During the past several decades, one of the significant trends in the business world is that more women have joined the work force in both developed and developing nations. This has triggered a new stream of research to examine the potential effects of gender on such issues as recruiting, selling effectiveness and sales performance, and service quality and service outcomes. The main goal of this stream of research is to investigate whether gender similarity or dissimilarity of a recruiter and applicant, buyer and salesperson, or customer and service provider had any impact on performance and/or outcome. The underlying logic is that same-gender relationships seem to be associated with greater relationship investment, more open communication, and greater trust and satisfaction within relationships that could influence the outcome of business decisions and/or relationships (Crosby et al, 1990). For example, in recruiting, researchers have shown that gender and gender-role stereotyping can influence hiring decisions (Gallois et al., 1992) and/or can impact hiring recommendations (Zebrowitz et al, 1991). Some other studies also covered the gender effect in such areas as accounting (Hardin et al., 2002), academic hiring and tenure policies (Steinpreis et al., 1999), symphony orchestras (Seltzer, 1989), banking (Fernandez & Weinberg, 1997), and restaurant hiring practices (Neumark et al., 1996).
While some studies suggest benefits of matching buyer/seller gender (Churchill et al, 1997), other studies demonstrate no such benefit (Dwyer et al, 1998; Jones et al, 1998). Research dealing with the gender effect on sales performance (Crosby et al., 1990; Smith, 1998) indicates that gender similarity between the salesperson and customer is positively related to the quality of their relationship, and ultimately to sales performance. However, Dwyer et al. (1998) found no gender similarity effect; the male-female and female-male mismatched dyads significantly outperformed the gender-matched pairs. In fact, females selling to males (a mismatch) performed better than the matching female-female dyads and exceeded the performance of both male-male and male-female dyads. However, a study by Graves and Powell (1995) found no effect of gender similarity. These findings suggest that the expected relationship between salesperson-customer similarity and salesperson performance produced mixed and inconsistent results concerning gender effects on sales performance (Crosby et al, 1990; Weitz, 1981).
The above studies indicate the impact of gender similarity on business performance and outcome in various situations. On the other hand, some prior research shows that customers prefer to interact with service providers who are opposite in gender (Hall, 1993; Kulik and Holbrook, 1998), suggesting potential effects of gender dissimilarity on business relationships and outcome. Concerning the opposite-gender preference, Hall (1993) suggests that gender stereotyped role behavior (or flirting between the opposite-gender dyads) is likely to have occurred during the service encounters that may cause the perception of good service quality. For example, in a restaurant study Hall (1993) found that in mismatched cases good customer service was often associated with some degree of flirtation, where good service is rewarded with a tip and/or customer loyalty. This positively reinforces and leads to a repeat of such gender role behavior (Rind & Bordia, 1996). Moreover, according to Mills and Moshavi (1999) and Moshavi (2004), interacting with the opposite gender can create an increased psychological attachment caused by a positive sentiment exercised by service providers in an attempt to provide a warm and comfortable environment to boost customers' self-esteem. It seems that the opposite-gender bias during the service encounters can be explained with flirtation (Hall, 1993), which we call flirting theory.
The above review of the literature indicates that there seem to be two theoretical frameworks (gender similarity theories and flirtation or flirting theory) albeit competing, to explain gender stereotyping or gender bias resulting from gender similarity/dissimilarity in the workplace and/or during service encounters. Gender similarity theories (GST) of the similarity attraction paradigm, social identity theory, and self-categorization theory suggest that customers would prefer to interact with the same-gender service providers. On the other hand, flirtation or flirting theory indicates that customers would prefer to deal with the opposite-gender service providers because of the warm and comfortable environment the service provider could provide to boost customers' self-esteem. In this exploratory study we investigate which of these two competing theoretical frameworks better explains the effects of gender similarity/dissimilarity between customer and service provider on perceived quality of service and customer satisfaction resulting from the service encounter. In order to accomplish this goal, the study will examine whether respondents perceive that, based on their prior experiences, they receive better quality and more satisfying service from the same-gender service provider (gender match, which supports gender similarity) or from the opposite-gender service provider (gender mismatch, which supports flirting theory) in ten different service areas.
Unlike previous studies, each of which covered a specific area or single field, this current research includes ten different industries in order to examine customers' experiences in diverse services. This could provide a more holistic approach to understanding the effects of gender similarity/dissimilarity on perceived service quality resulting from service encounters in multiple industries. Gender stereotypes or occupational stereotyping could influence the perception of service quality offered rather than the service provider gender. This was the case in a study by Fischer et al. (1997), which showed that customers' perception of the service quality was impacted more by occupational stereotypes (or status of occupation) than by the gender of service provider. In order to investigate a potential impact of occupational stereotyping (status) on perceived service quality, the ten industries are classified as low or high status occupations. Finally, it is possible that any gender effect on service quality could be influenced by cultural values. This implies that depending on the cultural values of a society, customers may prefer and/or perceive to receive a better quality of service from the same gender or opposite gender. As there are limited studies about the role of culture on gender similarity (e.g., Mobley, 1982; Schaubroeck and Lam, 2002; Tsui and O'Reilly, 1989), this study is conducted in both the United States and Turkey to investigate the potential impact of culture and cultural differences on gender similarity. Given that gender similarity/dissimilarity, gender stereotyping, and cultural values could individually or collectively affect the perceived service quality received by customers, this study offers some insight into the main effects of these factors, as well as the their interactions on service quality.
Gender Similarity Theories
Many of the prior gender studies are based on three primary gender-centered approaches: the Similarity-Attraction Paradigm (Byrne, 1971; Byrne & Neuman, 1992; Graves &Powell, 1995), Social Identity Theory (Tajfel, 1982; Tajfel & Turner, 1986), and Self-Categorization Theory (Turner, 1982, 1985). The Similarity-Attraction Paradigm (SAP) suggests that individuals tend to be attracted to, or seek membership in, groups that are (demographically) similar to themselves. Similarity is the degree to which members of a group are alike in terms of personal characteristics or other attributes (Byrne & Neuman, 1992; Smith, 1998). Demographic similarity constitutes an important basis of interpersonal attraction and of social integration and cohesion (Baron & Pfeffer, 1994). Byrne and Neuman (1992) state that gender similarity seems to have a very strong influence on perceived similarity and interpersonal attraction. In addition to SAP, Social Identity Theory (SIT) advocates that belonging to a group creates a psychological state that confers social identity and a collective representation of self-identity and behavior. This theory assumes that an individual's self-identity formation is partly a function of group membership (Tajfel, 1982). People in groups share experiences and attitudes. They like each other and increase their understanding of one another, and this interaction reinforces or ratifies one's own self (McNeilly & Russ, 2000). In this regard, SIT suggests that individuals derive a portion of their self-worth from membership in social groups (Moshavi, 2004). As a result, customers are expected to favorably evaluate membership in their demographic group (e.g., gender) to help increase their self-worth.
An important aspect of SAP and SIT involves self-categorization. Self-Categorization Theory (SCT) suggests that individuals take socially defined categories into account when making evaluations about others, where those characteristics that are similar would likely be considered as positive and vice versa. Since demographic characteristics such as age, race, and gender are observable and accessible (Messick & Mackie, 1989), they are useful for social and self-categorization (McNeilly & Russ, 2000). Such a categorization can cause a person to perceive himself/herself as similar to other members of a category or group and trigger stereotyping of the out-group (Messick & Mackie, 1989). Self-categorization also takes place during the formation of dyadic relationships (Benkhoff, 1997) in which similarity facilitates communication, development of greater trust, and more satisfaction within relationships (Kanter, 1997; Smith...