SCARPINO: Today is November 2, 2013. My name is Philip Scarpino. I have the privilege to be doing a second oral history session with Alice Eagly, who is a Lifetime Achievement winner through the International Leadership Association. For users of this interview, there is a more extensive biographical statement on her with the first interview and also a discussion of the process that we use. I would like to ask your permission to record this interview, to have the interview transcribed, and then to place the recording of the transcription in the IUPUI Special Collections and Archives, with the International Leadership Association and the Tobias Center where they will be used by patrons which may include posting all or parts of these interviews to their websites.
EAGLY: Yes, I agree.
SCARPINO: Thank you. Last time when we wrapped up, we were talking about the crisis in psychology, especially social psychology, and I want to circle back around to that. But as I explained when the recording was off, I would like to talk to you about two things toward the beginning of this interview that I think have had a significant influence on your career and on the literature of your field. One is a research method, meta-analysis, and the other is a theory, social role theory. I thought if we started with meta-analysis I could then bridge back to where we were last time.
SCARPINO: I did a little bit of checking and talking with some of your colleagues and found out that Gene Glass, a statistician and educational psychologist, coined the term meta-analysis and described its use in his presidential address at the American Educational Research Association in 1976. He applied meta-analysis to a large body of literature in outcome studies performed by psychotherapists. In 1980, he published a book, Benefits of Psychotherapy, which he co-authored with Mary Lee Smith and Thomas Miller. As I understand it, meta-analysis made use of increasingly powerful computers that were available to researchers and is a highly refined quantitative technique. So for the benefit of people who don’t know very much about this, could you start by explaining the technique of meta-analysis that Glass developed?
EAGLY: Yes, I can do that. As the word meta-analysis implies, it’s an analysis of analyses. So it’s a way of taking the findings of multiple studies that have addressed the same hypothesis together, taking them together, and using their quantitative data to examine what might be the general conclusion from a body of studies. They may be consistent or inconsistent in their findings and that’s important to understand. What a meta-analyst would do is not only to average them and say, ‘Well, the average finding is whatever,’ but would look at the inconsistencies, the variability in the findings, across the studies and then endeavor to explain that in terms of the attributes of the studies. Well, maybe they were done in different settings, they might have used different kinds of measures, they might have used different types of participants. So the studies would differ on a number of attributes, but they all were testing the same hypothesis in some sense. So then you could use those attributes to try to explain the differences between the studies so that they wouldn’t be just, well, confusing to people. Sometimes you can get even opposite findings in studies that address the same hypothesis, but it’s for some reason usually. The meta-analyst attempts to discover those reasons and then, in other words, make sense out of a research literature that perhaps had been confusing to people.
SCARPINO: Given what we talked about last time right at the end of our session, is meta-analysis a more sophisticated tool for identifying hidden bias in research?
EAGLY: It can be, right, because one of the things that you would code the studies on would be aspects of their methods that we might know produce bias or presume to produce bias. You could look to see whether the presumed bias made a difference in the findings so that it would address that. Also, in a broader sense, it addresses the instability of findings because one of the problems in the crisis—and still a problem to some extent—but that findings are not necessarily consistent, the replicability of findings. So the meta-analyst addresses that. Are they replicable? Are they consistent? But they do it in a proper way statistically. It’s not appropriate as in the informal ways that we had earlier just to do it by statistical significance. “Well, these people got it because it was significant and these people didn’t get it” because significance is highly responsive to the sample size.
SCARPINO: When you talk about statistical significance, you’re talking about something like the coefficient of correlation or something that maybe somebody has heard of?
EAGLY: Right. Then it may be significant or not. That is, it might be very unlikely to be due to random error because that’s what is significant.
EAGLY: Like there is only a 5% chance or 1% chance that it could be due to random error is what the significance represents, but significance is very responsive to the sample size.
EAGLY: A small finding can be highly significant if you have 10,000 subjects, but then if you had a study with 20 subjects, well then, you would have to have a much bigger effect. In meta-analysis, we look at the size of the effect irrespective of the significance and that would be an appropriate way to see whether the findings are consistent across the studies. People had not done it that way before, even though it’s kind of obvious you should do it that way. A lot of the presumed inconsistencies that have so bothered researchers in some cases were not inconsistent at all when you looked at it more appropriately with more appropriate statistics. But, of course, then there are inconsistencies, true inconsistencies, and then the meta-analyst tries to explain them and often is quite successful. So, it’s a way of when people think the findings – “Oh it’s so confusing, nothing is consistent”—or whatever,—it often reverses that conclusion and says, “Oh, there is quite a lot of consistency here,” and that people did the studies in different ways and that’s, at least in part, why they got somewhat different findings. So it has been very important in psychology and, to some extent, in other sciences to use this technique.
SCARPINO: Does the success of the technique depend upon the skill with which the person doing it codes?
EAGLY: Yes, right. You have to be able to notice the differences in the studies and code them. So if you don’t know anything about methodology or about the particular literature, you might not be very clever at that.
SCARPINO: Glass and his co-authors were looking at outcome studies performed by psychotherapists.
SCARPINO: Could you just sort of briefly explain what they found that brought this technique and their work to the people’s attention?
EAGLY: Yeah. A question for psychologists was—and a really important one—is: does psychotherapy help people?
EAGLY: Do they get better? There had been some prominent statements that “no they don’t,” but, of course, most people thought “well it does.” But there had been challenges to that and so he and Smith, his colleague, attempted to find all the available studies and they meta-analyzed, and they found that, in general, psychotherapy did help people. Then they looked to some extent at the attributes of the studies, more or less, or different types of psychotherapy. Now there are probably maybe even 100 or so such meta-analyses about psychotherapy so we know a lot more about the details. But just the overwhelming conclusion that in general, yes, the outcomes are positive was very important.
SCARPINO: How did you find out about this technique?
EAGLY: It was sort of beginning, in the air. It was sort of a bit by accident because I had published an article, a review, in the narrative form, the form in which we didn’t use meta-analysis, where we were interpreting studies largely by their significance. It was on gender and social influence. Then a person by the name of Harris Cooper published a meta-analysis in the same area. He was one of the early, very, very early adopters of meta-analysis. So I had done this other review, and I had some thoughts about his interpretation or whatever not being quite right and I was, in a sense, challenged by the publication of his paper. I thought, “Well, but I cannot respond adequately unless I do this new technique.” I did see its superiority. I did see the rationale for its superiority. So then I did my first meta-analysis. That was very early. I had to learn the technique. I don’t think the textbook, the Glass and Smith textbook, was out yet but I kind of laboriously sort of figured out how to do it. So I was able to publish that paper and I felt that that was good. Then, as an early adopter, I knew how to go forward and do more meta-analyses. I thought it would be important in this gender area because just around the basic question about whether men and women differ in behavior, was actually a big question. It’s a big question, still a big question. Do they differ and is it nature or nurture? Then I took on some other domains, which had basically not been meta-analyzed, so it was an opportunity to address the questions that people had been addressing but that there hadn’t been any agreement about exactly what the answer is. You could then get this broader perspective by looking at all the literature.
SCARPINO: To make sure that I have it, the title of the first paper that you published using meta-analysis was what?
EAGLY: I don’t remember exactly. It might have been “Gender and Influenceability.” Yeah, it was on the basic question of whether men or women are more easily influenced. Stereotypically, at least at that time, it was that women might be more compliant or more influenceable. So there were different domains in social psychology that were performing these studies and then there were just sort of persuasion studies.
SCARPINO: I am going to actually ask you about that article in a minute.
SCARPINO: Now I want to go back and let’s see if I can connect the dots. Last time when we wrapped up, we were talking about the crisis in the field and we discussed that and you explained what was going on, but you also responded to that crisis in the form of a true scholar; you wrote a book about it. The book was The Psychology of Attitudes with Shelly Chaiken.
EAGLY: Oh, yes. Chaiken.
SCARPINO: You employed meta-analysis in that study.
EAGLY: Not particularly in that book.
SCARPINO: No, no? Okay.
EAGLY: When there were meta-analyses, we drew on them. Yes, we did draw on them, but the other book that I wrote, early book, was on sex differences and social behavior. That’s where I more explicitly drew on the meta-analyses that I had done, which were on gender.
SCARPINO: Let’s do this and then we will come back and do the other.
SCARPINO: So you wrote The Psychology of Attitudes which drew on other people’s meta-analyses, but why did you decide to write that book?
