Taking Psychological Science to The High Court

APA has filed a “friend of the court” brief in three LGBT employment discrimination cases now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

APA has submitted an amicus brief in three closely watched U.S. Supreme Court cases that have potentially groundbreaking implications for the rights of LGBT individuals.

The cases center on whether Title VII of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 — which prohibits discrimination based on sex — protects LGBT individuals from unequal treatment in the workplace. On Oct. 8, the court heard oral arguments on the three cases, brought by two gay men and one transgender woman.

APA’s amicus brief presents the scientific evidence on sexual orientation, gender identity and the damaging effects of discrimination on LGBT individuals. It draws on insights from the APA Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming People (PDF, 462KB), the APA Resolution on Marriage Equality for Same-Sex Couples, and numerous other reports and peer-reviewed research papers.

If the court heeds the scientific evidence on sexual and gender minorities, LGBT employees across the country will gain federal protection against workplace discrimination. If not, employers in 29 states can continue to lawfully discriminate against workers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“The psychological research into gender and sexuality supports the conclusion that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is discrimination based on sex and thus should be deemed illegal under federal law,” said APA President Rosie Phillips Davis, PhD, ABPP, in a statement. “We are hopeful that the U.S. Supreme Court will continue to rely on this evidence and rule that LGBT citizens deserve the same workplace protections as everyone else.”

Discrimination on the basis of sex

One of the cases, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, was filed by a transgender woman who says she was fired after coming out at work. The other two, Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia and Altitude Express v. Zarda, were filed by gay men who were fired shortly after revealing their sexual orientation to co-workers.

The employers in the lawsuits, as well as the Trump administration, say Title VII was not intended to protect LGBT people when it was passed in 1964.

APA, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the plaintiffs hold that it’s impossible to discriminate against LGBT individuals without taking into account their sex, so such bias should be considered sex discrimination.

In its deliberations, the Supreme Court will also consider whether some or all three cases involve discrimination against employees who do not conform to gender stereotypes, which the court ruled is a form of sex discrimination in 1989.

APA’s amicus brief cites research showing that members of sexual and gender minority groups are often stigmatized because they do not conform to such stereotypes and that such stigmas, which may lead to harassment, discrimination and physical attacks, can be detrimental to their health.

“Stigmatizing LGBT employees for their nonconformity to sex-role stereotypes is likely to affect their psychological and physiological health, possibly leading to stress, anxiety, substance use and other negative behaviors,” Davis said.

The document, which also includes evidence gathered by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and several other professional organizations, also draws on psychological research to show the intrinsic links between sex, sexual orientation and gender identity. In addition, it includes research insights on the harms caused by bias in the workplace, including low job satisfaction, high turnover intentions, psychological distress and even mental illness.

APA’s respected voice

Each year, nonprofit organizations file tens of thousands of amicus briefs with courts and legislative bodies, but those crafted by APA are unique in their focus on peer-reviewed psychological research.

“Psychological science is often an element that’s missing in the court’s decision making,” said Deanne M. Ottaviano, JD, general counsel for APA, “so APA highlights evidence in an even-handed way that can help judges understand the issues at play.”

Recent amicus briefs filed by APA have been cited as key to Supreme Court decisions on LGBT issues, including Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 decision on constitutional protection of same-sex marriage, as well as successful efforts to overturn anti-sodomy laws and ban anti-LGBT ballot initiatives.

The Supreme Court is expected to decide on the cases in the coming months.

Original article appears here: https://www.apa.org/news/apa/2019/lgbt-discrimination-supreme-court

By Zara Greenbaum October 25, 2019

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Don’t Wait for an SOS – Teams that Need Help Aren’t Always in Crisis

In an increasingly collaborative working world, healthy professional relationships are often the key to getting things done efficiently and effectively. Yet when it comes to development, many organizations focus almost entirely on individual development – of leaders, of high potentials, even of at-risk employees – and leave team development on the back burner until a crisis rears its head. While advocating for team development investment can be a challenge when there’s an absence of urgency, I would argue that foregoing team development is leaving money on the table – both by allowing inefficiencies to fester, and by generating costly turnover from employees who are less than satisfied. 

