Research Interests: Gender & diversity; inequality; work-life initiatives; social cognition; affective processes
I am a post-doctoral researcher and visiting lecturer in the Management Department at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. My primary research interests are gender and diversity, with a focus on novel social cognitive factors influencing diversity support and opposition in organizations. In one stream, I seek to identify (and ultimately correct) misalignments between what organizations intend and what employees perceive about diversity initiatives. In a related stream, I investigate mechanisms contributing to the gender gap in career attainment. I also have a secondary interest in affective processes (e.g. emotional expression and affective forecasting) and their implications for organizational behavior.
Prior to arriving at Wharton, I received my Ph.D. in organizational behavior from NYU-Stern’s Department of Management and Organizations.
Lisa M. Leslie, Elinor Flynn, Olivia Foster-Gimbel, Colleen Manchester (2023), Happy talk: Is common diversity rhetoric effective diversity rhetoric?, Academy of Management Journal, in press.
Abstract: Despite their prevalence, diversity initiatives do not necessarily motivate employees to facilitate diversity goals. We advance understanding of diversity rhetoric—defined as how leaders talk about diversity and its effects—as a tool for motivating employees to foster diversity and inclusion. Prior work investigates rhetoric that emphasizes diversity in organizations is necessarily beneficial (value-in-diversity rhetoric), which is puzzling given the reality that diversity can have positive or negative consequences. We introduce the construct of contingent-diversity rhetoric, which emphasizes diversity is beneficial if its challenges are overcome, and thus captures the reality of diversity’s effects. Drawing from the psychology of the self, we theorize leaders use contingent-diversity rhetoric less commonly than value-in-diversity rhetoric, due to fear of appearing prejudiced. Drawing from the psychology of employee motivation, we theorize contingent-diversity rhetoric results in more diversity effort among employees than value-in-diversity rhetoric does because it increases perceptions that diversity goals are difficult to achieve. Four multi-method studies support the proposed descriptive-prescriptive paradox: contingent-diversity rhetoric is descriptively less common, but prescriptively more effective, than value-in-diversity rhetoric is. Our research advances theory on fostering diversity and inclusion in organizations and suggests leaders can increase employees’ diversity effort by changing the way they talk about diversity.
Elinor Flynn and Lisa Leslie (2022), Progressive or pressuring? The signaling effects of egg freezing coverage versus other work-life policies, Journal of Applied Psychology.
Abstract: In recent years, organizations have expanded the number and types of work-life policies they offer in an attempt to attract and retain talent. We challenge the assumption that work-life policies uniformly signal personal-life support and elicit favorable employee attitudes by investigating a relatively new work-life policy: egg freezing coverage. We theorize that, relative to other work-life policies, egg freezing coverage is more likely to send signals that evoke negative employee attitudes; although framed as intended to support employees' personal lives, employees interpret egg freezing as signaling that personal-life sacrifice and work prioritization are encouraged, which in turn decrease policy support and organizational attraction. We test these ideas in six studies, including an archival study, a qualitative survey study, a scale development study, two quantitative survey studies, and an experiment. We find egg freezing coverage evokes more negative attitudes than a range of other work-life policies (in vitro fertilization [IVF], on-site childcare, paid parental leave, flextime) as well as no policy at all. More negative reactions to egg freezing than to other policies are driven by perceptions that the policy sends a stronger signal that personal-life sacrifice is encouraged, as well as perceptions that it offers fewer benefits to employees and is more costly to organizations. In all, this work expands understanding of the signaling effects of work-life policies and demonstrates that reactions to a range of work-life policies are both more variable and driven by a larger number of underlying factors than prior theory can account for.
Lisa Leslie and Elinor Flynn (2022), Diversity ideologies, beliefs, and climates: A Review and Integration, Journal of Management.