EAGLY: It was in a way a response to the crisis since this attitudes area in social psychology had been so prominent prior to the crisis. Then the kinds of critiques that people developed who furthered the crisis often pointed to the attitudes literature as faulty or misguided in various ways. I believed that this work on attitudes was quite glorious, actually. It had many strands. There were a number of different kinds of approaches. There were different questions within the study of attitudes; do attitudes influence behavior, how do we form attitudes, how do you change them? So there had been quite a wonderful historical theoretical tradition over quite a long time. So it was sort of the prototype area of social psychology and that people could think it was maybe not worth a whole lot seemed misguided. So with Shelly Chaiken, who was a wonderful collaborator, we decided to write this book. It ended up being sort of a bigger book than we had anticipated, but there was a lot there which we were trying to integrate and to make accessible because it was widely dispersed and some of it was pretty dense for graduate students to read, to make it accessible and sort of give this larger framework. The book, I think, has been quite successful beyond, in a sense, my initial expectations. It took a number of years to write and I was fortunate to be able to do it with Shelly Chaiken because she is a brilliant woman.
SCARPINO: Was she one of your students?
EAGLY: She was, yeah. She has a great deal of rigor in her thinking and is a very good writer, so between the two of us we produced that book. It was a response to the crisis to those who didn’t understand what this body of work really was and why it was important. I think we did successfully express that or make that known.
SCARPINO: For the non-specialist in your field, what did you find? How did your work in that book address the crisis?
EAGLY: By bringing together this body—several sub-bodies actually—of research and theory about attitudes into this larger structure. When you read it in the literature in its original form, there are articles and articles and articles here and there and then these people say this and these people say that, so it’s hard to, in a sense, make sense out of it. So by bringing it together in a compelling way, I think we were able to show the quality of the work and its cumulative quality and the many important discoveries. But it’s such a big area that you cannot say, “Well, we found this,” because the study of attitudes has many traditions within it and many large sub-questions. So to put all that together in a book in a way that would be integrative was a weighty task and then to make it all accessible. We saw our prototype audience as being a graduate student, like a first-year graduate student; they are supposed to learn about the attitudes area. To make it accessible in that way; it was not a book to be read by anybody in the public. I think we were successful in that. It was kind of a big intellectual task to do that and it took a good deal of persistence on our part to carry it through.
SCARPINO: When I looked it up last week or two weeks ago, The Psychology of Attitudes had 7,793 citations. It was your most cited work.
EAGLY: Right, yeah.
SCARPINO: How do you account for that staying power?
EAGLY: Because of the breadth of the book. Often, even now—the book came out in 1993, so it’s not very new—but when people talk about the definition of attitudes or something like that, they often cite it so it has gotten that status in terms of a basic work.
SCARPINO: I don’t mean this question to sound flip, but it may sound this way. You describe the body of work on attitudes as glorious.
SCARPINO: How do you control for that bias?
EAGLY: Well, you have to love it to spend six years writing a book about it.
SCARPINO: That’s true. I tell my thesis students, “You’ve at least got to want to date it for a while or it isn’t going to work.”
EAGLY: Yeah, yeah. Right. Many of the most prominent social psychologists of the generation before that had worked on this topic, there were quite a few very brilliant scholars who had devoted their work to that area. So that was the glory of it, that there was such—in some areas—there was really admirable, impressive work, but somebody needed to rescue it, in a sense, for the next generation and for the current generation.
SCARPINO: You did that, didn’t you?
EAGLY: I think we did in, a sense, yeah.
SCARPINO: I want to shift to the subject of gender and sex differences and, talking with a woman who has written hundreds of articles, I am going to ask you a question you might not be able to answer. The first article that I could find that you published on gender was titled “Sex Differences in the Relationship between Self-esteem and Susceptibility to Social Influence,” Journal of Personality, 1969.
EAGLY: Oh yeah.
SCARPINO: Is that the first one?
EAGLY: I think it is, right. That was a minor article, I will have to say. I was interested in persuasion and social influence—whether people are easily influenced—and self-esteem is a dispositional variable. I don’t even remember quite what the finding was. So I was interested in that and then later the more general question: under what circumstances men or women might be more easily influenced? So the question was—I took it beyond that early, rather minor paper. I doubt if that has many citations.
SCARPINO: I wish I could tell you that I looked this one up, but I didn’t. But what I can say, one of the things that struck me, though, is that the first piece that I could find that you had done on gender work was the topic of self-esteem.
SCARPINO: Is there a reason for that? Was that what drew you in? Young women and self-esteem?
EAGLY: Not so much really. Self-esteem is a classic kind of personality variable in psychology, and there had been some interest on the relationship between self-esteem and being persuaded, so I’m just moving into that tradition.
SCARPINO: Later on when you did begin to explore gender and leadership, did self-esteem play a role?
EAGLY: No. I had not used self-esteem in that context.
SCARPINO: Okay, all right. Most assessments that I could find of your work point to an article titled “Sex Differences in Influenceability,” Psychological Bulletin, 1978, as the real beginning of your career as a feminist social psychology researcher. Is that right? Do you agree with that?
EAGLY: Yes. That’s that narrative review.
SCARPINO: It’s the one you talked about a few minutes ago?
EAGLY: Yes. That’s that narrative review, which was quite successful as a paper, but it was the end of the pre-meta-analytic phase.
SCARPINO: So part of what happened there is that you realized that you were bumping up against a limit for analyzing large bodies of literature.
EAGLY: Right. That was a classic narrative review, even though I got quite a lot of recognition; won two prizes. But then in retrospect, it turned out to be the last gasp of the classic way of doing reviews.
SCARPINO: When I talked to Linda Carli, she told me that in the latter part of the 1970s when you were turning your attention to gender and sex differences that those topics were on the periphery of the field of psychology and social psychology.
SCARPINO: That’s a fair assessment? So, by the late 1970s, you were already a well-established scholar.
SCARPINO: Did you ever think that moving your research agenda toward gender and sex differences might pose a risk for you?
EAGLY: No. I already had tenure.
SCARPINO: That’s true, you did.
EAGLY: So I wasn’t personally feeling a sense of risk. I, of course, knew it wasn’t. . .
SCARPINO: I was going to ask it a different way and I held back. Did you ever feel that dealing with a subject matter that was on the periphery of your field could have moved you to the periphery of the field? That was the risk. . .
EAGLY: Well, I knew that it wasn’t something that everybody was working on or that was seen as being central. However, there was a huge amount of public interest because of the woman’s movement. So I thought, well, there’s a lot of interest. When I did those early projects, there was a huge amount of interest. It wasn’t that I was getting such status within the field, though. But I felt that I was interested, people are interested. How could gender not be important? Isn’t it more our problem as social psychologists that we haven’t addressed it rather than it being inherently unimportant? How could it be unimportant? So I sort of went ahead, but I continued to work on attitudes. I was doing both for a number of years.
SCARPINO: Do those two areas of research connect; attitudes and gender?
EAGLY: They did initially because I was interested in persuasion in relation to gender. Yes, they did initially connect. That’s how I sort of made that transition and I continued to study attitudes and have, even in recent years, done some work. That was, in a way, a protection because I had my very mainstream work, too. Then the gender work was initially kind of an add-on, which then branched out and became more important, became the major theme after a number of years.
SCARPINO: As you moved in that area, did you find that there was any shift in the graduate students and their interests, of folks who wanted to work with you? Were you attracting more and more people who were interested in gender because you were doing it?
EAGLY: Yes. Yeah, I think so. Over the years, right. Yeah.
SCARPINO: “Sex Differences in Influenceability” frequently appears as a pivotal piece in your life’s work, important contribution to scholarship. I did look this one up. It ranks about 30th in your citation index. Given the significance, can you briefly explain what you found for people who are not in your field? Is it possible to do that?
EAGLY: Sure. It was interesting. We found that there are three types of studies. There are persuasion studies where the participant maybe gets some written or audio or videotaped material to listen to which is counter-attitudinal in some context. They get this, and then there are maybe before and after measures or just after measures with an experiment where people are in different conditions. They get the information in different ways or whatever. We found in that domain, there’s little evidence that men and women react differently. But where you find more difference is in conformity studies. The classic conformity study is a group, an actual group, where people are sitting around, but only one is a real participant. The others are confederates. So, in the classic one, they are judging the lengths—it’s really bold—they are judging the lengths of lines and it’s pretty clear which line is longer or shorter. But then on some of the trials, the other people in the group give the wrong answer, so it’s kind of confusing to the real participant. Conformity is defined as going along with the group. You’re going to say it’s line B, but you can see it’s actually line A. It’s not a comfortable situation. But then there are many variants. They are not just always judging lines or something. In the actual groups, we do find that women agree more with the others than men do, so greater conformity.
SCARPINO: Why do you think that is?