When we started exploring how to create a tool that would help teams, we wanted to make sure we built something that wouldn’t just work in crisis or conflict. We wanted to build something that would help any team operate more effectively by revealing sources of friction, imbalance, or bias that linger below the surface. 

The IDI Team Development Report was designed to do just that – help any team work more effectively by operating from a deeper level of self-awareness and team awareness.  And it’s been exciting to start hearing stories of this tool is working in the field, helping a wide range of teams improve the way they function. 

In a new Case Study, longtime MRG partner Uli Otto of lrb Solutions shares the story of coaching a team that was struggling to build strong connections. The organization’s leaders were genuinely caring people who were struggling to signal their caring in a way that the rest of their team could experience it. The organization had been reeling from some recent change and upheaval, and there was something about the way these leaders were communicating that was leaving their employees a little lost. 

Uli employed the new IDI Team Development Report to build an engagement that would help six key employees develop a deeper understanding of each other on a motivational level. She used the report in combination with other tools and a few of her own signature exercises (the “Troll in the Woods” exercise is a personal favorite of mine!) to guide the team in a direction that would help them reach their goals of forming stronger team connections and working together more effectively. 

In a forthcoming case study, we’ll explore developing a team that’s experiencing much more obvious friction. But for many organizations, the need for team development isn’t a distress signal – it comes from an organizational need for everyone to operate more effectively. 

Download this case study here. 


Lucy Sullivan 

Lucy is the Head of Marketing at MRG. She’s a passionate people person who talks with her hands even when she’s on the phone. She will not rest until everyone on earth has taken their IDI.

The New Roadblock for Women: Performance Reviews

“You’ll get farther by being more assertive.”

“You had a good year.”

“People like working with you.”

Most everyone has seen those or imprecise comments on a performance review, but a new study finds that they’re especially prevalent in reviews for women. Indeed, experts say that this type of vague feedback, not tied to any concrete measure of performance, is actually keeping women from advancing to higher levels of leadership. 

Men get a clearer picture of what they are doing well and more-specific guidance of where to improve to get to the next level, says Shelley Correll, a Stanford University society professor who has studied performance evaluations. Fifty-seven percent of women got vague-sounding praise on their reviews (only 43% of men did), according to a review of more than 200 performance reviews from four companies done by Correll and Stanford colleague Caroline Simard. On the other hand, 60% of men had their feedback tied to business outcomes, while only 40% of women did. 

The results are in line from interviews and research done by Korn Ferry. “Men are offered a clearer picture of what they are doing well and more-specific guidance of what is needed to get to the next level,” says Jane Stevenson, global leader for Korn Ferry’s CEO Succession practice. About 45% of all S&P 500 employees are women, but women hold only 37% of first or mid-level management positions and less than 6% of CEO spots, according to research group Catalyst.

Experts lay some of the blame on unconscious bias for the differences. Though they may never express it in words, there are still many people who believe that women aren’t capable of handling higher-level leadership roles. Unconscious bias training can help people recognize these traits and help overcome them, and the practice is becoming more prevalent within organizations. 

But roadblocks remain, experts say. According to recent studies, about 30% of firms don’t have clear and specific criteria set before performance reviews begin. And, in light of the #MeToo era, some men fear giving candid feedback to a woman, Stevenson says. 

To be sure, giving honest, effective feedback can be difficult, says Debra Nunes, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and leadership coach. As the Stanford researchers show, plenty of men get vague feedback, too.  

Still, organizations and senior executives can make a bigger commitment to have feedback revolve around observable and measurable things, Stevenson says. If all feedback is performance based, even seemingly tough-to-define but valuable traits can be constructively highlighted. For instance, instead of saying “you’re a good listener,” an evaluator can say “Your ability to understand people’s concerns helped your department adopt new procedures faster than other divisions.”

As for the benefits of succinct feedback, Stevenson points to what the female bosses told Korn Ferry in its 2018 study “Women CEO’s Speak.” Every one of the 54 female CEOs said some of their success came from getting straight feedback, helping them identify the skills and experiences each needed to enhance their careers.


