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Archives of Scientific Psychology 2019, 7, 71–80 © 2019 American Psychological Association DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/arc0000063 2169-3269 Archives of Scientific Psychology www.apa.org/pubs/journals/arc SPECIAL SECTION: ADVANCING GENDER EQUALITY IN THE WORKPLACE What Could Go Wrong? Some Unintended Consequences of Gender Bias Interventions Suzette Caleo Louisiana State University Madeline E. Heilman New York University ABSTRACT Women’s progress into leadership positions seems to have stalled, and gender equality at the highest organizational levels remains a goal rather than a reality. This situation persists despite commitment to resolving the problem; in fact, many organizations have made good faith efforts to break the hold of gender bias on women’s career advancement. Then why is life at the top of large American corporations still so overwhelmingly male? In this article, we consider how gender bias-reducing efforts may not have their intended impact. We argue that interventions, no matter how well intended, can backfire and produce new problems. We also point out the paradoxical effects of edging closer to the gender equity goal, and the very real danger of improvement undermining further progress. Being attentive to these potential pitfalls can affect whether efforts to reduce gender bias succeed or fail and whether the elusive goal of workplace equality ultimately can be achieved. SCIENTIFIC ABSTRACT Despite decades of change and repeated attempts by organizations to reduce gender inequality, progress for women in top leadership positions seems to have stalled. This article considers why some of the strategies organizations use to mitigate gender bias do not have their intended consequence, contending that interventions can sometimes backfire and create more problems than they solve. Specifically, we identify how even well-designed interventions can inadvertently increase rather than decrease the tendency to behave in a biased manner and also discuss unintended consequences that can arise once an organization begins to move closer to achieving gender parity. We argue that being attentive to these potential problems and knowledgeable about when and why they occur will increase the effectiveness of interventions designed to reduce gender bias and will equip organizations with better strategies for progressing toward true gender equality. Keywords: gender bias, gender discrimination, bias reduction Although women have made progress in attaining leadership roles, paucity of women in the upper echelons of corporate life rests on gender equality at the highest organizational levels remains a goal women’s own choices and lifestyle considerations (Belkin, 2003), but rather than a reality. Some have proposed that the reason for the there is considerable evidence that gender stereotypes and the gender This article was published November 25, 2019. Suzette Caleo, Public Administration Institute, E. J. Ourso College of Business, Louisiana State University; Madeline E. Heilman, Department of Psychology, New York University. This article is part of the special section “Advancing Gender Equality in the Workplace.” The guest editors for this section are Mikki Hebl and Eden B. King. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Suzette Caleo, Public Administration Institute, Louisiana State University, 3000 Business Education Complex, Baton Rouge, LA 70803. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers. Content may be shared at no cost, but any requests to reuse this content in part or whole must go through the American Psychological Association. 72 CALEO AND HEILMAN bias they promote play a central role in impeding their career progress ency measures (Castilla, 2015). Other interventions, such as affirma- (Eagly & Carli, 2007; Heilman, 2012). Organizations have become tive action plans (Holzer & Neumark, 2000) and mentorship programs increasingly committed to solving the problem of gender bias and its (Ragins & Cotton, 1999; Ramaswami, Dreher, Bretz, & Wiethoff, hindering effects on women’s career progress (Mundy, 2017). Yet, 2010), are aimed at providing women access to opportunities and these efforts have been less successful than many would have hoped resources that promote success. Yet other interventions are aimed at (Isaac, 2015; Wells, 2016), and gender bias continues to flourish. This changing organizational norms and paving the way for more equal article considers why some of the strategies organizations use to treatment of women in both organizational decision making and mitigate gender bias in upper echelon positions do not have their interpersonal treatment in everyday encounters (Cheung et al., 2016; intended consequence. Nishii & Rich, 2013). Our focus in this article is not on failures in the design or imple- Although it is unreasonable to expect these interventions to imme- mentation of these change efforts, but rather on seemingly unrelated diately and completely transform the demographic landscape of or opposite-to-intended outcomes that they can spark, no matter how upper-level leadership, they should at the very least move the needle. well planned and executed they may be. We contend that an inter- Yet, progress for women in the upper echelons has not kept the pace vention does not happen in isolation, and sometimes it can backfire, of interventions introduced in recent years, and studies investigating creating more problems than it resolves. We also contend that being the success of bias-reduction initiatives have yielded conflicting re- attentive to this issue when planning and executing interventions to sults, sometimes even when the same intervention is the focus (e.g., reduce gender bias can affect whether they ultimately succeed or fail. Kalev, Dobbin, & Kelly, 2006; Leslie, Mayer, & Kravitz, 2014). In our discussion we draw from the overall bias reduction literature These findings