocker
et al. (1991) reported an internal consistency coefficient for their three-item scale of
.76. In our sample, using four items, the reliability coefficient for the scale was .77.
Crocker et al. (1991) found that the scale was responsive to the study manipulations
as predicted, indicating validity.

2.2.5. Tenure
Organizational tenure was selected as a control variable, for, as an individual at-
tribute, it has been shown empirically to be related to feedback-seeking. For exam-
ple, both Feldman (1983) and Ashford (1986) observed that newer employees sought
more information and feedback than did those with longer tenure. Tenure was mea-
sured by asking respondents how long they had worked for their current organiza-
tion, with nine response options ranging from ‘‘less than one year’’ to ‘‘36 years
or more.’’

2.2.6. Gender
Gender (coded 0 ¼ female, 1 ¼ male) was also used as a control variable, as it has
been linked to differences in feedback seeking. Fletcher (1999) reviewed literature
showing that women and men differ in anxiety and locus of control, which are
L. Roberson et al. / Journal of Vocational Behavior 62 (2003) 176–188 183

related to the tendency to seek feedback. Gender has often been used as a control
variable by others studying feedback-seeking (e.g., Callister et al., 1999).

3. Results

Means, standard deviations, and correlations for all variables appear in Table 1.
All hypotheses were tested using regression analyses, with organizational tenure,
gender, and educational level entered first as control variables. These results are pre-
sented in Table 2. Our first hypothesis that solo status relates to perceptions of ste-
reotype threat was supported. Those African American professionals who were the
only minority in their department did experience a greater amount of stereotype
threat on the job.
Our remaining hypotheses addressed the impact that stereotype threat may have
on feedback seeking and utilization, after consideration of the control variables. Re-
sults of the regression analyses used to test these hypotheses appear in Table 2. Hy-
pothesis 2 suggested that the experience of stereotype threat discourages direct
inquiry, as stereotype threat may make self-presentational concerns salient. This hy-
pothesis was not supported; there was no significant relation between stereotype
threat and direct feedback seeking. However, stereotype threat related significantly
to feedback monitoring, supporting Hypothesis 3 and suggesting higher utilization
of a low-cost feedback seeking strategy by those experiencing stereotype threat. Fur-
thermore, in support of Hypothesis 4, stereotype threat related significantly to feed-
back discounting, demonstrating that African Americans who experienced
stereotype threat were more likely to dismiss the feedback they received, doubting
its accuracy and the motivations of the feedback source.

4. Discussion

Past research has shown that stereotype threat has a negative impact on intellec-
tual performance, but these effects have been demonstrated only in laboratory set-
tings (e.g., Steele & Aronson, 1995). In contrast, this study investigated stereotype
threat in a work setting among a sample of African American professionals. Our
findings suggest that, as in the laboratory, perceptions of stereotype threat are influ-
enced by contextual variables. Our findings also indicate processes through which
stereotype threat may affect job performance, by indicating relationships between
stereotype threat and feedback seeking and use.
In the laboratory, stereotype threat has been activated by priming group mem-
bership or its associated stereotype. We argued that in work settings contextual
variables that similarly increase the salience of racial group membership and racial
stereotypes also should be associated with perceptions of stereotype threat. Past
research has found that solo status increases the distinctiveness of identity
group membership (Kanter, 1977; Niemann & Dovidio, 1998). Consistent with
this, we hypothesized and found that solo status in oneÕs work group was related
184
L. Roberson et al. / Journal of Vocational Behavior 62 (2003) 176–188
Table 1
Means, standard deviations, and correlations for the variables
Variable Mean SD 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
1. Solo statusa 0.18 0.39
2. Stereotype threat perceptions 3.87 1.20 .16
3. Organizational tenureb 4.56 1.81 ).11 .05
4. Direct feedback seeking 3.41 0.95 ).14 .02 ).05
5. Feedback monitoring 2.50 0.76 ).03 .22 .01 .32
6. Discounting feedback 4.54 1.29 .03 .32 ).01 ).19 ).07
7. Sexc 0.56 0.50 .21 .02 .12 .01 .03 .14
8. Educationd 4.54 1.09 .03 .10 ).28 .06 .05 ).03 ).10
9. Percentage black in department 0.24 0.20 ).26 ).07 ).01 .03 ).12 ).08 ).15 ).02
Note. N ¼ 166.
a
Coded as 1 (solo) or 0 (not solo).
b
Coded on a nine-point scale with 5-year intervals.
c
Coded as 1 (male) or 0 (female).
d
Coded ranging from 1 (some high school) through 6 (advanced degree).
*
p 6 :05.
**
p 6 :01.
***
p 6 :001.
L. Roberson et al. / Journal of Vocational Behavior 62 (2003) 176–188 185

Table 2
Results of regression analyses
Dependent Direct feedback seeking Feedback monitoring Feedback discounting
variable
Step b DR2 DF b DR2 DF b DR2 DF
1. Tenure a
).05 .02 ).03
Educationb .05 .07 ).03
Sexc .02 .01 .32 .04 .01 .27 .13 .02 1.05
2. Stereotype .02 .00 .08 .22 .05 7.63 .32 .10 18.687
threat
Multiple-R .08 .26 .35
Note. N ¼ 166.
a
Coded on a nine-point scale with 5-year intervals.
b
Coded ranging from 1 (some high school) through 6 (advanced degree).
c
Coded as 1 (male) or 0 (female).
**
p 6 :01.
***
p 6 :001.

