Robin J. Ely's research while affiliated with Harvard University and other places

Publications (24)

Article
It is widely accepted that the conflict between women’s family obligations and professional jobs’ long hours lies at the heart of their stalled advancement. Yet research suggests that this “work–family narrative” is incomplete: men also experience it and nevertheless advance; moreover, organizations’ effort to mitigate it through flexible work poli...
Article
We consider how the research featured in this special issue reveals the deeply emotional nature of men's gender‐identity constructions at work: men qua men feeling threatened and insecure and thus compelled to prove their manliness in survival‐of‐the‐fittest competitions. These papers locate this behavior not in individual bad actors nor in men's s...
Article
Even when CEOs make gender diversity a priority by setting aspirational goals for the proportion of women in leadership roles, insisting on diverse slates of candidates for senior positions, and developing mentoring and training programs they are often frustrated by a lack of results. That's because they haven't addressed the fundamental identity s...
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This paper argues that learning in cross-race interactions is critical for work teams to realize performance benefits from racial diversity but that diversity is a liability when society's negative stereotypes about racial minorities' competence inhibit such interactions. We analyze two years of data from 496 retail bank branches to investigate rac...
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Full-text available
We conceptualize leadership development as identity work and show how subtle forms of gender bias in the culture and in organizations interfere with the identity work of women leaders. Based on this insight, we revisit traditional approaches to standard leadership topics, such as negotiations and leading change, as well as currently popular develop...
Article
After working with hundreds of leaders in a wide variety of organizations and in countries all over the globe, the authors found one very clear pattern: When it comes to meeting their leadership potential, many people unintentionally get in their own way. Five barriers in particular tend to keep promising managers from becoming exceptional leaders:...
Article
This case study of two offshore oil platforms illustrates how an organizational initiative designed to enhance safety and effectiveness created a culture that unintentionally released men from societal imperatives for “manly” behavior, prompting them to let go of masculine-image concerns and to behave instead in counter-stereotypical ways. Rather t...
Article
On July 17, 2009, Zappos.com, a privately-held online retailer of shoes, clothing, and other soft line retail categories, learned that Amazon.com, a $19 billion multinational online retailer, had won its Board of Directors' approval to offer to merge the two companies. Amazon had been courting Zappos since 2005, hoping a merger would enable Amazon...
Article
Living alongside the roughnecks and roustabouts on two offshore oil platforms, the authors learned that when the men abandoned their macho behavior, they maximized the safety of their coworkers and did their jobs more effectively.
Article
Legal and cultural changes over the past 40 years ushered unprecedented numbers of women and people of color into companies' professional ranks. Laws now protect these traditionally underrepresented groups from blatant forms of discrimination in hiring and promotion. Meanwhile, political correctness has reset the standards for civility and respect...
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Article
This study examined the impact of four dimensions of diversity—tenure, age, sex, and race—on performance in 486 retail bank branches and assessed whether employee participation in the firm's diversity education programs influenced these relationships. Data came from archives of the demographic composition of branches, an employee attitude–satisfact...
Article
This paper develops theory about the conditions under which cultural diversity enhances or detracts from work group functioning. From qualitative research in three culturally diverse organizations, we identified three different perspectives on workforce diversity: the integration-and-learning perspective, the access-and-legitimacy perspective, and...
Article
Building on Coleman and Rippin's analysis of how the methodological approach we took in this project made it difficult for us to keep gender equity a primary goal of our organizational change efforts, we reflect on how our conceptual approach to gender, described in the Meyerson and Kolb paper, exacerbated this problem. We explore the consequences...
Article
This chapter presents a framework for understanding gender and organizational change. We consider three traditional treatments of gender and discuss the limitations of each as a basis for organizational analysis and change. We then propose a fourth approach, which treats gender as a complex set of social relations enacted across a range of social p...
Article
This study examined how women's proportional representation in the upper echelons of organizations affects professional women's social constructions of gender difference and gender identity at work. qualitative and quantitative data were used. Results suggest that sex roles are more stereotypical and more problematic in firms with relatively low pr...
Article
This paper examines the impact of women's proportional representation in the upper echelons of organizations on hierarchical and peer relationships among professional women at work. I propose that social identity is the principal mechanism through which the representation of women influences their relationships. Both quantitative and qualitative an...