suggest that these initiatives do not always have their (e.g., Cheung et al., 2016), but our specific interest lies in interven- intended consequences. tions aimed at reducing gender bias (Heilman & Caleo, 2018). More- over, our focus is primarily on professional women seeking leadership Unintended Consequences of Interventions positions in the organizations in which they work. It should be noted The reasons a bias-reduction intervention can backfire are many. that our comments are centered on these women overall; we have not Some backfire because they introduce factors or processes that actu- at this point made distinctions between the effects of different inter- ally increase the propensity to behave in a biased manner. Others ventions for women of different races and ethnicities. backfire because in a given situation they are necessary but not We ground our discussion in theoretical formulations and empirical sufficient—they need to be paired with another intervention or a research, which we argue are not only essential to crafting interven- specific set of conditions to succeed. Still others can backfire because tions (Heilman & Caleo, 2018), but also to understanding forces those they provoke anger and a sense of injustice, or raise questions about interventions can unintentionally set in motion. The identification of the organization’s fairness and legitimacy. Although in our discussion these unintended consequences can provide critical information to we often will tie particular issues to particular interventions and those developing change initiatives as well as to those trying to organizational initiatives, it is the general principle that is critical here: understand what went wrong when a seemingly solid and well- there are potential outcomes of interventions to alleviate bias that can, designed intervention has gone awry. In short, understanding the instead, provoke the very bias they are designed to avert. countervailing forces that are brought on by bias-reduction change efforts can be invaluable in developing an effective strategy to coun- teract workplace bias. Promoting Gender Stereotyping Lest we appear more pessimistic than we actually feel, we want to Gender bias is the product of gender stereotypes—beliefs about make clear that we are not saying that the bias-reducing intervention how men and women typically are. Extensive research has identified strategies currently in use are necessarily ineffective. Rather, it is our the attributes that are thought to characterize men and women belief that identifying the processes and conditions that might work (Broverman, Vogel, Broverman, Clarkson, & Rosenkrantz, 1972; against them having their intended impact will enable a wiser imple- Diekman & Eagly, 2000), and these characterizations have shown mentation strategy with a higher potential for success. To that end, we themselves to be remarkably consistent—across context, across cul- will deal with two different sets of issues. The first concerns potential ture, and across time (Haines, Deaux, & Lofaro, 2016). Agency, or the unintended consequences of the intervention itself, and the second attributes associated with task effectiveness and leadership, is typi- concerns potential unintended consequences of the intervention’s ap- cally associated with men but not women. In turn, women are viewed parent success. as concerned about others and building relationships—attributes that are admirable, but not considered vital in most work settings. The Interventions to Reduce Gender Bias consequences of gender stereotypes for decision making are undebat- Interventions focused on reducing gender bias comprise a wide able. They have been shown to promote bias in recruitment (Gaucher, array of organizational practices, many of which have been directed at Friesen, & Kay, 2011), selection (Koch, D’Mello, & Sackett, 2015), reducing bias against racial and ethnic minorities as well (Dobbin, performance appraisal (Bauer & Baltes, 2002), compensation (Joshi, Schrage, & Kalev, 2015). Intended to facilitate gender equity by Son, & Roh, 2015), and promotion decisions (Lyness & Heilman, easing or eliminating the systemic disadvantages faced by upwardly 2006), particularly in fields or jobs that have been historically male- striving women, they include initiatives aimed both at increasing dominated or culturally associated with masculinity. women’s representation and reducing disparities in their career out- When confronted with the question of how to alleviate gender bias, comes and treatment as compared with men. Although the overall goal the first impulse often is to focus on training programs designed to of these interventions is the same, their points of leverage often differ. change people and rid them of the preconceptions that propel biased Some interventions are aimed at decreasing discrimination in selec- behavior. Thus, many organizational efforts at diversity training have tion, performance evaluation, and salary determinations—whether by been aimed at reducing prejudice and changing attitudes (Bezrukova giving managers the skills they need to avoid being biased in decision et al., 2012). These efforts seek to undo or counteract gender stereo- making through diversity training (Bezrukova, Jehn, & Spell, 2012) or types, and to allow people to recognize and correct for their biases. by discouraging the use of bias through accountability and transpar- They are based on the idea that insight about one’s stereotypical This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers. Content may be shared at no cost, but any requests to reuse this content in part or whole must go through the American Psychological Association. UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF INTERVENTIONS 73 beliefs will reduce the occurrence of bias. Despite their frequent use, idence that holding gender stereotypic beliefs and acting on them however, such interventions have an inconsistent track record. For in