Department of Management


Date of this Version



Published in Business Horizons 65 (2022), pp. 427–436.



Copyright © 2021 Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. Published by Elsevier Inc. Used by permission


Despite the proactive efforts of many firms to combat gender bias within their organizations, societal prejudices still disadvantage women leaders and the firms who employ them. This external gender bias shapes outside stakeholder evaluations of women leaders’ efforts in various ways, and firms need strategies to cope with this external gender bias. We examine the conditions that might alleviate this burden of external bias and what women leaders and top executives can do to leverage these conditions—from a strategic positioning perspective—that will effectively allow female leaders to differentiate their work. To do this, we synthesize and build upon evidence that the external gender bias against women leaders diminishes when they lead in areas that are unconventional rather than mainstream. We then propose a two-step process based on (1) identifying the likely threat of external gender bias, which is stronger in some industry contexts than others, and (2) leveraging unconventionality to circumvent male prototypical comparisons, thereby reducing the hazards of external gender bias.