Department of Management


Date of this Version



Published as: Parker O, Mui R, Titus Jr. V. Unwelcome voices: The gender bias-mitigating potential of unconventionality. Strat Mgmt J. 2020;41:738–757. doi:10.1002/smj.3104


Copyright © 2019 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Used by permission.


Research Summary: Substantial evidence indicates that leaders are perceived through a lens of gender bias, but what mitigates such bias remains underexplored. Examining men and women in creative, project-based leadership roles, we integrate insights from role congruity and gender bias literatures to predict how project unconventionality and leader gender affect external perceptions of project quality. We argue that prejudice against female leaders is strongest for conventional projects due to the established presence of male-centric prototypical projects which induce bias, but that project unconventionality weakens this bias by distancing the project from these male-centric prototypes. We find support for this using a sample of 1,414 films by 32 major film studios (1990–2014) across three measures of perceived quality: moviegoer ratings, critic ratings, and film awards.

Managerial Summary: Despite recent strides in gender equality, women are still highly underrepresented in leadership positions across all kinds of organizations. This is partly because society still views women as “less fit for leadership,” and this both prevents the appointment of female leaders and damages audience perceptions of the few projects that women do lead. Surprisingly, we know little about how to address this bias. In this study, we predict that in terms of how audiences rate the quality of a project, “unconventional” projects are less susceptible to gender bias. After examining 1,414 feature films from 32 major studios, we find that whether audiences rate a female-directed film poorly depends on its conventionality—conventional films favor male directors, while unconventional films favor female directors.