a biased way is the norm can unleash propensities that may have instance, the results of a recent meta-analysis indicate that the im- until then been inhibited. Evidently, knowing that biased behavior provements in attitudinal and behavioral outcomes achieved by diver- is commonplace and universal provides an excuse that averts sity training are ephemeral and dissipate with time (Bezrukova, Spell, having to take personal responsibility for the outcome. Perry, & Jehn, 2016). These findings suggest that these training Another factor that potentially helps avert personal responsibility initiatives often do not achieve their goals, and there is even indication for biased behaviors is the labeling of bias as “unconscious.” More that their effects are sometimes contrary to their intended aims (Kalev and more one hears about unconscious bias—a term based on the idea et al., 2006). Why might this be the case? that stereotypes can exert influence without the individual being aware of One explanation underlying the less than stellar outcomes of train- it. Although it has been shown that stereotypes can be activated automat- ing interventions focused on attitude change is that rather than reduc- ically (Devine, 1989; Dovidio, Evans, & Tyler, 1986) and individuals ing stereotyped conceptions, these programs can promote them. often are not aware of their impact on their judgments and behaviors When, in the course of training, there is acknowledgment of group (Banaji & Greenwald, 1995; Banaji, Hardin, & Rothman, 1993), the differences so as to understand how these differences inform each framing of bias in this manner can have unintended consequences. If group’s unique experience, the consequence can be an unintended bias is “unconscious,” then it seems hardly fair to blame anyone for highlighting of stereotyped attributes and inadvertent validation of being biased; it is not that individual’s fault but rather the result of them (Bregman, 2012; Chavez & Weisinger, 2008). Thus, the focus forces out of his or her control. Culpability is difficult to establish on stereotype awareness and its emphasis on gender differences in (Washington & Kelly, 2016), and the person can be excused. More- agency and leadership qualities may reinforce rather than challenge over, if bias has occurred, the guilt or embarrassment that would stereotypes of women, and even exacerbate their downstream effects ordinarily be felt by the perpetrator may be eased—after all, there is (e.g., Martin & Phillips, 2017). a simple explanation for this objectionable behavior that does not Training that focuses on similarities rather than differences between involve negative thinking about oneself. the attributes of men and women is likely to be more effective. For If we want people to take responsibility for their biased actions and example, diversity training efforts focused on perspective taking, decisions and also to be judged as responsible for them occurring, it which breaks down the perception of group differences and deters an will be much more effective to create a context in which gender bias us-them orientation, has been shown to reduce the use of stereotypes is considered to be aberrant and counternormative, not commonplace, (Galinsky & Moskowitz, 2000) and improve attitudes toward stigma- and also in which people see themselves as having engaged in gender tized groups (Lindsey, King, Hebl, & Levine, 2015). Research on bias by choice, not because of some unavoidable invisible force. To inclusion (see Dickens-Smith, 1995), which emphasizes integration of this end, it is crucial how the discussion of gender bias is framed and differences, further hints at the benefits of focusing on similarities. communicated. Moreover, because simply suppressing stereotypes Nishii (2013), for example, has provided a compelling demonstration because of societal or organizational pressure to be politically correct that creating a climate of inclusion among employees is instrumental is not an effective way to reduce bias over time (Legault et al., 2011; in attenuating interpersonal bias. Lindsey et al., 2015; Macrae, Bodenhausen, Milne, & Jetten, 1994), organizations need to take stock of whether their organizational norms foster and provide underlying support for gender stereo- Reducing Personal Responsibility for Bias types, ultimately encouraging their employees to seize on any If people are to change their behavior, it is important for them to convenient justification for not taking responsibility for biased feel motivated to do so, and also to believe that such behavior change attitudes and behavior. is under their control (Legault, Gutsell, & Inzlicht, 2011; Lindsey et al., 2015). Unfortunately, several of the ways in which we currently Fueling the Perception of Undeserved Preference refer to gender stereotypes and gender bias do not promote those feelings. Quite the opposite: they sometimes convey an “everybody’s One set of interventions that are aimed toward reducing bias com- doing it” message and sometimes an “I can’t help myself” message, prise organizational actions that promote and prescribe diversity. both of which are hindrances rather than facilitators of change. These “diversity initiatives” are communicated through statements, In justifying many different interventions to reduce gender bias, the practices, policies, and avowals of bias-free environments, with orga- point is often made that gender stereotypes and their consequences are nizations expressing goals of hiring, promoting, and easing the career pervasive and widely shared. In fact, key to many forms of bias- paths of women. Targeted hiring procedures, mentoring programs, reduction training is the depiction of gender stereotypes as universal and special skills training for women all signal that the organization is in society, and their role in diverse settings and cultures is often progressive and welcoming of women. Despite these good intentions, explored, as is their perseverance