EAGLY: That was the interesting question. The classic view is just women are sort of more submissive in a sense. Then the alternative view would be that women are more attentive to the social context and sort of interested more in cooperating with the other people in some way. This is a pretty trivial situation. It’s not life or death when you say “line A or B,” come on now. So there is that, that it’s a sort of more social inclination. But later I did some research that followed from this, some new research, and what we found is that in a situation where there is an audience of other people as opposed to you give your answer and nobody knows about it, it’s the men who change, not the women. So the real interpretation might be that the men like to stand out more from the others rather than that the women are submissive or more cooperative or more anything because they didn’t change at all. They said the same thing alone or with the other people. So that was a great insight and that came after this meta-analysis. The meta-analysis helped us understand the phenomenon that it was imbedded in groups and social interaction, not just in general being persuaded. So that was an advance.
SCARPINO: Did that help you see nature or nurture?
EAGLY: Nature and nurture were not really clarified there. If men want to stand out, that is, in part, a route to leadership. You have to distinguish yourself in some ways from the other people in the group. So, if that’s part of the motivation, would that be nature or nurture? It does not reveal that. But it turned out to be an interesting series of the primary research, the new research, and the meta-analysis. I did learn something.
SCARPINO: I’m going to try another one. I am going to ask you about 1981; 1981 was actually a remarkably good year for you. You published four refereed journal articles, one of which was “Sex of Researchers and Sex-typed Communications as Determinants of Sex Differences in Influenceability.”
SCARPINO: And that was a meta-analysis.
EAGLY: That’s the meta-analysis that followed from the initial narrative review.
SCARPINO: You co-authored with Linda Carli.
SCARPINO: She was one of your doctoral students at U Mass, Amherst, at that time, although you were at Purdue in 1981.
EAGLY: Yes. Then I moved while she was still a graduate student, so she did her dissertation with another professor because I had left.
SCARPINO: In this article, the “Sex of Researchers and Sex-typed Communications as Determinants of Sex Differences in Influenceability: A meta-analysis,” you were combining a new quantitative analytical method with your relatively new research agenda.
SCARPINO: Why did you elect to apply a meta-analysis to your research on gender and sex roles?
EAGLY: That was the follow-up to that narrative review that I published in 1978 because Harris Cooper had done this other paper that was meta-analytic. So then I felt I needed to take another look with the new technique and we did find some things there. One thing that was quite surprising, which was that the sex of the researcher or the author of the paper made a difference. This was somewhat awkward actually. In the male-authored papers, it was more likely that women were found more influenceable than men. The female-authored papers that was less so. So that raised the question about “Oh really, why is that?” We found another data set that another researcher, Judith Hall, had published on a form of social sensitivity where women are higher than men, and we also looked at sex of author within her dataset and we found an analogous finding. So it raised the question of whether there’s some bias on the part of researchers in what findings they report or how they do the research or whatever. It raised that question which has sort of been pursued since then by many people because lots of people who then do these meta-analyses on these kinds of questions do look at the sex of the author as a potential determinant of the findings.
SCARPINO: So if you determined that the sex of the author was influencing the outcome, has that helped psychologists figure out ways to control those biases? Or just to know that they are there?
EAGLY: On that one, not so clearly because it may be true. I think the most likely explanation is that researchers are selective in what they put in the articles. Many studies where maybe you’re studying aggression or some aspect of social behavior, you’re not interested in gender, perhaps. Well, you might be in aggression. But in some domains, you’re not particularly and so it’s a kind of subsidiary finding. You could choose to compare the males and females or not, and if you compare them, you could report the outcome or not. So you might report the outcome that pleased you. Or if it pleased you, you would report it. You don’t make it up because there is a finding. But you could choose to put it in your article or not because it’s not essential to what you were trying to do.
SCARPINO: You could also choose to decide what it means?
EAGLY: Yeah. But, let’s say a male researcher might be quite pleased to find the old stereotypes are true, that these women are submissive or whatever, and put it in, while a woman might not. Or the woman might be—if she gets the null finding that it made no difference—might be more motivated to put it in. Similarly in social sensitivity, that’s a good thing, and so women might be delighted to find that the women are more socially sensitive than men, where the man might ignore the finding as not part of his agenda. I think it’s something in the selectivity of reporting probably more than a bias in the way the study is done. That’s a more difficult aspect of the science to regulate.
SCARPINO: For the benefit of people who will use this interview, I am wondering, part of title of this article is sex-typed communications. . .
EAGLY: Right. That was important.
SCARPINO: . . .what does that mean?
EAGLY: It could be a persuasive communication on football as opposed to something having to do with cooking or something more extreme. One they often use on the feminine side is planning a wedding as opposed to something about football or some sports that men are very interested in. So then it’s the obvious, that if it’s in your own domain, you would know more about it and presumably be more resistant. While if it’s the other sex’s domain and you don’t know much about it, the average person doesn’t know that much about the other domain, they are more influenceable.
SCARPINO: Could you do the same thing with influenceability?
SCARPINO: What does that mean?
EAGLY: That just means how much people are influenced.
EAGLY: The quality of being easily influenced or more resistant to influence.
SCARPINO: Your co-author, Linda Carli, described your findings as spectacular. She said the piece has held up well. It’s 26th on your lifetime citation index. When you look back at this article, I am going to ask you to assess the impact in two ways. The first is on your own thinking and your own scholarly career. What kind of an impact did that article have on the way you thought about your career?
EAGLY: It was the first meta-analysis I did and so that we got interesting findings provided a motivation or increased my motivation to do more meta-analyses. Yeah. Had it been sort of dull, I think. . .
SCARPINO: It worked for you, in other words?
EAGLY: . . . Yeah, it worked. The findings were mildly interesting. I learned something about gender. I guess there might have been some early hints of social role theory in the way I interpreted the findings or whatever.
SCARPINO: How about the impact of this piece on the literature in your field?
EAGLY: Oh, I don’t—well. . .
SCARPINO: People still read it.
EAGLY: . . . Yeah. It has a fair number of citations. I think it gets cited because it was the original piece that brought up the sex of author bias. As far as the influence findings, it would sometimes be cited for those within the gender literature, but it gets cited a lot—or modestly, not a huge amount—but it gets cited fairly well when people then say they need to look at sex of author. And if they are with it, they may cite the early piece.
SCARPINO: In the next decade after you published this article in 1981, you published a number of papers employing meta-analysis, many of which explored gender/sex roles. You co-authored with several of your graduate students. Is that part of your mentoring strategy, to sort of launch your students on their careers by co-authoring?
EAGLY: Oh yes. We do that. We are expected to do that as professors of psychology. We work with our students and they are definitely co-authors. They can’t get jobs unless they have those articles out there. It’s very important to produce work and have them as co-authors.
SCARPINO: When I talked to Linda Carli and read and talked to other people, I came to the conclusion that when you began applying meta-analysis to gender and sex differences, that your doing that highlighted a split or a debate in which some feminist scholars argued that using a quantitative tool like meta-analysis was the equivalent of selling out. That’s my term. I’m paraphrasing. But the idea being that historically men used these kinds of methods and feminist scholars employed more qualitative work, and here you were doing what the men were doing.
EAGLY: Well, there is that. . .
SCARPINO: Was there such a rift and were you. . .?
EAGLY: . . .I think not within the mainstream of psychology. There never was that rift. But there are feminist scholars who are not within psychology or not within the mainstream. In the mainstream, we are all about hypothesis testing and quantification, so it was absolutely non-controversial there and there are feminist scholars in the mainstream, lots of them, probably most of them I would say. But then there is that other stream that would be very interested in qualitative that’s non-quantified, and then often accompanying that there is a postmodernist epistemology, you know, the whole hypothesis testing thing and trying to refine an understanding of the reality is hopeless. Because of that type of thinking, it’s excluded from the mainstream. It’s excluded from any high citation journal, quite frankly. I have looked at this very carefully recently in a paper that I have finished on the feminist critique of methods and epistemology. So that was a minority voice, but a lot of the feminists who actually wrote on epistemology or methods were not in the mainstream because it’s a critical theory-type voice. So those of us who are happily going along in the scientific mainstream, we are not writing particularly about methods because we were not critics. You might get the impression that lots and lots of feminists were of that alternative view, but most feminist psychologists who do research are the so-called feminist empiricists. We are right in the mainstream. We do the usual thing. We get published in really good journals.
SCARPINO: I know you do.
EAGLY: But, yeah, there was that critical voice out there. Yes.
SCARPINO: Although when you started this research, there were not very many scholars doing it.
EAGLY: But it fit into the mainstream science tradition because we were taking the scientific method into reviewing. So those who were in the scientific mainstream were thinking, feminist or not, “Of course, why did it take us so long to figure that out?”
EAGLY: So it was absolutely non-controversial among kind of the mainstream of social psychology or, for that matter, psychology. But among feminists, there was this alternative epistemology and putting forward a pure qualitative method uncontaminated by quantification. They are still there, but they don’t get into the high citation journals. They don’t get into the science tradition, but there are other journals and there are other communities, of course, where they. . .