  • Debra A. Nunes Senior Client Partner Bio >
  • Jane Stevenson Global Leader for CEO Succession and Vice Chairman, Board & CEO Services

Original Article appears here: https://www.kornferry.com/institute/vague-performance-reviews-women-leaders?utm_campaign=10-24-19-twil&utm_source=marketo&utm_medium=email

When Looking at Gender Differences in Leadership, Start with Data (Not Anecdotes)

The conversation about gender and its impact in the workplace began before women even entered the workforce in significant numbers. Today – whether in fiction, in journalism, in self-help books, or in the speeches politicians and pundits – the conversation about gender dynamics in the workplace continues to expand and evolve. The pay gap, gender parity in leadership, paid parental leave, establishing inclusive environments for a broader gender spectrum, and the right to a safe, harassment-free work environment – all of these are critical topics in the conversation around gender, and they have all been discussed with rising urgency in recent years.

Yet for all of this talk, it feels like progress is slow, and consensus on these topics is elusive.

How do we begin this conversation with some common ground, and avoid relying on stereotypes and biases? How do we learn to understand, acknowledge, and ultimately leverage the power of the differences in the way we lead? And critically for coaches – how do we learn to develop leaders effectively while accounting for the impact of gender in the workplace?

The first step is to look for answers not in anecdotes, but in objective data. In a new global study of 8,772 leaders, MRG looked at the data on leadership behaviors and competencies, from the perspective of both the leaders themselves, and of those who were observing them.

A sample of this size – also matched for management level, job function, and generation – gives us the opportunity to look more objectively at the patterns that may (or may not) exist in the way men and women behave in leadership roles.

A few things stood out:

  • Surprising areas of common ground. There were several behaviors where men and women did not perceive themselves as different, and their observers felt the same way. For example, there was no statistically significant difference between how men and women were rated on dominance (pushing vigorously to achieve results) by any group. So while stereotypes may still cast men as more “driven,” the data says otherwise.
  • Our own observations don’t always align with our colleagues’. Part of the value of 360 data is illuminating our blind spots, and helping us discover areas where we perceive our own behavior differently than our colleagues do. It’s no surprise, then, that men and women, as groups, had areas where they simply didn’t see themselves the way others did. While women rated themselves as more outgoing than men did, none of the observer groups saw any difference. As for men, they didn’t see themselves as any more conservative than their female colleagues, but all three observer groups did.
  • Women were scored higher on a broad range of leadership competencies. The LEA 360 captures ratings on 27 different competencies. Which of these competencies are more critical for success depends on the organization, its needs, the role, and the individual; there is no single “right” profile for leadership. Notable, though: where there was a gender difference in the data, women were far more likely to be rated higher on competencies than men. Out of 27 competencies rated by three different observer groups, men were rated higher than women only twice; women were rated more highly 32 times.

The full study is worth a read. Click here to download the study Exploring the Gap: Gender Variations in Leadership Behaviors and Competencies.


Lucy Sullivan

Lucy is the Head of Marketing at MRG. She’s a passionate people person who talks with her hands even when she’s on the phone. She will not rest until everyone on earth has taken their IDI.

View original publication on mrg.com

Leading across Borders: Using Data to Inform a Global Workforce

There’s no denying that, in ways both personal and professional, we are more globally connected than ever. In fact, the flow of information internationally has increased more than 250% since 2001, according to the 2018 DHL Global Connectedness Index.

Many of us also hold stereotypes about different countries. Some common stereotypes are accurate but at least as many are inaccurate. So how do we know which is which? Stereotypes are based on experience, whether it is our own or something we hear from others. However, an individual can only collect a limited amount of data on any particular group.

To gain a more accurate understanding of how people – leaders in this case – behave, we need to rely on large sets of data that accumulate the experiences of many different individuals. To this end, MRG recently conducted a study of 144,665 leaders working in 18 different countries to determine how much countries really differ in their overall leadership practices.

Not surprisingly, Canada and the United States were more similar to one another than they were to any of the other 16 countries in this research. Similarly, Spain and France were more similar to one another than to any of the other 16 countries. However, the research also revealed that Switzerland is more similar in its leadership practices to Brazil than it is to Germany. This may surprise some of us who assume that geographic proximity is more important that other factors.