over time. More generally, the however, the perception that women are recipients of preferential results of opinion polling and statistics about women’s participation in treatment can have deleterious effects. organizational positions are commonly presented in an effort to spark Research has shown that when people believe that a hire or a support for change interventions. promotion has been made based on gender, there can be negative The point of conveying these facts to organization members is to consequences for both the woman and others in the work setting facilitate the recognition and acceptance of their own biases to min- (Heilman, 1994). Those meant to be the beneficiaries of these initia- imize resistance to working on changing them (Banaji, Bazerman, & tives can be caused to question their qualifications and suffer in Chugh, 2003; Burgess, Van Ryn, Dovidio, & Saha, 2007). Yet, confidence and motivation as a result (Heilman, Rivero, & Brett, research suggests that such depictions of stereotypes can some- 1991; Heilman, Simon, & Repper, 1987; Leslie et al., 2014; Unzueta, times normalize them. In a set of important studies, Duguid and Gutierrez, & Ghavami, 2010), and others in the organization may Thomas-Hunt (2015) found that those who received information conclude that they have been unfairly bypassed and that the promise about stereotyping being highly prevalent evaluated people in more of equity based on merit has been violated (Heilman, McCullough, & stereotype-consistent ways than those who received information Gilbert, 1996). Also, because the general assumption in such instances about stereotyping as uncommon. Thus, providing convincing ev- is that the preference afforded to women is an indication that they This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers. Content may be shared at no cost, but any requests to reuse this content in part or whole must go through the American Psychological Association. 74 CALEO AND HEILMAN were not up to the task or there would be no need for such initiatives, The reasoning is that if people see that women can be successful in the supposed beneficiary of the preferential treatment often is stigma- these roles, ideas about them not having “the right stuff” will atten- tized and seen as less competent than others in the organization who uate, and the success of prominent women will generalize or “trickle are not perceived to have benefitted from diversity policies (Heilman, down” to other women. Though there is evidence that such strategies Block, & Stathatos, 1997; Heilman & Welle, 2006; Nater, Heilman, & can sometimes reduce stereotypic conceptions (Beaman, Chattopad- Sczesny, 2018). Therefore, making clear that women benefitting from hyay, Duflo, Pande, & Topalova, 2009; Dasgupta & Asgari, 2004), preferential policies are in fact competent and qualified is critical if there also is reason to believe that their effect on stereotypic beliefs these efforts are to be successful. When a woman is known to be may be limited. equally qualified as a man being considered for the same position, her Research suggests that rather than altering their stereotypic beliefs, preferential selection has been shown to differ little in consequence people tend to subtype those whose behavior disconfirms them, a for how she feels about herself or how others regard her than hiring process that enables stereotypes to remain intact (Kunda & Oleson, that is solely merit-based (Heilman, Battle, Keller, & Lee, 1998). 1995; Weber & Crocker, 1983). Thus, rather than providing proof A different set of problems can be created by the offering of special that women have the requisite attributes for success, stereotype- work arrangements, such as working remotely or part-time or being disconfirming successful women might be viewed as exceptions to the given an option to take parental leave—policies that may appear to be rule, prompting the creation of a subtype that is distinct from the specifically tailored to the needs of women (von Hippel, Kalokerinos, conception of women in general. And, as the adage goes, the excep- & Zacher, 2017). Rather than helping women’s career prospects, tion can be taken to prove the rule—that women are not really up to research suggests that generous family friendly policies can inadver- the task; only a small subset of very unusual ones are. Research tently harm them, with studies finding that nation-wide expansion of indicates that numbers matter—subtyping was found to be most likely such laws accounts for lower labor participation (Blau & Kahn, when stereotype-inconsistent evidence was concentrated within a 2013), hiring, and promotion rates for women (Fernandez-Kranz & Rodriguez-Planas, 2013). The effort to create a more felicitous work- small number of group members (Weber & Crocker, 1983). Thus, the family synergy can have the effect of communicating that women take solo isolated woman exemplar, no matter how visible she might be, priority and men are the losers. The idea that men, and White men in may not be particularly effective in dispelling gender stereotypic particular, feel they are being left behind is a reality in today’s work beliefs about other women (Bennhold, 2017). world (Dover, Major, & Kaiser, 2016; Lowery, Unzueta, Knowles, & Consistent with this reasoning, research has shown that when a Goff, 2006; Unzueta, Lowery, & Knowles, 2008), and its conse- woman is successful in a nontraditional role, her success is not quences can be toxic for women and the organizations in which they necessarily taken to be informative about the likely competence of work. Organizations should be attentive to this and take action to other women, resulting in little change to existing expectations. How- make these special programs, as well as mentoring programs, special ever, interestingly, when she is not successful, a different process skills training, and other career-enhancing opportunities, available to seems to take hold, and her