The Lack of Fit Model

The Lack of Fit Model


Madeline Heilman, a psychology professor at NYU, specializes in gender bias in the workplace. In one of her previous studies, Heilman (1983) presented the Lack of Fit Model to explain how women’s self-limiting behaviors and gender discrimination affect a person’s attempt to move up the professional hierarchy.

Heilman focused on sex stereotypes, which she defines as preconceived notions placed on a particular group and by which individuals are wrongly judged because of their gender. Sex stereotyping can lead to over-generalizations and often do not properly reflect the individual or group. As a result, society misses out on opportunities to harness 50% of its available talent.

Unfortunately, society has played a key role in the past in maintaining the status quo where gender bias is concerned. Recent studies, for example, demonstrate that masculine qualities align more favorably with leadership positions and power, while feminine traits align more favorably with positions focused on nurturing and collaboration (Morrison, 2012). In other words, men are more likely to be seen as competitive, ambitious and aggressive, while women are more likely to be seen as caring, passive and lacking ambition (Heilman, 1983; Morrison, 2012).

Heilman’s findings have led her to recommend setting up various strategies to remove gender affiliations in order to neutralize the workplace situation. Two such strategies are: (a) emphasizing the feminine aspects of a position; and, (b) banishing the male-only or woman-only perceptions of careers.

Further studies have shown that when the sex of a candidate is not an issue, both parties display equal competency in areas such as social orientation, verbal skills, and mathematics (Heilman, 1983). In effect, this means that women and men win when they have an equal opportunity for growth and prosperity.



Heilman, M.E. (1983). Sex bias in work settings. Research in Organizational Behavior, 5, 269-298.


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Daphne Wallbridge



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