As a diversity scholar, I am motivated to understand the mechanisms that stymie progress toward equality in organizations and society. My research is grounded in the desire to uncover how social categories, like race and gender, and motivated beliefs, like social dominance ideologies, influence biases relevant to organizational life. Through investigating how these forces contribute to persistent inequality, I strive to provide empirical, theoretical, and applied insights into consequential diversity-related phenomena.
My primary area of interest lies in understanding patterns of bias in evaluations and perceptions of members of underrepresented groups (e.g., women, people of color). Within this stream, I often employ an intersectional framework to shed light on the interactive effects of race and gender on the stereotypes, prototypes, and attitudes people hold about employees. In a second line of work, I seek to understand the role of motivated cognition in shaping an array of biases, such as (dis)belief in science or exaggerated judgments of outgroup presence in organizations.
In my research, I seek to bridge and extend theory from the fields of management and social psychology, posing questions aimed at uncovering nuances in current understandings of organizational processes. For instance, in my dissertation (Ponce de Leon, job market paper), I integrate concepts from the intersectional invisibility hypothesis (Purdie-Vaughns & Eibach, 2008) and BIAS map framework (Cuddy, Fiske, & Glick, 2007, 2008) to generate divergent hypotheses about how non-prototypicality affects multiple outcomes for Black women who allege discrimination. My work on egalitarian biases (Ponce de Leon & Kay, 2021; Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes) contributes novel insights into social dominance motives by revealing the contexts in which egalitarians ironically use tools like stereotypes to support workplace diversity.
Across these two areas of research, I adopt a micro-level approach and leverage a variety of methods, including controlled experimentation and archival data analysis, to gain insight into psychological and contextual barriers to increased organizational diversity. I aim to conduct research that promotes a culture of transparent and robust science, and I am committed to practices like pre-registration and data sharing that contribute to open scientific inquiry.
Effects of Race, Gender, and Their Intersection on Perceptions of Individuals
1. Intersectional Effects on the Recognition and Treatment of Discrimination Victims (Dissertation). Social movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo have sparked protests, discussion, and legislation to combat racism and sexism. However, despite increasing awareness about the persistence of racial and gender discrimination, coverage of these movements has tended to highlight the experiences of Black men and White women, respectively (e.g., Onwuachi-Willig, 2018; Ritchie, 2017). Why might discrimination against Black women go comparatively unrecognized? In my dissertation, I seek to answer these questions through both experimentation and analyses of archival data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Specifically, I focus on the effects of Black women’s non-prototypicality on both their recognition and ultimate treatment when they allege discrimination (Ponce de Leon & Rosette, 2021; invited second-round revision at Academy of Management Journal).
I first draw from the intersectional invisibility hypothesis (Purdie-Vaughns & Eibach, 2008), which argues that people who have more than one subordinated group identity (e.g., Black women) are atypical members of their constituent identity groups. In turn, these individuals are often rendered socially “invisible” and are likely to be overlooked. Although this hypothesis has received some support in research on social cognition (e.g., Schug, Alt, & Klauer, 2015; Sesko & Biernat, 2010), the effects of intersectional invisibility on consequential workplace phenomena, like discrimination, have been underexplored. Consistent with the predictions of intersectional invisibility, I first find that White women are perceived as more typical victims of gender discrimination than Black women, and that Black men are viewed as more typical victims of racial discrimination than Black women. In turn, Black women are believed less than these more typical group members when they allege gender and racial discrimination.
However, integrating the tenets of the BIAS map (Cuddy et al., 2007, 2008), I also help to explain how the attributes associated with these groups affect another consequential outcome: the financial remedy awarded in discrimination cases. Here, I find divergent effects for Black women, depending on whether they allege gender, versus racial, discrimination. Because Black women are stereotyped as less warm than White women, they are comparatively awarded less financial remedy in gender discrimination cases. Conversely, because Black women are stereotyped as warmer than Black men, they are awarded more financial remedy than Black men in racial discrimination cases (Ponce de Leon & Rosette, 2021; invited second-round revision at Academy of Management Journal).
In additional dissertation research currently in progress, I seek to expand this work and provide further support for my predictions by including considerations of Asian men and women (Ponce de Leon, data collection in progress). Through continued examination of these questions, I hope to disentangle situations in which we might expect intersectional advantages versus double jeopardy to emerge (see Carter & Ponce de Leon, forthcoming; Research on Social Issues in Management: The Future of Diversity & Inclusion). In revealing this phenomenon, I also suggest that organizations should interrogate how solutions to workplace harassment and discrimination may inadvertently exclude certain group members.