performance does impact impressions of men as well as women. It is important, however, to keep in mind that other women’s competence. In that situation there seems to be little offering such programs to all employees is not a guarantee that all evidence of subtyping, and instead a good deal of generalization employees will use them. Research suggests that men face penalties (Manzi & Heilman, 2018). This is likely because, unlike a successful when they seek flexible work arrangements (Vandello, Hettinger, exemplar, a failing exemplar is stereotype-confirming. Bosson, & Siddiqi, 2013) or take family leave (Coltrane, Miller, This finding is of particular relevance because work on the glass DeHaan, & Stewart, 2013; Rudman & Mescher, 2013) and, thus, cliff phenomenon suggests that women tend to be disproportionately despite equal availability, may be reluctant to take advantage of these placed into risky and precarious high-level leadership positions (Ryan opportunities (Halverson, 2003; Vandello et al., 2013). Nonetheless, et al., 2016), potentially heightening their likelihood of failure. Fur- making these programs available to men may help assuage the neg- thermore, research suggests that people tend to be more willing to ativity of feeling mistreated and overlooked. perceive less than optimal behavior as failure for women than men— If programs and procedures are not implemented with care, good whether it comes in the form of a mistake (Brescoll, Dawson, & faith efforts to integrate women into leadership roles can go wrong, Uhlmann, 2010) or declining performance from one time point to causing talented and qualified women to question themselves, to be stigmatized as incompetent by others, and to generate hostility and another (Heilman, Manzi, & Caleo, 2018)—a double standard that animus directed at women that have little to do with who they are or appears to be magnified for Black women (Rosette & Livingston, what they bring to the job. Thus, sometimes the enthusiastic embrace 2012). In short, there is a proclivity to see women as failing, even of diversity ideology can work against, rather than for, the reduction when their behavior is identical to that of men. of bias and the promotion of inclusion. Validating that women are Thus, it may prove inadequate for organizations to assume that deserving of their position or promotion is important to dispel stig- simply placing solo women in prominent, traditionally male positions matization by self and other, and making sure that the scales are not will reduce gender bias. When such women succeed, they tend not to tipped in favor of one group over another in providing access to be seen as emblematic of women more generally and their beneficial learning, growth, and support opportunities seem important antidotes effects for evaluations of other women are negligible. However, when to the potentially negative effects of the perception of undeserved they are thought to have failed, their failure is likely to be taken as preference. verification of gender stereotypes. Given that the likelihood of women being seen as failing is high, both because of the nature of the top Prompting Negative Trickle-Down Effects leadership roles into which they tend to be placed and because their missteps are more likely than men’s to be judged as failure, there is Another strategy that organizations use to combat gender bias danger of negative generalization, or a trickle down of negativity involves increasing exposure to women in traditionally male posi- directed at other women. Thus, unsupported by other interventions, tions. Thus, many organizations endorse a policy of actively seeking to place women in visible roles, or a policy of highlighting the simply showcasing solo women in high places may be more harmful accomplishments of highly placed counterstereotypical role models. than helpful in reducing gender bias. This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers. Content may be shared at no cost, but any requests to reuse this content in part or whole must go through the American Psychological Association. UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF INTERVENTIONS 75 and unbiased does not always make a good impression. Despite Creating Tokens increasing societal pressure to treat others in an evenhanded manner, There also are potential problems stemming from placement prac- some individuals continue to espouse bigoted views, and the norms tices for women not at the very top of the organization. In their and culture within some organizations may actually condone, or even eagerness to get women represented throughout the organization, encourage, discriminatory behavior. Moreover, there are instances in decision makers often spread out the few women they have recruited which authority figures provide business justifications for discrimi- across many different departments and units. In this way, more of the natory behavior. In such cases, requiring accountability or making organizational terrain appears to be gender-integrated and the pres- decision processes more transparent may ironically motivate individ- ence of women is broader. This process, although sensible on the face uals to behave in a biased manner to impress or comply with the of it, can have unanticipated consequences for these women by wishes of others (Brief, Dietz, Cohen, Pugh, & Vaslow, 2000). making them “tokens” (Kanter, 1977). Research shows that individuals who want to present themselves There is evidence that women who are tokens suffer in evaluations favorably tend to make decisions that satisfy the views of their (Sackett, DuBois, & Noe, 1991), with greater stereotyping directed at audience (Klimoski & Inks, 1990; Mero et al., 2007). Thus, for these them. In one study, for example, women were evaluated more nega- motivational strategies to work, organizational norms must support tively when they were the only woman in a group than when they gender equality and unbiased behavior