What does this mean for coaching? As more and more leaders find themselves working internationally and developing professional relationships that cross borders, coaches need to make a greater effort to understand variations in leadership effectiveness around the world. This is critical both for support leaders in developing the behaviors that are most relevant where they work, and to support them as they navigate the sometimes choppy waters of a global business environment.

Findings like these, which take advantage of the experiences of many different individuals around the world, will continue to help us identify real differences in leadership practices, facilitate our global interactions, and maybe even make us think twice before we make any assumptions.

For the complete study, download the whitepaper Think Globally: Variations in Effective Leadership around the World here.


Maria Brown

Maria is Head of Research at MRG. She loves a challenge and often gets a little too excited about running new studies. She finds peace and balance by cooking (as long as her husband is doing the cleaning) or being anywhere near the ocean.

View original publication here

When Teamwork Is Good for Employees — and When It Isn’t

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Most work today is done in teams. While teamwork can lead to innovative ideas and strong performance, it can also be stressful. Conflicts arise, people become too dependent on each other, some don’t get their fair share of credit– there are numerous coordination costs that come with making teams work well.

But research hasn’t told us much about just how stressful teamwork can be, and where that stress tends to come from. From studying the effects of teamwork on employee wellbeing, I’ve found that a lot of this stress stems from the pressure that managers put on employees. While some pressure is necessary to get employees to perform at their best, pushing a team too hard can cause big problems, such as poor performance, low productivity, and high turnover.

I analyzed data from structured face-to-face interviews with 664 managers from different British workplaces where all employees worked in formally designated teams. The managers talked about how teamwork operates at their workplace, from how much team members depend on each other to do their jobs, to whether team members make joint decisions about how work is done. The managers also reported how their workplaces fared on key aspects of performance – including labor productivity, financial performance, and quality of product or service – compared to other workplaces in the same industry. Next, I analyzed survey data from a random selection of five to 20 employees in each workplace where the management interviews were conducted, which amounted to reports from 4,311 workers. The survey asked employees to report on their levels of commitment to the organization, the amount of pressure they experienced at work, and how often they felt tense, worried or anxious due to work.

When I matched the data from both the management interviews and employees’ reports, I found that teamwork seems to affect organizational performance and employee well-being differently. On one hand, there was a positive relationship between teamwork and organizational performance, which was partly explained by employees’ sense of commitment towards the organization. In workplaces where employees had to share responsibility for specific products and services, managers reported increased productivity levels and better quality of products and services. In workplaces where employees relied on each other to do their work, managers reported financial performance had improved, while employees expressed an increased sense of organizational commitment.

On the other hand, I found that more teamwork increased the level of work demands on employees, which made them more anxious about their job. The more employees felt that their teammates relied upon them, the more they felt that they had insufficient time to do their work, which resulted in a major source of anxiety. When employees were faced with the shared responsibility for specific products and services, they were more likely to feel tense and compelled to put in very long hours at work.

But I also found that a greater sense of commitment toward the organization can help stem the experience of anxiety. If employees felt a sense of pride in working for the organization, or if they shared many of the organization’s values, they reported feeling less stressed by teamwork than others who were not as committed to the organization. It would appear that higher levels of commitment improved engagement and helped some employees cope with the demands of working in teams.

Upon looking further into the data, I saw certain patterns among workplaces where teams fared better in key performance areas. One was that managers were more likely to recognize the benefits of providing the right skills and resources to employees. They reported how employees were given time away from work to attend training and improve their skills in team working, communication, leadership, and problem-solving methods. When asked specifically about employees’ work conditions, more than a third of these managers said employees had a lot of variety in their tasks, had reasonable control over the pace of work, and were allowed to have input into decisions about their work responsibilities. Employees reported feeling that the organization cared about employee well-being and helped them cope better with stress.