2. Intersectional Effects on Gender Stereotypes. In other work on the intersection of race and gender, I study the distinct stereotypes applied to racial subgroups of women. Research on gender bias has tended to implicitly center the experiences of White women, resulting in a monolithic consideration of women in general (see Rosette, Ponce de Leon, Koval & Harrison, 2018; Research in Organizational Behavior). In turn, I seek to better understand the unique stereotypes ascribed to Asian, Black, and White women. For instance, in one paper, I examine how stereotypes of female leaders and perceptions of their hireability differ as a function of their race (Ponce de Leon & Rosette, working paper). The literature on gender stereotypes suggests that women are stereotyped as lacking agency, and the literature on racial bias suggests that White women are often preferred to Black or Asian women in leadership hiring. However, we find that race affects agentic stereotypes and that the traits emphasized in leadership job descriptions moderate hiring preferences for White women. Specifically, Black women are disproportionately hired for dominant positions, and Asian women are hired most for positions emphasizing competence. Distinct intersectional stereotypes pertaining to the dominance and competence dimensions of agency inform these selection decisions.
Building upon this work, a more nascent project centers on the role of comparison points in shifting intersectional stereotypes (Petsko, Ponce de Leon, & Rosette, data collection in progress). Extant literature on this topic has often overlooked the possibility that stereotypes depend on the social context in which they are encountered. We find evidence that comparison points are one important factor that influences the way a group of people (e.g., Asian women) is stereotyped. We find that White women seem more dominant when compared with Asian (vs. Black) women and, as such, are rated as more hireable for a role necessitating assertiveness when compared to an Asian (vs. Black) female candidate. Further, Latina women seem lower in status but less foreign when contrasted against Asian (vs. Black women). Across these projects, I seek to provide new insights into the literature on gender stereotypes, workplace gender bias, and role congruity through adopting an intersectional framework.
3. Psychological and Contextual Factors That Shape Judgments of Allyship. Although much of my research focuses on understanding existing racial and gender inequalities, in a developing line of work I investigate how organizations and majority group members can be effective allies to marginalized groups. Drawing from the literature on signaling theory (e.g., Connelly et al., 2011; Spence, 1973, 2002), impression management (e.g., Jones & Pittman, 1982; Leary & Kowalski, 1990), and collective action (e.g., Radke, Kutlaca, Siem, Wright, & Becker, 2020), I have developed and am currently testing a theoretical model that explores the psychological and contextual mechanisms driving judgments of allyship efforts. My collaborators and I propose that, psychologically, perceptions of the instrumental motives and authenticity of purported allies shape the extent to which Black observers view their actions as true displays of allyship. Contextually, we propose that the costs (both reputational and monetary) and behavioral consistency of said allyship efforts affect these perceptions. We explore how these factors impact assessments of allies at the organizational level, through analyzing statements released by Fortune 500 companies in the wake of George Floyd’s murder (Ponce de Leon, Carter, & Rosette, data collection in progress), and at the individual level, by examining impressions of political candidates and coworkers (Ponce de Leon, Carter, & Rosette, data collection in progress). Through continued research on this topic, I hope to suggest adaptive strategies for conveying and embodying allyship.
Biases and Motivated Processes Underlying Organizational Attitudes and Behavior
1. Motivated Egalitarian Biases. Antiegalitarians, who favor unequal group relations, support a variety of hierarchy-enhancing beliefs (e.g., stereotypes, meritocracy) to justify existing inequality. On the other side of the ideological spectrum, egalitarians—who prefer equality—typically reject these beliefs as biased and harmful. As such, research on the forces that maintain social inequality has tended to focus on antiegalitarians and the hierarchy-enhancing ideologies they endorse.