Citations

... Our findings suggest that the boundary-less work culture of ICT makes family-oriented national policies less relevant, while private resources are central to women's negotiation of the contradictory demands of work and care. We also found that the gendered patterns of work and family are being re-gendered, but without challenging work cultures that discriminate against women more than men (Padavic et al, 2019). Most importantly, our analysis reveals the need to take a critical view of the work-life balance discourse, as responsibility for creating this 'balance' tends to be given to the individual (Gregory and Milner, 2009). ...
... The valuation of masculine traits in a worker and unimpaired availability gives rise to the notion of the ideal worker, described by Acker as an employee who is able to dedicate themselves to work with no outside distractions, and as male because historically men had female partners to manage home and caretaking responsibilities. Thus, the workplace is understood as a masculine space (Acker, 1990;Collinson & Hearn, 2005;Ely & Kimmel, 2018). ...
... Because the long hours required for managerial positions have the potential to conflict with household responsibilities, support from families, friends, and other sources may also help facilitate the pursuit of leadership positions. Ibarra et al. (2013) proposed that while women once experienced deliberate exclusion, "second-generation gender bias" now inadvertently excludes women through cultural assumptions and organizational structures and interactions that place women at a disadvantage. Ely et al. (2011) referred to leadership development as "identity work" and argued that gender bias in the culture and in organizations creates barriers for women's identity work. ...
... This means that members of the organization, despite an ability to notice and feel other people's suffering, suppress the mobilization of compassion for fear of not fitting in (see e.g. Ely and Meyerson 2008). Similarly, what Kennedy (1982, 1999) term the Tough-Guy Macho Culture can lead to such compassion constipation since compassion is considered a signal for weakness. ...
... Some of the organizational support identified by the participants are affirmative actions and recognition. Ely et al. (2011) attest that recognition and affirmation strengthens one's leadership identity which fuels the search for growth [37]. In line with this finding, in western countries, female health workers disrupted their career development due to lack of a flexible work environment [14]. ...
... Cohen and Huffman (2007) conceptualize the role of these women either as "agents of change" or as "cogs in the machine". For change to become possible, women in leadership positions must have the motivation and power to help their subordinates and may undertake this in several ways: (i) through gender group preference in hiring, promotion, and salary decisions (Gorman 2005); (ii) by providing networking and mentoring opportunities, improving the career prospects of other women and minorities (Ibarra 1993); and (iii) by decreasing gender stereotypes in the workplace (Ely 1995). ...
... Bantel & Jackson, 1989;Amason et al., 2006;Hambrick, 2007;Talke et al., 2010;Boone & Hendriks, 2009), crossfunctional teams within organizations (e.g. Mohrman et al., 1995;Finegold & Wagner, 1998;Mathieu et al., 2000;Cronin and Weingart, 2007), employee teams more generally (Hambrick et al.,1998;Ely et al., 2012;Youtie et al., 2012), and founding teams (e.g. Ucbasaran et al., 2003;Huang et al., 2012;Kaiser & Muller, 2013;Visintin & Pittino, 2014;Kristinsson et al., 2016;Protogerou et al., 2017). ...
... If women are at the top, they will be regarded as the exception; while women who don't make it to the top of their organizations may get feedback that they are not pushing enough themselves. Ely [85] also showed that the male-dominated organizational environment was not conducive to harmonizing the relationship between female leaders and other women in the organization. The low proportion of women in senior leadership seemed to signal to other women in the company that women needed to choose between appearing competitive and being likeable. ...
... On the other hand, a male colleague would be described as arrogant, grouchy, or eccentric. Meyerson, Ely, and Wernick (2007) found women face unique challenges as many mainstream organizations conflate stereotypical masculine traits with competence and leadership. They stated that: ...
... Yet at the same time these researchers also identified an independent pathway whereby employees' identification with their workgroup was a significant predictor (r = 0.56) of willingness to embrace the specific safety culture of that group. This speaks to the importance of alignment of identities: within any given organisation there is never just 'one' safety culture (Edmondson, 2004; see also Ely & Thomas, 2001;Peters et al., 2012) and intergroup dynamics of a form discussed by Tajfel and Turner (1979) can lead work teams to seek either to contrast themselves from other groups in ways that depart from goals of high reliability (Andersen et al., 2015), or to align themselves in ways that support high reliability. An organisation that fails to understand these social psychological realities is unlikely to be able to get to grips with them and, as Anderson et al. (2018) contend, this is a recipe for disaster. ...