must be valued by others in the were in a group with other women (Heilman & Blader, 2001). When work setting, whether they are supervisors, peers, subordinates, or there is such gender rarity, a woman’s gender becomes highly salient, upper management. Otherwise, providing the opportunity to present and views of her as female are activated. Moreover, in these situations oneself favorably through accountability or transparency might actu- there is no evidence of differences among women—differences that ally lead to increased rather than decreased gender bias. could challenge stereotypes about them as a group. Therefore, it is no Moreover, organizations should be mindful that when prejudiced surprise that stereotyping and the bias it arouses are heightened under employees are impelled to present themselves in a manner that is these circumstances. consistent with bias-prohibiting organizational norms, they may be Becoming a token, the sole representative of an underrepresented prompted to seek subtle ways to bypass them, relying on less detect- group, also can be very stressful. A woman token is likely not only to able forms of discrimination. Selective incivility (Cortina, Kabat-Farr, feel isolated from others in the organization, but also to feel very Leskinen, Huerta, & Magley, 2013), for example, enables employees visible, as if all eyes are on her, making her constantly open to to act in discriminatory ways that can be exceedingly harmful, but do scrutiny. There also is evidence that token women are concerned that not meet the organization’s threshold of unacceptability. Because their presence makes men uncomfortable (Talmud & Izraeli, 1999) these behaviors allow employees to hide their intentions, they fre- and they tend to believe that the organization does not support gender quently are without consequences for perpetrators and, therefore, equity (King, Hebl, George, & Matusik, 2010). become routine. Thus, to be effective, the norms defining the orga- The stress of being a token can lead women to leave the organiza- nizational culture have to be clear not only in their proscription of tion and move on to more comfortable situations (King et al., 2010). open and explicit forms of discrimination, but in their proscription of In so doing, they may strengthen stereotypes and the conviction that incivility and other sources of day-to-day discrimination that too often women are not committed to their work, do not have what it takes to can fly under the radar. perform well, and are not suited for such jobs. So, by pushing women out because of the burdens of tokenism, placement tactics meant to Depleting Cognitive Resources increase the organizational presence of women can ultimately de- crease it. Rather than spreading women throughout the organization, Ensuring unbiased evaluative procedures for selection and perfor- it may be more effective to cluster them in groups (Kanter, 1977)—a mance appraisal requires time and energy that is added on to that practice that potentially discourages stereotype activation and under- already reserved for other activities. Some accountability measures, cuts the possibility of women feeling like tokens. Moreover, there are for example, call for decision makers to report on and explain each steps that can be taken to deal directly with the pressures on women decision and judgment they make—an endeavor that is both time who are likely to become tokens, such as the institution of employee consuming and labor-intensive. Requiring such efforts without pro- resource groups (Friedman & Holtom, 2002) and mentoring networks viding sufficient resources to engage in them can be self-defeating. A (Cox, Blaha, Fritz, & Whitten, 2014). lack of attentional resources can potentially amplify cognitive load, driving decision makers to rely more, rather than less, on stereotypes (Gilbert & Hixon, 1991). Research has found that even when suffi- Encouraging Discriminatory Behavior ciently motivated to individuate, decision makers who lacked cogni- Some bias-reducing procedures, such as transparency and account- tive resources viewed women in a stereotypical manner (Pendry & ability, are designed to appeal to decision makers’ motivations to Macrae, 1994). Thus, any benefits provided by the motivation to be appear to others as fair-minded, competent, and reliable. In creating unbiased can be undercut by an overload in cognitive work. transparency by making the decision process visible to all, organiza- Because engaging in bias-limiting initiatives can increase the cog- tions motivate individuals to demonstrate their lack of bias and to nitive demands placed upon decision makers and, therefore, increase present themselves as fair and decent (Castilla, 2015; Mero, Guidice, the degree to which stereotypes are used, it is critical that these & Brownlee, 2007). A similar reasoning underlies accountability initiatives be accompanied by sufficient means to effectively do the interventions, in which people are required to justify the decisions work required. To this end, organizations can equip decision makers they make. Such procedures have been known to be effective, induc- with evaluation tools that have the potential to reduce or overcome ing the use of more systematic decision making and more care in cognitive strain. For example, certain kinds of performance rating seeking out and attending to information (Lerner & Tetlock, 1999). In training, such as frame-of-reference (Gorman & Rentsch, 2009) or fact, evidence supports the idea that accountability is a useful tool for structured free recall (Anderson et al., 2015; Bauer & Baltes, 2002), reducing gender bias (Castilla, 2015; Koch et al., 2015). can provide raters with a structured direction to think about ratees— These motivationally based interventions rely on the assumption interventions that are not only likely to minimize load, but to also that bias reduction is an organizational value. Yet, being fair-minded encourage more thorough and deliberate cognitive processes (e.g., This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers. Content may be shared at no cost, but any requests to reuse this content in part or whole must go through the American Psychological Association. 