The trouble with leaning in : eliminating backlash for women in business

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


The current project set out to test two interventions intended to interrupt the Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE; Ross 1977) in order to eliminate the backlash (i.e., social and economical penalties) women face when they act gender incongruently. The first intervention was designed to direct participants' attentional focus to the male dominated situation the target woman was working. The second intervention was designed to motivate participants to form more accurate impressions of the target woman. It was predicted that both interventions would eliminate attributional errors and result in more favorable impressions of the target woman in comparison to the female control condition. Additionally, it was expected that when participants were introduced to either intervention, they would form equally favorable impressions of the target woman and man. To test hypotheses, 141 participants viewed a brief virtual webinar where 11 executives from a supposedly large aircraft company spoke about upcoming employee reviews. One of the executives served as the target (AVP of Finance) and in three of the conditions (Accuracy Goal Intervention, Situation Focused Intervention, and Woman Lean In Only) was given a female name and in the fourth (Man Lean In Only) a male name. The intervention was introduced before participants viewed the webinar. Following the webinar participants first completed a free recall questionnaire and answered a number of awareness check questions. Finally, participants completed a battery of backlash measures and demographics. An issue with ordering effects was revealed and alternative analyses were conducted with the free recall items. Results revealed that the Situation Focused Intervention and the two control conditions led to the most favorable impressions of the AVP of Finance. Surprisingly, the accuracy goal intervention led to the least positive impressions of the AVP of Finance in comparison to the other conditions. Results should be interpreted with caution, as the free recall items were not designed to test for backlash.




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