SCARPINO: Who were some of the folks that were writing along the lines that were... ?
EAGLY: Well, there is a woman by the name of Jeanne Marecek who is in that group, and there is Mary Crawford, and then there is a particularly strong contingent in Britain, a woman by the name of Wilkinson, and some of the people who’ve worked with her. Also that stream of feminism, it exists in the United States, but it’s strong in Britain and then a few other places. So if you track it, as I did in a recent article, you will find quite a lot of representation outside of the U.S.
SCARPINO: You did think of yourself as a feminist social psychologist?
SCARPINO: How did you respond to criticism from feminists?
EAGLY: It was not as if there was a lot of direct criticism. It’s just that they went along doing their thing, publishing in very different places, and then the rest of us went along doing our thing in the scientific mainstream. It wasn’t as if we had much direct contact or it wasn’t like they were writing articles attacking me or the other feminist empiricists, although there was always this questioning of the scientific mainstream for sure and the presentation of alternative methods. I didn’t feel directly under attack. I did think that it is ridiculous to say that we can’t use methods because men use them. Why should we give men all that power? Quantitative methods are powerful and they are persuasive with the public and lots of audiences. We should not use them? Come on now. That would so undercut our power to get the feminist message across. I didn’t write an article—well, I guess I did say that a bit, but not quite in that bold way. It would really compromise—and we would have no credibility in the scientific mainstream which, of course, we need.
SCARPINO: So as the body of literature within the scientific mainstream grew on gender and sex theses, did those initial differences diminish?
EAGLY: That’s an interesting question.
SCARPINO: You mentioned that you just finished an article on that piece, which I didn’t know you were working on.
EAGLY: Right. It’s still there, so to speak, but at least among some of the—let me just call them post-modernists—there is a bit of softening, a realization that a body of work based entirely on non-quantitative methods would perhaps not be that ideal. So there is some softening of that view. There is little softening in the scientific mainstream about totally unquantified qualitative methods. They are virtually absent in the high citation journals. It’s fine to use narrative materials and narrative methods, get people to talk, but then it’s coded by two people independently and you have to have reliability, or it’s sent through computer programs that count words in various ways. So that kind of qualitative work is very welcome. Lots of us use it. But what the post-modernists have usually argued for is the freedom from quantification, male methods. So it’s just sort of you analyze. No second coder usually, but you just sort of analyze themes. And given all we know about the bias of researchers, it is so wildly open to bias if there is no second person looking at it. It’s just like “Well, I say the theme is this,” and I say “You do?” Yeah, how do I know if that’s true? They may have picked something very uncommon just because that’s their bias. So they are hard-pressed, I think, to maintain the position that has been taken and you can begin to see a bit of softening. Yeah, but it’s still there, this disagreement essentially about epistemology in science.
SCARPINO: I am going to ask you what may seem like an unrelated question, but if I did my math right, your two daughters were born while you were at the University of Massachusetts?
EAGLY: It’s true.
SCARPINO: 1967 to 1980.
SCARPINO: We talked two days ago, you were a two-career family. Your husband is an economist. One of your graduate students remembered you bringing your children to work.
EAGLY: Right, when they were young in the first year.
SCARPINO: Did you do that because you had to or because you were trying to make a statement?
EAGLY: Because I was breastfeeding.
SCARPINO: Well, that would do it.
EAGLY: Yeah, because I was breastfeeding. To do it comfortably and well, you have to be sort of in a symbiotic relationship with the child and so, yeah. So I did. With my second child, who was born in 1977, the University of Massachusetts had an infant child care center, so that was magnificent. I was able to bring Ursula in the morning to this small center and leave her with caretakers and then come back at noon and pick her up, and then I took her to my office in the afternoon and then went home later.
SCARPINO: Did you have anything to do with the creation of that center?
EAGLY: No. It was a professor in the School of Education who did it. It was a research site, also.
SCARPINO: You did this because you had to, but did you ever feel as though you were sort of modeling a way of life for other women in the academy?
EAGLY: Yes, I think. In 1969 when our daughter Ingrid was born, that was sort of the very beginning of the feminist movement and so it was. . . Well, University of Massachusetts was always a rather liberal place, but the reaction then was sort of “Oh, well, all right.” There was silence. But it wasn’t really disapproval. It was sort of a neutral or let us reserve judgment kind of reaction. But then in 1977, we had had a lot of women’s movement and people said, “Oh, how wonderful. How wonderful. You’re like a heroine to do this. We’re so glad to see little Ursula here.”
SCARPINO: Your students thought you were a heroine, so that’s why I brought this up.
EAGLY: People were very encouraging. So it was different. It was because the culture had shifted that much.
SCARPINO: I’ll be naïve. You brought your children to work, but what did other women do who were working? I mean working women.
EAGLY: Professors have a low birth rate. I think for staff women, it would have been difficult. Maybe it’s a little unfair. The professors have this freedom. You teach your class, but you’re not always on call and you could arrange your schedule. But I remember at Massachusetts, my colleague, Ronnie Janoff-Bulman, who was younger than me, she was so encouraged by the fact that I brought—her office was next to mine. I left then soon after that, but then she was encouraged to have a child earlier—she was assistant professor—to have one when she was assistant professor. Then I think she did more or less the same. She always tells me that; how encouraging that was. Certainly you see it, but there is kind of a low birth rate.
SCARPINO: But you did it because you had to, not so much to make a statement?
EAGLY: Right. Because if you’re breastfeeding, as I said, it really doesn’t work if you just show up every three or four hours because the child’s needs change so much as she gets even a little bit older. To make it work easily and comfortably, you have to be in a very close relationship.
SCARPINO: You describe the University of Massachusetts at Amherst as a liberal place.
SCARPINO: Did you find at the time that you were breastfeeding your first child that the university had any official cognizance of the needs of women who were nursing?
EAGLY: Well, no.
SCARPINO: I mean, we do now.
EAGLY: This child care center was magnificent that had appeared in 1977. Because to have the child nearby, that makes it all so much easier, and of course, the caretakers were built in and they were highly qualified.
SCARPINO: When my kids were little, old enough to sit up, I used to take them to class with me and put in the back of the room with a coloring book and paint. . .
SCARPINO: . . .and nobody ever said anything, but that was few years later.
EAGLY: Universities tend to be rather tolerant environments and fairly liberal, so I think that’s a good thing.
SCARPINO: When my oldest got to the point where he thought that he should put his hand up and answer the questions, they weren’t coming to class with me anymore, but that was not my problem.
EAGLY: Good for you. This is good and it’s great to see the men doing it. I had a male colleague recently who occasionally showed up with the baby, not often though.
SCARPINO: How did you see your own role within the developing feminist movement outside of the academy?
EAGLY: Well, in doing research, there was the hope that it would speak to social issues, I guess, about the status of women. But that’s a complex sort of relationship between research and then the public discourse. I wasn’t out there writing magazine articles or something like that. In a way I would have sort of liked to, but I had to tend to my business of being a researcher. It’s sort of a faith that if we understand better the phenomenon of gender from a science perspective that that would be a good thing in the long run in terms of understanding the conditions under which greater equality might be produced.
SCARPINO: I was going to ask you this question at the end, but you gave me an opening right now. Based upon all the work that you’ve done as a scholar for decades, if you had a way to influence the people who raise children, educate children, what would you want them to know that might have a positive impact?
EAGLY: A good question, but a difficult one. Parents need to know that they’re part of the gender phenomenon. And I’m not one who believes it’s all nurture, either, because there are temperamental differences between boys and girls that appear very early and are unlikely to be due to nurture, but nurture promotes them in various ways. A lot of parents think they’re not part of the process. But then when researchers look at the toys that boys and girls have and the way the parents interact with the boys and girls, there are differences; certainly in the realm of toys and activities and that sort of thing. A lot of parents think they’re treating them the same, but usually they’re not. So there is this sort of lack of awareness. And just the very model… if the mom is more in charge of the child or works part time or is a stay-at-home mother, then there is this powerful traditional learning going on. A lot of parents think “But it wasn’t us, it wasn’t us, we didn’t do it and so it must be all nature and we are just responding to the child.” So to get parents to see themselves as more a part of the process, and if they’re truly committed to gender equality, then they have to live it. It’s not just what they say, it’s powerfully what they do. They need to think it through more than I think the typical parent does who often just doesn’t think that they’re part of the process, when they’re actually a very powerful part of the process.
SCARPINO: I want to ask you about social role theory, which you explain on your Social Psychology site as a theory “of sex differences and similarities, and the origins of sex differences in social behavior.” The first question I am going to ask you is either really good or really naïve. Did you develop social role theory or did you borrow it? Did it already exist and you adapted it?
