When organizations implement hiring policies that may use preferential selection, it is important to consider beneficiaries’ reactions towards such policies. Two studies examined whether strengths of preferential selection programs affected women’s reactions towards these programs differently. Undergraduate women performed a diagnostic leadership task and were led to believe that they were selected to participate because (a) they were among the most qualified (the merit-based selection condition), (b) they were among the most qualified but gender was also a factor in selection (weak preferential selection), or (c) they met a minimum qualification standard and gender was a factor in selection (strong preferential selection). Participants’ attitudes towards the task, fairness of the selection procedure, and leadership performance were measured. In Study 1, participants in the strong preferential selection condition experienced more negative attitudes and worsened performance compared to participants in the merit-only condition. In Study 2, participants in the weak preferential selection condition did not experience more negative attitudes or worsened performance compared to participants in the merit-only condition. Thus, it appears that women’s negative reactions towards preferential selection are mitigated if their competence is clearly outlined. Implications for the operationalization of preferential selection policies and for understanding the reactions of beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries towards these policies are discussed.