The Gender Dynamics of Dissent in Organizations

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Contemporary approaches to organizational behavior tout dissent as critical to organizational success. However, dissenters often incur penalties for expressing opinions that differ from the majority. The current work examines dissent as a gendered phenomenon, taking into account how the social context (i.e., female-dominated, male-dominated, and mixed gender work groups) affects both backlash incurred by female dissenters as well as group performance. Study 1 demonstrated that female dissenters incurred more backlash than did male dissenters and that female participants reacted especially negatively to female dissenters. Study 3 demonstrated that female dissenters expected to receive the most backlash for speaking up in female-dominated groups relative to male-dominated and mixed gender groups. Study 4 demonstrated that women were actually most likely to dissent in female-dominated groups (relative to male-dominated and mixed gender groups), although this did not translate into differences in group performance. However, dissenter communication style emerged as a key moderator of objective (i.e., group performance) and subjective (i.e., backlash toward the dissenter) outcomes as a function of group composition. Specifically, in female-dominated groups, women's use of impolite communication tactics (e.g., interrupting) were related to decreased performance and increased backlash. Further, women were able to anticipate these backlash consequences. Overall, this work advances the understanding of gendered dissent dynamics in the workplace and how these influence not only female employees but also the organizations in which they are embedded.