Theses Doctoral

Emotion and Warmth Modulation in Women Leaders: A Qualitative Exploratory Study

Pfaff, Danielle Lee

Gender stereotypes dictate that women are and should be warm, whereas men are and should be competent. While prior work has explored how women manage stereotypic expectations about their competence, there is less research on the lived experiences of women leaders navigating the warmth dimension of these stereotypes. This qualitative study initially explored the possibility that women leaders may modulate emotional displays in service of conveying warmth. The research questions evolved over time and the study ultimately aimed to understand the following research questions: (1) Do women leaders in male-typed jobs modulate emotional displays in the workplace? If so, why, how, and what are the outcomes? (2) Do women leaders in male-typed jobs modulate warmth displays in the workplace? If so, why, how, and what are the outcomes? The study included data from semi-structured interviews with 22 women leaders in male-typed contexts. The data ultimately revealed that the vast majority of participants engaged in emotion modulation at work. There were a variety of reasons underlying this process, including participants viewing modulating emotions as a component of their competence in their roles, using emotionality as a tool in the workplace, and noting that specific emotions were unacceptable to express in their workplace. They also identified how they managed their emotions, reporting strategies that ranged from within the workplace to outside the workplace, as well as intrapersonal versus interpersonal strategies. Finally, they reported the mostly negative intrapersonal outcomes of modulating emotions, including feelings of fatigue and inauthenticity. With regard to warmth, the majority of participants reported modulating warmth at work. Participants modulated warmth for various reasons, including viewing warmth as a component of leadership, in response to others’ gendered expectations for warmth displays, and reflecting on actual or predicted outcomes of warmth displays to guide subsequent warmth displays. They conveyed warmth in a variety of ways, such as appearing friendly and approachable, resolving conflict with others, and creating a supportive team environment. Finally, they reported myriad outcomes associated with warmth modulation, including fatigue and discomfort, as well as warmth displays reducing credibility or a failure to display warmth resulting in negative professional outcomes. One final theme also emerged, bridging across warmth and emotionality. At times, participants suppressed negative emotions, then amplified warmth behaviors. They also displayed positive emotions, then amplified subsequent warmth behaviors. The findings suggested that women leaders may be modulating both emotions and warmth independently of one another, yet there are also instances where warmth modulation directly follows emotional modulation. This study provides compelling evidence that women leaders engage in labor, outside of explicit role responsibilities, in managing both emotions and warmth in the workplace. Given the depth and complexity of the findings as well as the limitations of this study, additional research is required to replicate these findings with other methodological approaches, designs, and samples. The results point to several theoretical areas that may benefit from greater refinement and differentiation, including the relationship between emotional modulation and warmth modulation. Finally, there are numerous implications for practice at the organization, group, and individual levels.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Social-Organizational Psychology
Thesis Advisors
Block, Caryn J.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 3, 2019