Lisa Leslie

University of Minnesota

What does your research focus on?

In my research, I use a social cognition perspective to understand issues related to diversity in organizations. More specifically, I am interested in people’s tendency to use social categories (e.g., gender, race, parental status) to form often erroneous perceptions and attributions about others and the self, and how to prevent such misattributions from marginalizing the career success of traditionally underrepresented groups, creating dysfunctional conflicts among diverse employees, and ultimately impeding the creation of diverse, high-performing organizations. I have applied a social cognition perspective to understanding various topics at multiple levels of analysis, including the impact of diversity on workgroup performance, individuals’ experiences with stereotyping and discrimination, and the effectiveness of diversity-related organizational policies (e.g., affirmative action plans, flexible work practices). I also conduct research in the related areas of cross-cultural organizational behavior and conflict management

What drew you to this line of research and why is it exciting to you?

I have always been fascinated by the powerful impact that social categories have on shaping how we perceive and interact with others. At best, social categories provide imperfect, over-generalized insights into an individual’s underlying traits and abilities. At worst, social categories lead us to draw entirely false conclusions about an individual. Yet we are hardwired to use social categories to guide our perceptions of one another. Research on how to overcome this basic tendency has the potential to prevent discrimination and thus facilitate greater social justice, while simultaneously enabling organizations to capitalize on the potential performance.

Who were/are your mentors or scientific influences?

I had two wonderful mentors, without whom I would have never gone into academics. My first mentor was Susan Fiske, who advised my undergraduate thesis at Princeton and introduced me to research on stereotyping. I enjoyed working with Susan so much that after graduating, I decided to work as her research assistant for a year and apply to PhD programs instead of taking a job at a consulting firm. Susan’s work on social cognition continues to shape my perspective on diversity in organizations. My second mentor was Michele Gelfand, who was my advisor while I was a PhD student at the University of Maryland. Michele was (and is) such a phenomenal mentor that it is difficult to put her impact on my development as a scholar into words. One aspect of Michele’s style as a mentor that is particularly valuable is that she sets the highest standards of excellence for her students and then provides them with all of the resources, support, and confidence needed to meet those standards.

What’s your future research agenda?

I am currently working on several projects that further integrate notions of status and power into research on the dynamics of diversity in organizations. I am particularly interested in the idea that social groups that lack status do not necessarily lack power, and that there are important differences in the workplace experiences of low-status groups versus low-power groups.

What publication are you most proud of?

Leslie, L. M., Manchester, C. F., Park, T.-Y., & Mehng, S. A. (2012). Flexible work practices: A source of career premiums or penalties? Academy of Management Journal, 55, 1407–1428.

I am particularly proud of this paper because it resulted from an interdisciplinary collaboration with my University of Minnesota colleague and friend, Colleen Manchester, who is a labor economist. In this paper, we integrated economic theory on signaling with psychological theory on attributions to provide insight into why and when flexible work practices have positive versus negative consequences for the career success of the employees who use them. By working as part of an interdisciplinary team, we were able to come up with more creative insights than either one of us would have come up with if working alone.


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