EAGLY: No, it was novel in this context, not that there are no similar ideas running around, but really I think I can claim it.
SCARPINO: Can you explain for the benefit of the people who will use this interview what social role theory is?
EAGLY: Sure. Social roles take a prominent place in the theory in that in all societies there is some division of labor between men and women. They’re not evenly distributed into roles, occupationally or in the home, and that is seen as being a key determinant; what men and women do of the psychology of men and women. But on the origin side, you could say “Well, but the division of labor is just all nature.” The view that I’ve taken is that it’s in part nature in that men and women differ, most obviously biologically. Women give birth and men are larger and stronger. So those characteristics of men and women—those obvious, biological characteristics—interact with the external environment. So in different periods of human history, there’s been a very different economic and social structure and political structure and ecology out there, and that interacts with the characteristics of men and women to produce the division of labor. The division of labor differs a lot across societies. We can understand the division of labor and it has some arbitrariness about it, but it’s sensible in terms of the characteristics of men and women and the external environment. Obviously, babies have to be produced or we disappear, right? And certain tasks have to be. . .
SCARPINO: The Shakers got themselves into a lot of trouble discussing…
EAGLY: Yes, right. Some of those societies that had forbidden sex, they didn’t do too well. But then certain jobs have to be done, and in some circumstances there were a lot of jobs that men were better at because they’re bigger and stronger. So if they’re going to go out whaling on the ocean or cut down trees or, in primitive circumstances, deal with iron ore, men had to do those things because they were better suited; and furthermore, women were doing the childbearing and lactation business. They could do other things that were compatible with that, however, that were economically productive; the gathering in the foraging societies and all. The division of labor will be variable and we have seen it in my lifetime change so much as women went into the workplace with a great decline in the birth rates, was a big thing, and then the change in the economy. Those strength-intensive jobs have eroded like crazy. So the jobs where you sit in an office, you’re in front of the computer or whatever, you’re interacting with people, women are by no means less able to do them. There is no physical strength component.
SCARPINO: Or flying a jet plane or something like that.
EAGLY: Yeah. So it changed the division of labor so much. We can understand that. It’s not so radically different as it was. Then the psychology would be wrapped around the division of labor because when there is a division of labor, it’s usually sensible in terms of the situation of that group of humans. We have to get people to do it and it has to work. So then through socialization, in part, parents prepare children for the world they’re going to live in sensibly, right?
EAGLY: Then the way we think about men and women reflects that division of labor because, as we psychologists know, we understand people in terms of what they do. That is, we call it correspondent inference. So if we see a person acting in kind of a mean way or a hostile way, we say “Oh, that’s an aggressive person, that’s a mean person.” We go to the trait to see it as a cause. Similarly, when we see groups of people doing certain kinds of things, we think that group of people must have that inner trait. So if we see women “Oh, they seem to take care of babies a lot more than this group over here”—they call them men over there and women over here—“they must be more caring and nurturant because that’s what they’re doing and so they must have this inner trait.” If men are more in leadership roles and roles that might take assertiveness, people think “Oh, yeah, they’re this assertive—agentic, we call it—sex.” Then we develop what we call gender roles or gender stereotypes around what we see men and women doing. Then those take on a life of their own in terms of producing different responses to men and women. So we expect them to do these kinds of things and we think they should, right?
SCARPINO: So the sequence, to make sure that I understand it, in any given cultural situation begins with division of labor?
EAGLY: Yes, which in turn reflects the world that they’re in.
SCARPINO: Once you have a particular division of labor—men do some things, women do other things—that gives rise to the expectations we have of each gender. . .
EAGLY: Right, right.
SCARPINO: . . .which in turn gives rise to stereotypes?
SCARPINO: Is that the sequence?
EAGLY: Yeah. Then the stereotypes regulate our behavior because they’re not just we think that women are nurturant, we think they should be.
SCARPINO: And if you’re not, there’s something wrong with you.
EAGLY: Yeah. There is a kind of prescriptive quality to them, too, so when people move obviously outside of their gender expectations, they get some, what we call backlash. Like when women act really tough and assertive, they tend to be disliked, “Oh, we don’t like those women.” Or if men are very weak and kind of overly soft, then people think “Well, he’s okay, but maybe we don’t really think that’s good.” That regulates behavior and then people also take gender inside themselves. They have what we call gender identity, that the culture gets inside the person in many ways. So then we regulate our own behavior. Each man or woman has an idea of what it would be to be an appropriate man or woman, and we tend to then deliver our own rewards.
SCARPINO: So we internalize and self-regulate?
SCARPINO: That’s what makes it work.
EAGLY: Yeah, self-regulate. We feel good about ourselves if we meet our own standards and we feel bad or guilty when we don’t, so that’s the self-regulation part. It’s sort of all bound up in this division of labor. So that makes people fit into the division of labor because we’ve got to get things done in a society, right?
SCARPINO: So you really developed social role theory?
SCARPINO: And applied it to the study of gender and sex roles?
SCARPINO: For the benefit of somebody who is not in your field, how did using that theoretical frame of reference improve what you knew or focus or enhance?
EAGLY: It provides a frame for the work. Wendy Wood has become a very important collaborator in developing the theory because there was the original theory and then it has developed over time. She’s a great collaborator there, encompassing the self-regulatory aspect, she’s worked on in her own research, and then helping people understand that the biological hormonal mediation supports behavior in an appropriate way. So we’re working on that. People have to have a broader framework to understand gender and it’s helpful to have one that has some complexity, but that people can kind of grasp hold of. Otherwise, there are kind of simple ideas that they might grasp hold of; “Oh, it’s all nurture. It’s socialization.” But that’s not very detailed or helpful. And then the other one, “Well, it’s all nature.” It’s all built in through evolution that women, of course, they make those choices. They love to nurture and men love to do these other things and it’s all nature. Well those are too simple, those ideas. They’re not very accurate, I would say. Then to give people a way to understand—other scientists, even the public, one would hope—needs a way to understand the phenomenon of gender because they’re extremely interesting to people and they always try to interpret them.
SCARPINO: Is social role theory from the perspective of a feminist psychologist a mechanism for explaining what exists or a mechanism for figuring out how to promote equality between men and women?
EAGLY: It would be both. It should be both. So it’s to understand what exists, but then if you’re to change what exists, you realize what the task might be when you see these pieces. So that the end result of certain kinds of sex differences or certain kinds of backlash or whatever, they make sense in terms of we can understand why they’re there. So then there are various places where one might intervene within such a way of thinking, points of potential intervention.
SCARPINO: So if we wanted to argue that our economy and society would be better off if we had more female leaders, and then given what we—that is you—know about social role theory, how do you bridge from what we know now or from what exists now to a situation where more women are likely to become leaders?
EAGLY: Well, one of the pieces, of course, has to do with women’s lesser career intensity when they have children because there is an inequality usually in the child care. Obviously that would have to change so women could have more consistent careers and more intensive careers because people rise in various fields when they have intensive careers, not when they’re part-time workers. There are many ways to do that; the division of labor in the home, onsite child care in workplaces to help women to further their progress toward career success. There are multiple ways to intervene there in the way organizations work. Also, there are lots of kinds of interventions in organizations, but like allowing people to dial back for a few years and then to dial back up without throwing them away, that kind of thing. There are so many things that could be done there. In terms of the lack of approval from moving beyond your gender role, that’s the larger problem that the division of labor produces, those ideas. There’s no magic there, but of course, as people get more experience with people doing the anti-normative thing they might become more tolerant. If we could get the word out there that this is producing discrimination. To help people understand it, and how we know it as social psychologists, that so much of that kind of behavior is sort of implicit. You have no idea you’re being biased. Most people don’t want to be biased. So, to help them understand the implicit nature of their biased behaviors and so that they can perhaps develop a consciousness where they could realize what they’re doing. Then organizations could put in checks; maybe the people don’t understand, but we can see the data, we can see what they did. There are a lot of ways to intervene there. On the self side, that would involve women and men changing their own ideas of what they should do as men and women. We see a lot of that. This book by Sheryl Sandberg is so popular now, the Lean In. Well that’s telling women “Hey, it’s okay to be assertive.” You don’t have to feel you’re not being feminine when you stick up your hand, you speak out, you’re bold. So that would be intervening on the self side. The self-regulatory aspects follow. There are multiple points of intervention.
SCARPINO: Was social role theory your bridge between gender and sex differences in leadership?