However, might egalitarians also endorse hierarchy-enhancing ideologies when such beliefs appear useful for their own goals? In one paper, I find that, indeed, egalitarians embrace a diverse array of such beliefs when they might bolster organizational diversity (Ponce de Leon & Kay, 2021; Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes). When essentialism, the Protestant work ethic, gender stereotypes, and scientific denial could be used to promote organizational diversity, egalitarians increasingly endorsed these beliefs. For example, egalitarians were more likely to support traditional feminine gender stereotypes when they were used to advocate for women in leadership, versus when they were used to describe workplace dynamics. This work suggests that organizational diversity goals can insidiously promote beliefs that reify group differences and legitimize inequality. By exploring egalitarian motives, I highlight how bias can manifest in subtle, unexpected ways. In so doing, I stress the importance of understanding how biases across the ideological spectrum can contribute to inequality. Overall, these findings suggest that practitioners should be mindful and critical of the ways that their efforts to promote diversity can ironically perpetuate harmful beliefs.
2. The Political and Ideological Roots of Scientific Skepticism. The denial of information and scientific evidence is a consequential problem for organizations and society more broadly. I examine when and how the solutions to social issues undermine people’s acceptance of evidence that the problems exist at all. One of my papers focuses on how certain solutions can promote denial of the harm caused by inequality (Ponce de Leon, Wingrove, & Kay, 2020; Journal of Experimental Social Psychology). I find that political affiliation and social dominance beliefs interactively shape acceptance of evidence for the harmful nature of economic and racial inequality. Bringing solutions more in line with Republicans’ beliefs reduced their scientific skepticism. Importantly, however, this reduced skepticism was only observed among Republicans low in social dominance orientation. Meanwhile, those high in social dominance beliefs categorically rejected evidence of the harm associated with inequality, regardless of both political affiliation and the proposed solutions. By demonstrating these patterns, I emphasize the importance of examining multiple sources of motivated scientific distrust. Through better understanding the motivations underlying scientific denial, practitioners and policymakers can craft more targeted and effective solutions.
In continued work on motivated scientific skepticism, I broaden this solution aversion perspective to consider the role of psychological needs (Ponce de Leon, Campbell, & Kay, data collection in progress). Focusing on the psychological need for control, my collaborators and I find that Republicans, who have increased control needs compared to Democrats (see Ponce de Leon & Kay, 2020; Current Opinion in Behavioral Science), may downplay the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic due to the restrictiveness of solutions like social distancing and masking. Importantly, interventions that allow individuals to reaffirm their sense of control promote more accurate assessments of the severity of the pandemic. Extending these findings, additional research in progress seeks to understand how solutions that involve restrictive workplace policies (e.g., mandatory diversity training) may also promote the denial of certain organizational problems.
3. Symbolic Threat Exaggerates Judgments of Group Pervasiveness. The meaning of places can be socially constructed. That is, people often understand their surroundings based on the groups that seem “pervasive,” or prevalent, there. For example, University of Pennsylvania has earned the pejorative label “Jewniversity of Pennsylvania,” connoting the pervasiveness of Jewish students. What factors might influence perceptions of groups as pervasive? In a series of studies, I reveal that symbolic threat—the perception that a group’s beliefs and values are fundamentally different from one’s own (Stephan, Ybarra, & Rios, 2015)—inflates judgments of group pervasiveness. Specifically, I demonstrate that, holding constant important group features, symbolically threatening groups are perceived as more pervasive than non-threatening groups (Ponce de Leon, Rifkin, & Larrick; forthcoming at Psychological Science). Symbolic threat can both exaggerate judgments of groups’ objective presence and increase people’s tendency to perceive places as inherently associated with groups. This work reveals that mere ideological differences can distort how people understand their workplaces and surroundings and, ultimately, shape the meaning of places.
Future Directions and Conclusion
In ongoing projects, I aim to further integrate my two streams of interest to explore how motivational factors influence decisions and judgments related to organizational diversity. For instance, one early-stage project examines how ideological factors and the racial demographics of female employees influence assessments of organizational gender diversity (Ponce de Leon, Rosette, & Larrick, data collection in progress). Other work in progress focuses on differences in men’s and women’s beliefs about the behavioral changes (e.g., women increasing masculine behaviors vs. men decreasing these behaviors) that will contribute to workplace gender equality, and the psychological mechanisms underlying these differences (Ponce de Leon, Kim, & Kay, data collection in progress).
Amidst increasing workforce diversity and prioritization of D&I efforts in organizations, I look forward to continuing to research biases related to race, gender, and ideological motivation in the workplace. Exploring the forces that both help and hinder the pursuit of equality and inclusion excites me, stimulates my intellectual curiosity, and inspires my career aspirations. Through continuing this work, I hope to offer important contributions to both management theory and practice.