Could You Let Me Finish? The Effect of Interruptions in Group Meetings on Women’s Participation

Project: Research project

Project Details


A recent meta-analysis study revealed that women are less likely than men to emerge as leaders due to their low participation in group discussions (Bandura, Grijalva, Newman, Yan, & Jeon, 2018). But why do women participate less in group meetings? Previous research has mainly focused on employees’ agency vs. communion traits and gender stereotypes (Heilman, 2012; Weiss, et al., 2014; Wiggins, 1991). We believe that an important oversight is the role of leaders, as they have a significant influence on employees’ work behaviors and outcomes (Castilla, 2011). While there is ample knowledge about leaders’ differential evaluations during selection processes for career progression (Heilman & Chen, 2005; Quadlin, 2018; Stuhlmacher & Walters, 1999), little is known about leader behavior during actual interactions with women that may intentionally or unintentionally further reinforce gender barriers at work.

To address this deficiency, we investigate leaders’ interruption as a key factor contributing to women’s low participation in group meetings. Drawing on expectation states theory (Berger, Conner, & Fisek, 1974; Berger, Fisek, Norman, & Zelditch, 1977) and social role theory (Eagly, 1987), we propose that group leaders are more likely to interrupt female group members compared to their male counterparts. First, gender operates as a salient status characteristic in mixed-gender groups wherein men are expected to be more competent than women. Second, participation in group meetings, often taking agentic forms, is more likely to be resisted if initiated by women, who are expected to be communal. We corroborate our logic by theorizing that leaders are more likely to interrupt women in group discussions when team workload demands are high because high workload demands are more likely to activate leaders’ gendered expectations of members’ competence.

Drawing on social role theory, we propose that leaders’ interruption may cause female members to perceive it as disapproval of their participation, on the one hand, and lower their confidence in engaging in agentic behaviors, on the other hand; both resulting in reduced participation in future group meetings. Furthermore, we theorize that gender blindness (i.e., the ideology of downplaying gender differences, Martin & Phillips, 2017) may buffer the deleterious effects of leaders’ interruption. Consequently, even when faced with leaders’ interruptions, women high on gender-blindness may continue to participate in group meetings. We will test our model progressively in Study 1 (a field observation study) and Study 2 (a four-wave longitudinal survey study).

StatusNot started
Effective start/end date1/01/2530/06/27


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