EAGLY: Well, yeah. I was interested early on in looking at social behavior—how does gender operate in social behavior—and simultaneously began to develop a theory. Then after moving through social influence and altruism and aggression, I thought “Well what else should I meta-analyze?” and I thought leadership because it’s an area where there are some obvious sex differences. There’s something to explain in leadership as opposed to other domains where maybe it was pretty subtle. It’s not subtle in leadership so I thought I should study leadership. I’d had some interest in it all along, but then I started off by doing a series of four meta-analyses on different leader topics. I got a grant from the National Science Foundation for that work so I had to lay it out. I laid out these four domains where I knew there were bodies of research that had not been touched in terms of anybody meta-analyzing them. Nobody understood what the gender phenomena were and so I thought that would be good to do.
SCARPINO: Could you say what the four domains were?
EAGLY: Right. They were leadership style; do men and women actually enact leadership differently? Then it was the emergence of leaders from initially leaderless groups; would men or women emerge and under what circumstances? Then there was what I called leader evaluation. There were studies in which—it’s really a prejudiced piece—there is a body of experimental research in which men or women are described as leaders or maybe leadership is enacted, but the leadership is held constant, absolutely. They just changed the sex. So then if women are not as well received doing exactly the same thing or with exactly the same qualifications, you would call that prejudice. So there was that body of research. Then there was a body of research, we called it leader effectiveness, where it was largely on managers. There had been some evaluative measures of managers, usually in field studies of some sort, so the leadership is not controlled. They’re just doing whatever they’re doing. We looked for studies in which they’re basically in the same role, like they’re all school superintendents or something, and then you could see how they’re evaluated.
SCARPINO: The first article that I found where you published on leadership was titled “Leadership Style and Role Differentiation as Determinants of Group Effectiveness,” Journal of Personality, 1970. Then there’s a big gap where I couldn’t find anything again. You were mostly publishing on gender.
SCARPINO: I copied down some of the titles, some of which we’ve already talked about.
EAGLY: Yeah. That early one was just sort of a one-off kind of study. I was interested in leadership a little bit, but then I didn’t follow that up very directly until 1990, I think.
SCARPINO: You were publishing on things like “Gender and Helping Behavior,” “Gender and Aggressive Behavior,” “Gender and Social Influence. . .”
SCARPINO: . . . in 1990, while you were still at Purdue, but I want to back up before that, because you mentioned your National Science Foundation grant, and I assume you have had many. . .
EAGLY: A number, yeah.
SCARPINO: . . .but you had one in particular while you were at Purdue, a major National Science Foundation grant to carry out meta-analysis of gender and leadership and you just talked about the four categories.
EAGLY: Yeah, it was the four.
SCARPINO: Blair Johnson became one of your doctoral students.
EAGLY: Yes, he was very important there.
SCARPINO: He told me that he read the pink sheets, which for the benefit of people who don’t know what they are, and I don’t even know if they’re pink anymore, those are the grant referee’s reports. He described your proposed research in glowing terms, as impressive, on the cutting edge. He said he was just blown away by reading those things. As you think back, did the awarding of that National Science Foundation grant and those comments by your peers on the pink sheets indicate how far you had come in moving gender into the mainstream of social psychology?
EAGLY: Yeah. That was great that I got support for it.
SCARPINO: When you started it was sort of out on the edge somewhere.
EAGLY: Yeah. So that was great that I got that support. And had I not, I don’t know if I would have gone forward to do those projects. Then I don’t know if I ever would have gone forward to do anything else on leadership. So it was pretty critical that I got it, yeah. Then, of course, if you get it, you sort of have to deliver it, too. It’s not just some idea then you have. . .
SCARPINO: I am going to ask you about that in a minute.
EAGLY: . . .you have to deliver it.
SCARPINO: I was really struck by the fact that, of course, there was no way I would have access to that information, so that he shared with me his memories. . .
EAGLY: It did. I think because meta-analysis was kind of new and it had some scope that I saw these four projects, so it was just the right thing at the right time, I think.
SCARPINO: It also just struck me by the fact that this – because you were still dealing with gender – but here you got major National Science Foundation funding with glowing reports. . .
SCARPINO: . . . from these referees.
EAGLY: There wasn’t much resistance. Gender wasn’t the critical topic in the discipline, but it had moved up quite a lot by then. I know this from this more recent project where we looked at gender work over time and it had increased a whole lot, the amount of work on gender, in the ’70s and ’80s.
SCARPINO: In the 1980s, you were a social psychologist with a tremendous reputation in the study of attitudes and gender and sex roles. From doing some reading and talking to some of your colleagues, psychologists who studied leadership were more likely to be working in industrial or organizational psychology than social psychology.
SCARPINO: When you began to move your own research agenda in the direction of leadership, did you get any pushback from colleagues who worked in other areas. . .
EAGLY: . . . Not really.
SCARPINO: . . . saying, “What are you doing here stepping on my toes?” or anything like that?
EAGLY: Actually not. The first of those meta-analytic projects was on leadership style, and leadership style was somewhat—a lot declining in industrial organizational psychology because the classic ways of looking at leadership style had been critiqued quite a lot, so we were actually looking at that classic literature. So for them, it was “Oh, yeah.” They weren’t too excited because there was quite a lot of critique of those kinds of measures, but yet the findings were quite interesting that we came out with. I sort of only gradually became associated with what we call I-O psychology, industrial-organizational. I didn’t march in and say, “Here I am.” But I was then a few times invited to one of their conferences to be part of a panel. At first I thought, “should I go there, why do I want go there?” I remember one of my colleagues who was an I-O said, “Well, Alice, the people who study leadership are in I-O, why wouldn’t you go?” And I thought, “That’s true. I will go.” So then I went and they were very nice. They seemed quite welcoming and eventually I joined their division of the American Psychological Association, their society, and then I became a fellow of their society eventually. Then they even gave me a prize a few years ago, so I found them open-minded and welcoming.
SCARPINO: In 1990, while you were still at Purdue, you published “Gender and Leadership Style: A Meta-analysis” that appeared in Psychological Bulletin, co-author Blair Johnson, and this was one of the four areas that you identified with that National Science Foundation grant. Why did you begin your examination of leadership with a meta-analysis?
EAGLY: Because that was one of the questions that people disagreed about. It was so interesting that the scientists, and they were in industrial organizational psychology, were saying there is no difference in leadership, “There is no sex difference. We know that.” And they would cite a few studies, you know, “Maybe I’ll cite three or four studies” that didn’t get any difference. Then there popular writers who were mainly like management consultants, people who were out there in the trenches, women, who were writing these books about the female style. They sold a lot of books, as a matter of fact. They had sort of been there and they had all these qualitative stories to tell and examples that were quite compelling in a way. Then the experts said that’s ridiculous, but they would cite three or four studies. That was ridiculous because I had the sense there were probably hundreds of studies. So that was the idea to actually go out and find the studies. Just to say there’s no difference based on the citing of three or four studies is not responsible in a scientific sense. I thought the answer would be more complex than either story—either the trade books or the scientists. It was sort of politically correct to say there’s no sex difference, so the scientists were saying that. In some circles, it was politically correct, at any rate. It struck me as ever so intriguing to actually find the studies and see whether there were differences.
SCARPINO: And were there?
EAGLY: Mildly so. The biggest one was the stereotypic one, which the trade writers were talking about, that women were more participative and collaborative. Then the others, that men might be more task-oriented or instrumental leadership and women were more people-oriented in some sense, that was the other part that you could look at in terms of lots of literature. That was less true when you moved into real managerial roles as opposed to more lab studies where you took students. There we argued the managerial role was pretty powerful to get you to do it a certain way. You probably have to do both of those things as a manager, but that the participatory part is a little more discretionary.
SCARPINO: When you did the meta-analysis, did you find anything in the way of what you considered to be fundamental differences?
EAGLY: Well. . .
SCARPINO: Or did you identify differences in which while a woman may be more inclined in a particular direction but some men did that, too. . .
EAGLY: . . . Oh sure.
SCARPINO: And that men were inclined in a direction, but some women did that, too?
EAGLY: Sure. Right. Virtually all psychological sex differences are that way. There are overlapping distributions. But nonetheless, you may find average differences and those average differences tend to be represented stereotypically. It was pretty interesting because we got these relatively modest differences. But the one that was overriding the different context was this participative directive; men more top-down, women more collaborative. Is it fundamental? That’s difficult to say. It depends on how you interpret it. It may be that women are kind of forced into it because they’re often not as welcome as leaders, and so the way to make people comfortable is to give them some counter power in the situation and talk to them and form bonds with them to win their confidence in a sense. The interpretation is not inherent in the phenomenon. But we did see something there, yeah.
SCARPINO: So once you know that, what does that say for women who want to become leaders or programs that train leaders?
EAGLY: Well, it’s a little complicated. We also found out that when you go to extremely male-dominated environments, like the military, that that tends to be less so that women are collaborative. It’s probably because there’s one way, the military way, thank you very much.
