Attributions of Blame, Individual vs. Group Feedback & Gender

Gender stereotypes are part of the workplace and play a crucial role when it comes to the attribution of both successful and unsuccessful group outcomes. According to Heilman & Haynes‘ research findings, men are more likely to get credit for successful group outcomes in mixed-sex contexts when the task is „male sex-typed“.

In the study shortly presented here, Haynes & Lawrence studied the attribution of blame when group outcomes were not successful. The authors assigned 135 students to different experimental conditions. The participants were given information about two people (one man and one woman) who had to work together on a task and asked to assess only one of them. After being given background information on the task and the two people (educational background, years at current job, current job title, specific duties and responsibilities), a feedback form (which made the below average task performance visible), participants were asked to complete the research questionnaire.

The experimental manipulations (assigning a male vs. a female name to each team member, varying the feedback type, i.e. giving information on individual vs. group performance) suggest that „when men and women work together on a male sex-typed task and the only information is about the unsuccessful joint outcome, women bear the brunt of the blame. Specifically, women were seen as more to blame for the unsuccessful portions of the final product and were given less credit for any successful portions of the work product than their male teammates. However, when there was information about negative individual contribution, women were no longer blamed disproportionately relative to men. Indeed, we found an interesting reversal in the individual feedback conditions such that men were blamed more for the unsuccessful portions of the final product and were given less credit for any successful portions of the work product than women.“

These results are in line with the notion that gender stereotypes and associated expectations are likely to lead to a confirmation bias, particularly when there is source ambiguity.

Haynes, M. C. & Lawrence, J. S. (2012) Who’s to Blame? Attributions of Blame in Unsuccessful Mixed-Sex Work Teams. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 34, 558-564
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