76 CALEO AND HEILMAN Baltes, Bauer, & Frensch, 2007). Rating diaries (DeNisi, Robbins, & studies indicate that women who have proven their competence in Cafferty, 1989) also can potentially allay cognitive demands by pro- male-typed fields are disliked and viewed as interpersonally hostile viding raters an opportunity to take notes, though care must be taken (Heilman, Wallen, Fuchs, & Tamkins, 2004; Rudman & Glick, 2001), to ensure that entries are structured appropriately; otherwise, the as they are thought to violate norms for how women should behave entries themselves could be biased (Balzer, 1986). Another avenue (Eagly & Karau, 2002; Heilman, 2012). might entail selecting decision makers who are more resistant to the This type of antipathy toward successful women in traditionally types of stress that increase reliance on biases: potentially those with male work settings carries more than just social punishment; it can be high general mental ability or a high need for cognition. However, costly for those seeking to move up in organizations. Because affect whatever the particular intervention chosen, there should be recogni- and liking play a role in the performance appraisal process (Cardy & tion that behaving in a nonbiased manner can be arduous. If this is not Dobbins, 1986; Dipboye, 1985), being disliked can skew the evalua- taken into account in the design of interventions, the demands to be tion of performance. It also has been shown to affect one’s influence less biased can potentially promote rather than deter gender bias. (Carli, 2001) and access to social networks (Casciaro & Lobo, 2005) and to reduce special career opportunities and compensation recom- mendations (Heilman et al., 2004). Doing Harm to Those Who Lead Bias-Reducing Initiatives Therefore, it is important to be aware that successfully combatting Because women and minorities are likely to be perceived as the one source of gender discrimination does not mean that gender equal- employees most invested in bias-reducing efforts and most under- ity has been achieved. Other mechanisms that provoke discrimination standing of what needs to be done, they often are the ones tasked with are not necessarily eliminated, and may even be activated by success. leading them. However, such efforts may backfire if the impetus for As women come to successfully climb the organizational ladder, change is believed to be someone who is a likely beneficiary of the organizations should be aware of the additional challenges that these change. Research suggests that women may be concerned about women face and their potential consequences. This awareness should advocating for other women because they perceive that they will be inform action when women are evaluated and career decisions about viewed as exhibiting ingroup favoritism (Loyd & Amoroso, 2018), them are made; extra scrutiny of recommendations and subjective and there is evidence that validates these concerns. Specifically, evaluations to discover incidences of unwarranted social approbation women and minorities have been shown to be negatively evaluated should be attended to, as should descriptors such as “abrasive,” when they exhibit diversity-valuing behavior (Hekman, Johnson, Foo, “pushy,” “conniving,” and “cold.” Furthermore, because success for & Yang, 2017). In short, by being singled out to lead the charge women provokes censure not only in organizations that themselves against gender bias women may be put in a double bind. Effectively are male gender-typed, but also in organizational roles and positions intervening to decrease gender bias may instead increase the bias typically held by men (Heilman et al., 2004), special attention should directed at them. be paid in these circumstances. This point is a subtle but powerful one. It suggests that organiza- tional bias-reducing efforts not be spearheaded by women alone, but rather include others not likely to be seen as personally associated Devaluing Traditionally Male Jobs with these efforts. This means that men, as well as women, should be It is not gender stereotypes alone that produce gender bias. Bias involved, and that their involvement should be public and visible to arises from a lack of fit between stereotypes about women and the organization members (Prime & Moss-Racusin, 2009). Combatting perceived requirements for success in a male-typed domain (Heilman, gender bias should be portrayed as a task for everyone, not only those 2012). This mismatch creates negative expectations about women’s who are targeted for benefit. performance, which are prone to bias the processing of information and influence decisions and evaluations involving women. Thus, Unintended Consequences of Success intervention strategies that affect how a particular job or position is perceived have been targeted by change agents (Heilman & Caleo, As organizations continue enacting bias-reducing interventions— 2018). There are several things organizations can do to successfully hopefully with an eye toward the unintended consequences discussed alter the perception that a given job or field is male-typed, such as above—they will move closer to the end goal of eliminating gender attending to the presence of gendered language in job descriptions bias. In this pursuit, some organizations have even begun to track their (Horvath & Sczesny, 2015), emphasizing more communal aspects of progress, periodically sharing their failures and successes with em- the job (Danbold & Bendersky, 2015), or modifying aspects of the ployees and investors. Such endeavors allow organizations to estab- organizational culture and physical environment (Cheryan, Plaut, Da- lish benchmarks and meet calls for transparency and accountability. vies, & Steele, 