SCARPINO: That was my experience.
EAGLY: Yeah, and it’s the mode, that you’re the officer and people don’t question your authority. And so even for the women that may have been true. I think that in view of other things that we know now about backlash that, in fact, it should be recommended to women that they are authoritative but collaborative because it may make people more comfortable with their authority and they may indeed have to win them over in a sense. That’s not true in all settings, but to say that we do see this difference and that other information suggests that it may be more effective for women to add those qualities to their leadership.
SCARPINO: I understand from your co-author, Blair Johnson, that the two of you discovered that the amount of work required to carry out the meta-analysis was much larger than you originally anticipated.
EAGLY: Yeah, and he produced a computer program that did the calculations, the first such program, and that was an immense help to us.
SCARPINO: He said that when you applied for renewal of the National Science Foundation grant that you really didn’t have much to show for it, and yet, NSF renewed.
SCARPINO: What did that tell you about the research path you were on, that you were able to get that renewal?
EAGLY: They do take a long time.
SCARPINO: The fact that they were willing to renew without much in the way of. . .
EAGLY: . . .publication. There was no publication yet, I guess. Yeah, that was good.
SCARPINO: I will note that “Gender and Leadership Style” has demonstrated significant ongoing staying power. It has been reprinted five different times between 1992 and 2004.
SCARPINO: It ranks fourth on your citation index. It’s really been amazing.
EAGLY: Yeah. It has been successful in that way.
SCARPINO: Blair Johnson earned his Ph.D. from Purdue in 1988 and he is presently a professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut.
SCARPINO: This, I think, is another example of you launching the career, or helping to launch the career, of one of your students.
EAGLY: Yeah. He’s done great. He is very productive.
SCARPINO: He had a very charming thing to say about this article. It’s number one on his citation index, so I asked him about it.
EAGLY: It is. I’ve seen that.
SCARPINO: He said that “‘Gender and Leadership’ is like money in the bank. It keeps on making interest.” (Laughing)
EAGLY: (Laughing) Right. That’s true.
SCARPINO: I will also add that he told me that your mentoring of him really put him in a position to have a satisfying career and that he feels as though every time he helps one of his students he is paying you back.
EAGLY: Oh, that’s nice. That’s really very nice.
SCARPINO: I asked for his permission to pass that along.
EAGLY: He has been very successful, and he was a very, very good graduate student.
SCARPINO: You then published a meta-analysis of each of the other three areas.
EAGLY: Yes, yes, eventually. It took quite a while to get all four of them out.
SCARPINO: I wanted to see if I could switch from leadership style to access to leadership. You have written about what people call the “glass ceiling”—I don’t know if that’s a scientific term, but it’s one that’s descriptive—and have argued that this is not a good description of the situation women face as they seek to move up the career ladder. You have described the glass ceiling as a metaphor as being, and I am quoting you, “profoundly misleading,” because it fails to capture the phenomenon of women’s actual careers.
SCARPINO: Thinking in terms of access to leadership, can you explain why the glass ceiling metaphor is profoundly misleading?
EAGLY: It suggests there are absolute barriers, you know, that it’s very, very difficult to get beyond, and that’s not the case. There are challenges, but they’re more permeable than would be suggested by the notion of a firm barrier. But that it’s the same for women as men is not the case. So the notion of a labyrinth, you know, men might have more of a straight road and that women might have more challenges of various sorts, which maybe with thought and a bit of luck and perseverance, can be overcome so that women can move to their career goals successfully. It’s a more accurate metaphor because we have women—we haven’t had a female president—but we have secretaries of state and we have some CEOs in Fortune 500, but many women leading many organizations. So it isn’t as if it’s not possible; it certainly is. Furthermore, the glass ceiling to me—and it’s just a metaphor so they’re ambiguous—but that women don’t see it until they hit their heads on it or something, but that implies they don’t understand the phenomena and I think women are able to understand that there are challenges that they face, so it’s sort of a know-nothing metaphor, too.
SCARPINO: Again, looking back over your long career as a scholar, do you see the culture of access to leadership changing in a positive direction?
EAGLY: Yes, somewhat. We do see, over time, more women in leadership roles for sure. It’s slow progress, as in the Congress, but it nevertheless is moving upward in most all leadership roles. So is the culture changing? Yes, and that’s one of my later projects, another meta-analysis, on the leader stereotype. We have a way of thinking about leadership and so leaders should epitomize it. That is culturally masculine that leaders take charge and are assertive and know what they’re doing and tell people what to do. But we showed across three different types of research, three different research paradigms, that that image of leadership is gravitated toward androgyny. It’s still masculine, but it’s not so extremely so. People are now expecting leadership to embody more social skills, interpersonal skills of working closely with people and bringing them onboard, and that leaders are supposed to encourage followers and motivate them and be more teachers and coaches of them rather than just telling them what to do and scolding them when they’re not doing it or something. That has changed in the culture in many contexts so it’s less extremely masculine.
SCARPINO: If the culture of leadership is a little bit more androgenous than it was, is that because women who want to become leaders are acting more like stereotypical men, or because there has been give on both sides and we are redefining what it takes to be a leader?
EAGLY: That’s an interesting question because we don’t entirely know why it has changed. Your typical organizational theorists give an explanation that has nothing to do with gender. It’s the nature of organizations, that organizations are flatter structures where leaders are not just up here sort of determining things. It’s very complex instead. If you think of building cars or something, you have all kinds of different expertise brought together. It’s very international. It’s very complex. So the leader, or the CEO, has to be so engaged in so many ways to do a good job that it does take a lot of social skill as well as other kinds of skills. And then a lot of organizations are pretty flat, so people have to engage other people pretty directly even though there are managers and vice presidents or whatever. Your typical organizational expert says that. Then you could say “Well, we have so many more women. Thirty-nine percent of all managers are now women in the U.S., and that maybe women did it differently and that redefined leadership.” And that may be true to some extent, but I don’t know of any proof of that. That women have to do it like men is a misconception that some women have because we know that if women act like men, nobody likes them, and they get into all kinds of trouble with people. So, that’s not typically the phenomenon. Most women are pretty smart and they learn that if they operate in a more androgenous repertoire that they can be more successful. They shouldn’t be super-feminine. That doesn’t usually work because that’s seen as weak, but they’re kind of, I think, pushed into a more androgenous behavioral repertoire because people react to them better. That would redefine leadership, right, if they’re doing that? So there may be some of that, but we don’t have the kind of research that has sorted that out. It would be a difficult question to address empirically, I think.
SCARPINO: In 2007, you co-published with Linda Carli a book titled Through the Labyrinth: The Truth About How Women Become Leaders, which I would describe, I guess, as more for a general readership than most of your previous work?
EAGLY: Yes, that’s how we wrote it.
SCARPINO: It was published in the Leadership for Common Good series of the Center for Public Leadership of the John F. Kennedy School of Government of Harvard University. . .
SCARPINO: . . .and, of course, Harvard has the MBA program there. What made you decide to do that?
EAGLY: I felt. . .
SCARPINO: It sort of breaks the mold of what was done for ages?
EAGLY: . . .I felt there was all that work on leadership and there was a huge amount of public interest, and so to bring it together and make it accessible. It’s kind of a crossover book rather than truly a trade book because most of the trade books on leadership are very qualitative. They’re full of examples and experiences. We wanted to make the research accessible because we think it’s very informative. So we did. I think it’s moderately successful. It sold pretty well. But it’s not a big-time trade book.
SCARPINO: So you don’t have a yacht called the Labyrinth or anything?
EAGLY: No, we don’t. It sold about 17,000 copies. It is widely used in courses, too. Say people have a course on gender and leadership or even a course on leadership; these leadership programs or sometimes in business schools or undergraduate courses. It’s academic enough that professors would take it who are concerned that students know that there’s research. But then it’s read out there some by managers and other people.
SCARPINO: We might imagine for a moment that somebody will read this transcript or listen to this recording who is not familiar with your body of work and maybe has not read this book, so could you explain what the labyrinth represents?
EAGLY: It does represent women’s careers in a sense, and the challenges. So the book does explain the challenges. We do have chapters on like the work-family issues, the work-life issues as part of the challenges and then the whole business about the stereotyping and how that affects how people react to women and the backlash phenomenon and then the leadership style piece; how women and men do it and whether it makes a difference. We explain all these challenges that make up the labyrinth, and we use it to some extent as an integrating device. We refer to the labyrinth, “Well, here is this challenge” and “Well, that’s just part of the labyrinth.” It helped us to have a way of integrating the pieces of the book. I hope it helps people in their understanding because I think metaphors are important because they give people something to grasp mentally. Then they can add other phenomena to it in their thinking. That’s not unreasonable that there is that backlash, given that the whole thing is a labyrinth anyway, that women do have these challenges. Yeah, I thought it was helpful.