Abstract: Initiatives aimed at fostering diversity in organizations have become an increasingly common means for combatting inequality among demographic groups. There is growing recognition that the success of diversity initiatives is a function of not only the relatively concrete policies they include but also less visible factors, such as the diversity cognitions held by organizational members. Diversity cognitions—and particularly beliefs regarding how to approach diversity and its effects—have received significant scholarly attention and a variety of literatures conclude they are invisible, yet powerful, drivers of diversity, inclusion, and other desirable workplace outcomes. Nevertheless, different diversity cognitions are often studied in isolation of one another, which prevents a full understanding of their nature and outcomes. We review and integrate research on different cognitions regarding how to approach diversity and its effects, with the goal of identifying synergistic opportunities for guiding future research. To this end, we focus on three diversity cognitions: diversity ideologies, diversity beliefs, and diversity climates. We review similarities and differences in how these constructs are conceptualized and studied, as well as in their nomological networks of outcomes and antecedents. We then use our review to identify gaps in current understanding and generate recommendations for guiding future work. Our recommendations focus on enhanced construct clarity, nuance with regard to dimensionality, and understanding of outcomes and antecedents. Deeper understanding of beliefs regarding how to approach diversity and its effects is likely to provide new insight into strategies for fostering workplace diversity and inclusion and thereby help combat inequality.
Heather Lench, Linda Levine, Van Dang, Kaitlyn Kaiser, Zari Carpenter, Steven Carlson, Elinor Flynn, Kenneth Perez, B. Winckler (2021), Optimistic expectations have benefits for effort and emotion with little cost, Emotion, 21 (6), pp. 1213-1223.
Abstract: The present investigation examined the potential benefits and costs of optimistic expectations about future events through the lens of error management theory (EMT). Decades of evidence have shown that optimism about the likelihood of future events is pervasive and difficult to correct. From an EMT perspective, this perpetuation of inaccurate beliefs is possible because optimism offers benefits greater than the costs. The present investigation examined this possibility for controllable important life events with a known time at which they would occur. College students taking their first exam (n = 1,061) and medical students being matched with residency placements (n = 182) reported their expectations and emotions weeks before the event and their responses after they knew the outcome of the event. Optimistic expectations predicted the quality of effort investment before an event occurred-students were more satisfied with their studying, medical students were more satisfied with their decision making, and optimism predicted better performance. Optimistic expectations also predicted less emotional distress before the event. There was no evidence that optimistic expectations related to longer-term greater distress when participants experienced an unexpected negative outcome; the valence of the outcome itself predicted distress. These results are consistent with the EMT-derived hypothesis that optimistic expectations have benefits for effort and emotion before an event occurs, with little cost after the outcome occurs. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).
Frances Milliken, Madeline Kneeland, Elinor Flynn (2020), Implications of the COVID‐19 pandemic for gender equity issues at work, Journal of Management Studies, 57 (8), pp. 1767-1772.
Abstract: As we write this commentary in the late summer of 2020 in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, we are observing a world of work (and of unemployment) vastly different than it was six short months ago. In this commentary, we focus on the effects the coronavirus pandemic has had, and may continue to have, on gender equity issues in organizations and society. In particular, we consider how the reduced frequency of face-to-face communication in this time period, coupled with the potential for increased work-family conflict and weakened network ties, may be differentially impacting the careers of men and women.
Christopher Marshburn, Kevin Cochran, Elinor Flynn, Linda Levine (2020), Workplace anger costs women irrespective of race, Frontiers in Psychology, 11, pp. 3064-3078.
Abstract: The current research investigated the role that a person’s race, gender, and emotional expressions play in workplace evaluations of their competence and status. Previous research demonstrates that women who express anger in the workplace are penalized, whereas men are not, and may even be rewarded. Workplace sanctions against angry women are often attributed to a backlash resulting from the violation of gender stereotypes. However, gender stereotypes may differ by race. The present study addressed this question using a between-subjects experimental design where participants (N = 630) read a vignette describing a new employee, which varied with respect to the employee’s race (White, Black, Asian, and Latino/a/x), gender (male and female), and a prior emotional response (anger and sadness). Participants then evaluated the employee’s competence and status. Findings revealed that men and women were both viewed as more competent when expressing anger relative to sadness, and this pattern did not differ across employee race. However, despite anger being associated with greater competence, women who violated stereotypes (i.e., expressed anger) were accorded lower status than stereotype-inconsistent (sad) men. Furthermore, exploratory analyses revealed that this pattern was consistent regardless of target and participant race. The current study replicates and extends previous research by employing an intersectional perspective and using a large, ethnically diverse sample to explore the interaction between gender and emotional expression on workplace evaluations across races.