The data revealed a slightly different story for workplaces where teams did not perform very well. In these cases, managers did not afford employees enough opportunities to develop their skills through training, nor did they give employees the freedom to influence their work responsibilities. Consequently, employees felt that managers did not treat them fairly and were less sincere in keeping to their promises. Employees also reported how managers did not encourage people to develop their skills, and that when they gave input to workplace decisions, managers did not act upon their suggestions. In short: the main barriers to team performance were poor relations between managers and employees, which caused constant disputes and made employees feel more stressed at work.

Teamwork isn’t going away any time soon, but it’s important for managers and employees to understand the potential ‘dark side’ that comes with having to work closely alongside others. To achieve better results, managers would do well to consider the stress that comes with teamwork. When delegating work, they should clarify which tasks have higher priorities and perhaps discuss the priorities with the team. In cases where employees are faced with conflicting demands, managers should highlight possible areas of concern – like time constraints, strict deadlines or any other issues that may come up– so that employees have a better understanding of their roles or what is expected of them. Otherwise, work pressure would rise to unhealthy levels and well-being will deteriorate.

Employees have a role to play too. They could work to develop trust with team members and show appreciation for the value that each person brings to a project. Of course, working together is not always easy. Teams are often subject to conflicts between members, differences in opinion, and performance pressures that increase stress. But great teams are built by people who are unafraid to compromise and offer concessions. When employees engage in extensive discussions, remember that everyone bears the responsibility to contribute — and should be able to do so freely, constructively, and in a supportive manner. This has positive consequences, including better interpersonal relationships, strong team morale, and support that helps reduce stress. If teamwork is done properly, employees will be happier and the benefits of working together will be more sustainable.

Author: Chidiebere Ogbonnaya is a Senior Lecturer at University of Sussex Business School and a co-investigator for the ESRC-funded Work, Learning and Wellbeing evidence programme. His research focuses on employment relations, job quality, employee well-being, and business research methods.

Original Article Appears Here: https://hbr.org/2019/08/when-teamwork-is-good-for-employees-and-when-it-isnt

CHRO 2019 Succession Trends

A Fortune 200 CHRO represents the elite tier of the profession, supporting a company with at least $15B in revenue and often hundreds of thousands of employees. That elite level brings challenges including the fact that their job security is closely tied to that of their CEO and that their tenure can be relatively brief. 

What’s the background of those moving into this role? How stable is it? Are CHRO candidates better off having a female or male CEO? This year’s report tells you which CHROs in the Fortune 200 have changed and provides in-depth statistics that describe the Class of 2018.

Original Report:


A Delicate Balance: How Effective Consulting Leaders Manage the Needs of Clients and Business

Working in the consulting industry myself, at first I found it a little ironic that it was so challenging to write this post. Flipping the switch from client calls and content development to writing was daunting, and I kept putting it off. Then I realized it was fairly emblematic of the challenges of life in the consulting industry in general: the constant switching of gears as you try to balance the needs of your clients with the needs of the business. 

Consulting leaders aren’t alone in having to balance conflicting demands, of course. However, they are often pulled further in the client demand direction than to the internal. They often see it as a business necessity: if you aren’t meeting client demands, you’re probably not going to be in business much longer. 

Another challenge in this space is that the qualities that make someone a great consultant may not necessarily contribute to making them a great leader. In fact, many “good consultant” qualities may be at odds with “good leadership” qualities. Sometimes it’s difficult to practice what you preach! 

A number of qualities are transferable, though – and identifying them may help those of us in the consulting world feel a little less disjointed in our day to day work. Being able to effectively communicate, help others stay engaged, and utilize a degree of persuasion are behaviors that commonly appear in our research on effective leaders across all industries, and consulting leaders are no exception. 

What’s interesting about our research into consulting leaders is thinking about how they are utilizing these behaviors. Also noteworthy is how important it is for these leaders ability to shift gears quite rapidly to meet the changing demands placed upon them. Whether that be a client saying they need something yesterday, or a junior consultant asking for developmental opportunities, the types of questions asked of them place them in a unique category. 

To explore the full set of results, click here. 


Andrew Rand 

Drew is MRG’s resident I/O psychologist. When not at MRG, he’s either with his family (most likely) or in his workshop (less likely). His stack of unread books is commendable. 

View original publication here