Traditional theories in psychology have long suggested that discrimination occurs primarily as a function of employees’ own prejudices. But what if there’s more to the story?
In my primary stream of research, I examine the causes and consequences of second-order prejudice, which I define as our beliefs about the prejudices of others. Drawing on theories of social attribution and entitativity, I demonstrate how perceivers use the homogeneity of an organization to infer the prejudices of its members. When a third-party is employed in a homogenous organization, they are perceived as being significantly more prejudiced than when that same individual is portrayed as being employed in a diverse organization. The inferences employees make about a third-party’s prejudices have significant consequences for workplace discrimination. In my research, I find that subtle cues of organizational homogeneity are sufficient to compel perceivers to discriminate on a third-party’s behalf, even when perceivers strongly endorse egalitarian values or are themselves a member of the purportedly disfavored outgroup. Insights from this stream of research provide a fresh theoretical perspective on the forces sustaining workplace inequity by demonstrating that employees’ own attitudes are not the sole driver of discrimination in organizations. As such, this work highlights the deep-rooted, and often overlooked, psychological barriers organizations must overcome in pursuit of their DEI goals.
How do employees decide whether to engage in DEI-promoting behaviors at work? What characteristics of an organization might influence this decision-making process?
In this line of research, I explore how employees use a company’s demography to judge the extent to which diversity management practices are both needed and valued in an organization. Specifically, I draw on theories of social attribution to highlight an important paradox—namely, that while the homogeneity of an organization can signal its need for diversity management, it may simultaneously convey that such efforts are unlikely to be valued by that organization’s members. This diversity double-bind can have significant consequences for organizations, as employees may be less likely to engage in DEI-related extra-role behaviors, even when it would benefit the organization, if they perceive such actions as non-promotable. Insights from this line of research may help uncover why so many organizations often struggle to make progress toward their diversity goals. In future work, I plan to investigate potential interventions to ameliorate the effect of company homogeneity on employees’ willingness to engage in DEI-promoting behaviors, and to examine the trade-offs associated with perceiving diversity management as intrinsically- versus extrinsically-motivated.
Under what conditions are people willing to behave in ways that conflict with their own personal beliefs?
In this line of research, I extend our current understanding of the “third-party prejudice effect” (Vial, Brescoll, & Dovidio, 2019) by investigating how our beliefs about others’ prejudices can compel us to act in discriminatory ways, even when doing so is inconsistent with our own personal beliefs. Specifically, I propose four complementary motives that may facilitate the process of prejudice accommodation. First, second-order prejudice can lead to discrimination when accommodation satisfies instrumental motives, like securing benefits (e.g., pay) or avoiding punishment (e.g., termination). Second, even when people aren’t required to accommodate a third-party’s prejudices for instrumental reasons, they may nevertheless feel pressure to do so. These normative motives can lead to discrimination by causing people to see accommodation as prescribed by their role (c.f., Vial, Dovidio, & Brescoll, 2019) or necessary to maintain their status as a well-regarded group member. Third, second-order prejudice may lead to discrimination to the extent that people have interpersonal motives, including impression management, power, and (paternalistic) benevolence toward the target. Finally, I propose that discrimination can occur when people are driven by cognitive motives, wherein prejudice accommodation may help reduce cognitive dissonance or allow them to reinforce their own—even egalitarian—worldviews. Taken together, this work provides a robust theoretical account of when and why our beliefs about others’ prejudices may motivate us to discriminate. In subsequent research, I plan to further investigate the downstream consequences of prejudice accommodation for both organizations (e.g., performance) and individuals (e.g., turnover).
What are the conditions that give rise to inclusive work environments? What strategies can leaders adopt to more effectively promote inclusion within their teams?
In this line of research, we investigate the antecedents of workplace inclusion through two primary lenses. First, we consider how various features of an organization may drive employees’ experience of inclusion in the workplace. Specifically, we take a localized view of inclusion to understand how an individual’s position in a network may influence to what extent they describe their organization as inclusive. Second, we also examine the role leaders play in either promoting or preventing the development of inclusive climates. Here, we are particularly interested in leaders’ construal of diversity management as reflecting approach-oriented vs. avoidance-oriented goals. We predict that a leader’s goal orientation may have a significant effect on their nonverbal behavior, covertly sending signals to members of their team that either support or undermine their efforts to be inclusive. We’re also exploring potential strategies to help leaders better embody their inclusive values. For example, we are investigating the benefits of mantras, which help refocus one’s attention on a desired outcome, as a practical tool that can aid leaders in their attempts to be more inclusive in the workplace.
Flynn, F. J. & Lide, C. R. (2023)
Academy of Management Journal, 66(4), 1102-1122.
Leaders may be seen by their followers as miscalibrating the quantity of their communication—sharing too much or too little. We propose that leaders are more likely to be seen as under-communicating than over-communicating, even though under-communication is more heavily penalized. In Study 1a, we examine 2,717 qualitative comments from archived leadership assessments and find that leaders are nearly ten times as likely to be criticized for under-communicating than over-communicating. In Study 1b, we obtain further evidence of this bias using a representative sample of U.S. adults. In Study 2, we manipulate communication (mis)calibration, showing that leaders who under-communicate are viewed as less qualified for a leadership role because they are viewed as less empathic. In Study 3, we use separate measures of employee perceptions of their manager’s communication as well as their preferences. When there is a lack of congruence between perceived and preferred communication, employees judge their leaders as lacking empathy and, in turn, leadership ability.