to perceptions of stereotype threat. Although the relation between solo status and
stereotype threat was positive and significant, it was not strong, suggesting the im-
pact of other variables. One other important predictor of stereotype threat may be
the extent of representation of African Americans and other people of color at se-
nior organizational levels. Ely (1995) and Thomas and Alderfer (1989) argued that
group differences in the distribution of power affect the meaning of identity group
membership in the organization and the extent to which societal stereotypes are re-
inforced. When all those at senior organizational levels are white, it sends a mes-
sage that undervalues people of color and reinforces negative racial stereotypes. In
addition to a direct relationship between stereotype threat and the percentage of
African Americans in top management, we might expect that the effect of solo sta-
tus should be greater when group differences in power and representation at top
levels exist.
The organizationÕs perspective toward diversity also may affect the meaning of
race in organizations. For example, a resistance perspective (Dass & Parker, 1999)
is characterized by attempts to sustain homogeneity and a view of diversity as a
threat to the status quo. This may result in personnel actions based on stereotypes
or attempts to subvert affirmative action mandates. A fairness and discrimination
perspective (Thomas & Ely, 1996) is characterized by pressures to view and treat
all people as the same. This view results in attempts to assimilate individuals to
the dominant culture through training or socialization practices. As both these per-
spectives reflect a view of people of color as either undesirable, as in the case of the
resistance view, or in need of change, as in the fairness and discrimination stance,
they also may increase the salience of societal stereotypes and cue perceptions of ste-
reotype threat.
Finally, not only organizational, but also individual characteristics may influence
perceptions of stereotype threat. In several studies with women and gay participants,
Pinel (1999) found a positive relationship between strength of group identity
186 L. Roberson et al. / Journal of Vocational Behavior 62 (2003) 176–188

attitudes and stigma consciousness, defined as the extent to which targets expect to
be stereotyped. Button (2001) reported that gays and lesbians who viewed their in-
group in very positive terms, while holding a negative view of the dominant out-
group (i.e., heterosexuals), were more reactive to perceived discrimination. The racial
identity attitudes identified by Helms (1990) reflect levels of identification with white
and black culture and may be relevant to stereotype threat. Watts and Carter (1991)
found that black racial identity attitudes were related to perceptions of discrimina-
tion at work. Thus, it is possible that racial group identity attitudes are related to
perceptions of stereotype threat and also moderate the extent to which context vari-
ables such as solo status influence stereotype threat.
We also found that the experience of stereotype threat associated with increased
use of a monitoring strategy for seeking feedback and a greater degree of feedback
discounting. This is consistent with Lovelace and Rosen (1996), who found that Af-
rican American managers used monitoring more frequently than white male manag-
ers, and Saenz (1994), who found that token status was associated with greater
performance monitoring of the self and others. The monitoring strategy of feedback
seeking, because it produces information more subject to misinterpretation, is less
useful than direct inquiry for performance improvements (Ashford & Cummings,
1983; Ashford & Tsui, 1991). Discounting means that feedback received will be
viewed as less informative and useful for improving performance. Banks, Stitt, Cur-
tis, and McQuater (1977) found that black participants who discounted negative
feedback were less likely to comply with the directions for performance improvement
that accompanied the feedback. These effects of stereotype threat on discounting and
monitoring indicate pathways through which job performance may be negatively
affected.
Because of the correlational nature of our study, inferences about causal relation-
ships obviously must be relatively weak. Although our correlations indicate that cau-
sal links may exist between solo status and stereotype threat, and between stereotype
threat and feedback monitoring, these associations also may be due to a third un-
measured variable. Thus, changes in status from solo to nonsolo may not result in
reductions in stereotype threat, and reductions in stereotype threat may not lead
to changes in feedback seeking behavior.
In addition, we could not measure job performance in this initial study while pre-
serving respondentsÕ anonymity. Our statements about the importance of stereotype
threat for performance are assumed based on past research on the relationship of
feedback strategies to performance and those showing the effect of stereotype threat
on cognitive test performance in controlled settings. Future research must examine
the linkage between stereotype threat and job performance in field settings, and
the processes by which it occurs.
Despite these limitations, this study is important because it moves the study of
stereotype threat outside of the laboratory and its effects on cognitive ability test
performance to the workplace. We have demonstrated, in this initial examination,
that stereotype threat can occur in workplace settings and influence performance-
relevant workplace behaviors. Thus, stereotype threat has implications for under-
standing and reducing group differences in job performance and related outcomes.
L. Roberson et al. / Journal of Vocational Behavior 62 (2003) 176–188 187

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Further reading

Cox, T. H., Jr. (1993). Cultural diversity in organizations: Theory, research, and practice. San Francisco:
Berrett-Koehler.
Ely, R. J., & Thomas, D. A. (2001). Cultural diversity at work: The effects of diversity perspectives on
work group processes and outcomes. Administrative Science Quarterly, 46, 229–273.
Fedor, D. B., Rensvold, R. B., & Adams, S. M. (1992). An investigation of factors expected to affect
feedback seeking: A longitudinal field study. Personnel Psychology, 45, 779–805.

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