SCARPINO: What did you conclude was the truth about how women become leaders?
EAGLY: Oh, well that’s not something you can summarize in a sentence or two.
SCARPINO: What would you say are the salient points that might prompt somebody that their next step would be to the library to pick up the book?
EAGLY: Like the work-family issues, a lot of social scientists discuss that; that’s not very distinctive. The distinctive aspects are that we knew a lot about leadership style and a lot about the kind of prejudice aspects and so how that all fits together. Women’s style sort of addresses the potential for prejudice and the conditions under which backlash occurs. To understand this level of phenomena, I think, helps people actually behaviorally; helping people understand the nature of leadership. It does demand directiveness and some degree of assertiveness or whatever. So to help women to understand that probably the androgenous route is their best route and that does not mean acting like a man, but it does not mean crying at work and using some stereotypic soft feminine maneuvers. So to help people understand those things and to anticipate that they may get negative reactions of various sorts and particularly from men in some context. So it’s not some shock. You shouldn’t sort of ignore it. You should understand that it’s there and it’s not because of me as an individual that I’m failing here necessarily, it’s because of the broader phenomenon of gender in society. So to take some of the onus off the individual woman as she understands that the process is broader than herself.
SCARPINO: Do you think that’s important for women to know if they have those aspirations?
EAGLY: I think so, because otherwise if you’re in a situation where there have been few women and you have this leadership role and you sort of don’t have that much legitimacy with some audiences, maybe particularly the men, to understand that that is a situation that’s pretty challenging actually and why is it challenging. Then when you get this backlash or some undermining or whatever, not necessarily to think “Well, I can’t do this; I’m failing here because I’m just not good enough,” it might be that it’s more that you’re a breakthrough woman and this is part of what happens. But hang in there because you’re in a labyrinth and if you stick in the labyrinth, you’re going to get to your goal. That’s the other part; persistence is a labyrinth message. You always get to the center of the labyrinth if you work at it.
SCARPINO: We have about 10 minutes left. I’m going to wrap this up. I am going to ask you a few sort of big picture questions. You mentioned the military a couple of times and that, of course, does come into play when we talk about leadership. I’ll preface this in truth in advertising that I was a military officer in a former life for a few years in the early 1970s for a while.
SCARPINO: I found the military at that time to be one of the most color-blind organizations that I had ever been affiliated with. In other words, it didn’t matter what color you were, and women were just entering the office corps in line units. We tended to find that they were more or less accepted if they didn’t become stereotypes of men. If they were just themselves, they were fine.
EAGLY: Yeah, there you go.
SCARPINO: But here is my question: we have now reached a point, decades later, where the military is seriously talking about removing the final bar to women in the officer corps which is let them go into combat.
SCARPINO: So on the one hand, we might say that they’re removing barriers. On the other hand, we have a horrible problem with sexual assault in the military.
EAGLY: Oh, I know.
SCARPINO: How do you assess that as a leadership situation? And, I’m thinking is it really—I don’t want to lead the witness here—how do you feel as a scholar about removing that final barrier and letting a woman strap on the M16 and go into combat?
EAGLY: I think the barrier should be removed. It won’t be all women who are going to choose that type of military service.
SCARPINO: And not all men would either, so we prepare them for the idea.
EAGLY: No, and so it’s going to be highly selective. So those women who do it I think are probably quite qualified. One of the issues is the physical differential. Men are bigger and stronger and so there has to be some reasonable accommodation. They have them carrying huge amounts on their backs. The men are ruining their spines doing it.
SCARPINO: That’s true.
EAGLY: That whole thing needs to be changed. There needs to be some accommodation. The women, I think, can be fine and so it should be removed. The sexual assault question, I think, is a failure of military leadership. Absolutely. They’re not responsible. The horror stories come out where the woman can be assaulted by her officer, and then if she tries to go to someone else, they won’t listen. This is just a failure of responsible leadership on the part of the military. I think the only solution is to do what they’re refusing to do, which is to have outside legal redress where they do not have to go to the line of command because the line of command is often supporting their buddy who did this, so they’re just dismissing the women’s complaints. That’s a total failure of responsible leadership. I don’t know if they can fix it. I do not think they can fix it, and therefore, they should agree to what is being proposed by Senator Gillibrand and others in our Congress, which is that the women will have these other people outside of the line of command who will hear their complaints and investigate it. I think the military has shown that they cannot do it. They just cannot handle that.
SCARPINO: I am going to ask you some general questions and end up with a sort of catchall. As you look back on your career, is there anything you would do over if you could have a do-over?
EAGLY: Oh, lots of things. (Laughing)
SCARPINO: For example?
EAGLY: Oh, I don’t know. It’s worked out well, but then when I think back on it, I remember a lot of bumbling aspects. So I think, well, if I hadn’t been bumbling, but then that it worked out well. So I have to say that probably the balance was that I was more competent than bumbling. Sometimes there were some controversies I entered into I thought I could have handled better. There was one in attitudes research that I was a part of, with Blair actually. A meta-analysis we did that ended up being very controversial. I thought maybe I could have been more clever in handling that. There were some relationships with people that I thought I could have handled more skillfully, in some cases with some graduate students. Maybe I was too demanding, in a sense, for that particular person. I think I ended up being kind of lucky in what I pursued when I pursued it and so I wouldn’t change that, but it wasn’t that I did it knowingly. Like starting studying gender when it was unfashionable meant that I could do work that then was regarded as sort of leading things later on and became influential. So that was actually good, but I didn’t know how it would work out. Some particular projects or research topics I pursued, maybe I published an article, but it wasn’t that effective or that wasn’t a very good route or whatever, but on balance, I guess I have to be happy with it.
SCARPINO: As you look back at your career, what satisfies you the most?
EAGLY: Oh well, I suppose the work on gender is more obviously gratifying. The work on attitudes, I’m proud of, because I think we made a difference to that area of study in social psychology and it was worthwhile and I still love that area of study. Then the work on gender, because it has more of a public audience I think, that has been gratifying and I hope to build on that further. And, also it has connected me more broadly outside of this small community of social psychologists because other people are interested in gender. So I’ve connected with people in other social science fields and like this leadership organization, which is very interdisciplinary and all. I enjoy that. It’s intellectually stimulating to go out and hear how people do things when they’re not doing it as social psychologists do it, and what do they find out and how does that fit with what I know. I like the work on gender a lot for the breadth and the potential to address social issues and gender equality.
SCARPINO: Do you consider yourself to be a work in progress? What would you still like to accomplish?
EAGLY: The main issue that I’m still very engaged in is a debate with the evolutionary psychologists about the nature of sex differences. They see most aspects of them as following from dispositions that are built in back there, early in human evolution, and that we’re stuck with our stone-age minds and that it all gets played out all the time. I, and Wendy who works with me in this area, see it much more under the control of roles, which do reflect some fundamental differences between men and women, but it’s not that all these psychological traits got built in. Some tendencies, in terms of temperament, but not at the level they see them built in, which is very specific, like what kinds of mates we select and all that. It’s the debate with the evolutionary psychologists—actually the main critical voice that’s known to psychologists—and so we need to build on what we have already written and then to get it out there again. Then we hope to write a book. Exactly the nature of that book is still something we debate, but to get a book out there, probably one of those intellectual books accessible to the public so that they could have our framework to interpret sex differences, rather than the evolutionary one, which actually has gotten out there quite a lot into public discourse.
SCARPINO: I don’t want this question to sound morbid because you’re obviously still engaged in an active career, but just based on where you are now in your career trajectory, what would you like your legacy to be? What do you want to be remembered for as a scholar?
EAGLY: Oh, remembered for.
SCARPINO: We can’t put the things you have not done yet on the list.
EAGLY: The things I’ve done, it’d be nice if all of them were remembered, but some of them are not important. But the work on gender and the work on attitudes I think have gotten quite a lot of recognition and I’ve been gratified by that. That will fade. It has faded some. The work on gender, in terms of giving a broad framework for understanding gender which is still a work in progress, that I think is important. The leadership piece, too, I think is very important. It would be great to have that have some enduring quality.
SCARPINO: One more question. Is there anything that I should have asked you that I didn’t or anything that I haven’t given you a chance to say?
EAGLY: You’ve done very well. You kind of covered it, I think.
SCARPINO: While the recording is still on, on behalf of myself and the International Leadership Association and the Tobias Center, thank you very much for being kind enough to sit with me for about four hours on two different days. Thank you.
EAGLY: Thank you, Phil, for being such a wonderful interviewer.
(END OF PART 2 OF INTERVIEW)