2009) to ensure it is not seen as overwhelmingly However, they should be aware that success and progress also can masculine in nature. introduce some unintended by-products. The occurrence of these However, there is a catch. Altering the perceived gender-type of a unintended consequences is not reason to be less fervent in pursuing job can also alter its prestige. Research shows that female-typed jobs gender bias-lessening efforts, but it is important to be aware of what are not as highly regarded as male-typed jobs. As organizations work they are so their impact can be minimized when possible. to dismantle the unrelenting image of traditionally male jobs as exclusively male in gender-type, these jobs may start to lose their Activating Prescriptive Gender Stereotypes cache. Whether this is because of an actual devaluation of traditionally Implicit in some gender bias-reducing interventions is the assump- male jobs or an elimination of the “premium” that typically has been tion that women’s challenges in male-dominated positions will dis- attached to them is unclear; what is clear, however, is the decline in appear once they are able to successfully prove their competence and their perceived status. For example, researchers have found that worth. However, evidence suggests that this may be only one step in occupations that have become more feminized over time tend to face the right direction. Even if organizations succeed in combatting neg- greater devaluation of earnings (Levanon, England, & Allison, 2009; ative expectations about women’s performance, additional obstacles Mandel, 2013). Experimental research paints a similar picture: in one can arise as a function of prescriptive gender stereotypes. Numerous study, individuals tended to designate less pay to a gender-neutral job This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers. Content may be shared at no cost, but any requests to reuse this content in part or whole must go through the American Psychological Association. UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF INTERVENTIONS 77 when it was described as being in a female rather than a male field actually bring about the very opposite of their intended effect— (Alksnis, Desmarais, & Curtis, 2008). leaving organizations in worse shape than they were before the Therefore, in seeking to change the male-gendered perceptions of intervention. Rather than disregarding what could go wrong, we argue jobs and what they entail, it should be recognized that along with the that knowledge of these misfires can put organizations in a better resulting reduction of gender bias in selection and performance eval- position to avoid them. This requires a keen understanding of the uation there may be a reduction in the job’s desirability. This is psychological processes that inadvertently arise when certain inter- something the organization may want to combat through the status ventions are introduced and the conditions that could prevent these conferred on job-holders or the way the job itself is described to processes from occurring. applicants or presented to the public. Desirability is based on percep- In recent years, researchers have heeded this call by empirically tion, and organizations have a great deal of discretion in influencing investigating specific ironic effects of diversity interventions (e.g., how particular jobs and positions are viewed. Duguid & Thomas-Hunt, 2015; Kaiser et al., 2013), many of which we have cited in this article. However, other ideas remain to be tested—ideas that emerge from further examination of the aftereffects Reducing Bias-Related Vigilance of interventions we currently have in our bias-reduction arsenal. As On their path to gender equality, organizations may reasonably scholars continue to disentangle these effects, there are several direc- want to share and publicize their successes. However, doing so can tions to take beyond those included in our analysis. One involves ironically pave the way for future discriminatory behavior—an effect considering how the challenges we have identified are affected by for which there are several possible contributing factors. women’s race and ethnicity, a question that is especially pressing First, emphasizing diversity successes conveys that the organization given the additional adversity faced by and the different stereotypes in question is procedurally fair and legitimate, an impression that then used to characterize professional women of color (Cortina et al., 2013; causes people to be more likely to support biased procedures (Kirby, Ghavami & Peplau, 2013; Sanchez-Hucles & Davis, 2010), as well as Kaiser, & Major, 2015) and less likely to detect discriminatory out- the fact that some bias-reduction efforts have been shown to benefit comes (Brady, Kaiser, Major, & Kirby, 2015; Kaiser et al., 2013). It only White women (Crenshaw, 2006). Furthermore, it would be is as though the organization has proven itself to be neutral and fruitful to extend our analysis beyond gender to other aspects of social legitimate and, having done so, is now unable to do any harm. These identity that also have been the focus of organizational interventions, findings have implications for the actions that men and women are and to continue examining the ways in which organizational cultures likely to take. Once an organization has proven itself to be “fair,” male and climates influence whether an intervention succeeds or fails. 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Journal of Applied Psychology, 84, 529–550. http://dx.doi.org/10 .1037/0021-9010.84.4.529 Accepted December 6, 2018 This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers. Content may be shared at no cost, but any requests to reuse this content in part or whole must go through the American Psychological Association.
Archives of Scientific Psychology – American Psychological Association
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