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Fix the Game, Not the Dame: Restoring Equity in Leadership Evaluations

Abstract

Female leaders continue to face bias in the workplace compared to male leaders. When employees are evaluated differently because of who they are rather than how they perform, an ethical dilemma arises for leaders and organizations. Thus, bridging role congruity and social identity leadership theories, we propose that gender biases in leadership evaluations can be overcome by manipulating diversity at the team level. Across two multiple-source, multiple-wave, and randomized field experiments, we test whether team gender composition restores gender equity in leadership evaluations. In Study 1, we find that male leaders are rated as more prototypical in male-dominated groups, an advantage that is eliminated in gender-balanced groups. In Study 2, we replicate and extend this finding by showing that leader gender and team gender composition interact to predict trust in the leader via perceptions of leader prototypicality. The results show causal support for the social identity model of organizational leadership and a boundary condition of role congruity theory. Beyond moral arguments of fairness, our findings also show how, in the case of gender, team diversity can create a more level playing field for leaders. Finally, we outline the implications of our results for leaders, organizations, business ethics, and society.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In accordance with King et al. (2013), we define a field experiment as “a method that uses random assignment to implement a manipulation relevant to working adult participants engaging in genuine tasks or with genuine outcomes in natural settings” (p. 502).

  2. 2.

    The true purpose of our study was unknown to the followers and leaders. We found similar gender compositions of leaders and teams in previous years without intervention, so we have no reason to believe that participants were aware of our study purpose or our manipulations.

  3. 3.

    Given the very subjective nature of the competition, which was organized and evaluated by a third party, we were unable to use these data as a team performance outcome.

  4. 4.

    The leaders of these teams did not closely follow the experimenters’ randomized assignments of participants to teams; as a result, these teams were also larger than the other 32 teams, F(1505) = 1640.08, p < .001, ηp2 = .77, providing additional justification to exclude them from Study 1.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Steffen Giessner, Levke Henningsen, Alina Hernandez Bark, Steve Karau, Lucas Monzani, Christian Troester, Daan van Knippenberg, and Christian Voegtlin for their comments on previous versions of this manuscript, as well as our editor and three anonymous reviewers. This research was completed as part of the first author’s dissertation, which was conducted at the chair of Professor Bruno Staffelbach. This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

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Correspondence to Jamie L. Gloor.

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Gloor, J.L., Morf, M., Paustian-Underdahl, S. et al. Fix the Game, Not the Dame: Restoring Equity in Leadership Evaluations. J Bus Ethics 161, 497–511 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-018-3861-y

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Keywords

  • Gender
  • Prototypicality
  • Trust