Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Schmidt, Kathleen


Managing diversity in the workplace is a challenging task for supervisors. Supervisors must punish negative behavior consistently, regardless their employees’ demographic characteristics. Some research suggests that negative workplace behaviors committed by lower status group members (e.g., Black people or women) are attributed to more internal factors and penalized more severely compared to higher status group members (e.g., White people or men; Duncan, 1979; Bowles & Gelfand, 2009; Luksyte, et al., 2013). However, recent evidence of pro-Black biases in judgments (Mendes & Koslov, 2013; Zigerell, 2018), challenge the perspective that evaluators are intentionally biased against Black people. If individuals deliberately compensate for pro-White biases by demonstrating pro-Black behaviors as some researchers suggest (Axt, et al., 2016), the negative workplace behaviors of Black employees may be punished less severely than white employees regardless of their gender or the reasons for their transgressions. The present research examined interactions between attribution, employee gender, and employee race when predicting punishment of negative workplace behaviors. In two studies, participants took the role of a supervisor and read descriptions of employees who violated workplace rules. In Study 1 participants read eight descriptions of workplace rule violations, then responded to attribution, punishment type, punishment severity, seriousness of offense, and responsibility measures. In Study 2 participants read eight descriptions of workplace rule violations attributed to internal and external causes and responded to punishment severity, seriousness of offense, and responsibility measures. Race and gender of the employees committing each offense were randomized within each participant so that they each rated all eight combinations of race, gender, and attribution (Study 2). Study 1 found support for the pro-Black bias, participants made more internal attributions for negative behavior committed by women and White employees and punished their negative workplace behaviors more severely. Unlike Study 1, participants in Study 2 did not make punishment decisions based on employee gender or race. Instead, participants punished behaviors based on their causal explanations; behaviors explained with internal causes were punished more severely than behaviors explained with external causes. Focusing on attribution reduced the propensity to discriminate in favor or against employees based on their demographic characteristics. While race and gender can impact punishments for workplace rule violations, learning more information about causal factors may reduce the likelihood of biased decisions.




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