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Constraints, Competencies, Or Choices? How Lay Theories of The Gender Gap Impact Diversity Support

This paper tests a model of lay theories about why gender gaps persist and their impact on diversity support. I find evidence for three primary theories: organizational barriers, dispositional factors, and personal choices. I theorize and find that each is associated with distinct attributions, which impact diversity support: the organizational barriers theory with more external and uncontrollable attributions, the dispositional factors theory with internal attributions alone, and the personal choices theory with internal and controllable attributions. Locus and controllability shape women’s responsibility for the gender gap, which, in turn, undermines diversity support. I test these ideas in three multi-method studies. This work demonstrates that, beyond ideology and self-interest, reactions to diversity initiatives are shaped by beliefs about the primary factors driving inequalities. Moreover, these findings indicate that the belief that the gap is driven primarily by women’s personal choices, rather than their traits, is most undermining to diversity support.

Elinor Flynn
The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
United States


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