The perceived cause of work success as a mediator of sex discrimination in organizations

Madeline E. Heilman, Richard A. Guzzo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This investigation was designed to determine whether attributional processes mediate discriminatory reward allocation in organizations. Subjects, who were given different causal explanations for the work success of four male or female employees, rated the appropriateness of several personnel actions and indicated their preference among them for each employee. Results indicated that, as expected, the causal explanations typically used to account for a woman's work success (luck, effort, task difficulty) as contrasted with that typically used to account for a man's work success (ability) produced tendencies to award fewer and less desirable organizational rewards. This was true whether the employee being considered was male or female. Thus, the data suggest that the differential causal explanations that arise from sex differences, not the sex differences themselves, result in the unequal treatment of equally successful men and women. Implications of this finding both for future research and for organizational practices are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)346-357
Number of pages12
JournalOrganizational Behavior and Human Performance
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1978

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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