Melissa J. Williams joined the Goizueta faculty in 2011, after completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. She earned a PhD in psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. Professor Williams studies what happens when social identities (gender, race, stigma, or national culture) collide with workplace hierarchies. She also investigates the consequences of putting people in positions of power and leadership. Her research has been published in top journals (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Psychological Bulletin, Journal of Management), and covered in major media outlets (Forbes, The New York Times, Wall St. Journal). She serves on the editorial boards of several journals and coordinates the PhD program for the Organization & Management area.
Selected recent papers:
Williams, M. J., George-Jones, J., & Hebl, M. R. (2019). The face of STEM: Racial phenotypic stereotypicality predicts STEM persistence by – and ability attributions about – students of color. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 116(3), 416-443.
Williams, M. J., Gruenfeld, D. H., & Guillory, L. (2017). Sexual aggression when power is new: Effects of situational high power on chronically low-power individuals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 112(2), 201-223.
Williams, M. J., Tiedens, L. Z. (2016). The subtle suspension of backlash: A meta-analysis of penalties for women’s implicit and explicit dominance behavior. Psychological Bulletin, 142(2), 165-197.
Williams, M. J. (2014). Serving the self from the seat of power: Goals and threats predict self-interested leader behavior. Journal of Management, 40(5), 1365-1395.
Areas of Expertise (7)
Women in the Workplace
Gender wage gap
Diversity & Inclusion
Power & Corruption
University of California, Berkeley: Ph.D., Social / Personality Psychology 2008
Rice University: B.A., Psychology 1995
Media Appearances (8)
Stereotypes about STEM ability impact retention of minorities in STEM majors, jobs
Atlanta Business Chronicle online
New research from Emory’s Goizueta Business School shows that when it comes to selecting a college major, and potentially a career, professors, academic advisors and other students may influence a minority student’s choice and decision to stay in that major.
When Power Makes Leaders More Sensitive
New York Times online
Who someone is—their character and cultural background—affects their approach to power. But contextual clues about how power should be used can be surprisingly effective in altering leadership behavior.
Sudden power is a scourge—and not just in politics
Boston Globe online
Beginning with an inquiry into sexual harassment as an abuse of power, exploring the link between the two elements revealed that it may not be absolute power, but newfound power that unleashes manipulative behavior.
How Women Can Be Assertive (and Lovable)
Analyzing more than 70 studies about how people react to assertive behavior, business professors Melissa Williams of Emory University and Larissa Tiedens of Stanford University find that women tend to be punished for the same behaviors that we find perfectly acceptable in men.
The Price Women Leaders Pay for Assertiveness—and How to Minimize It
Wall Street Journal online
Do female leaders get penalized for being “too” assertive?The answer is definitely yes, according to our research. But there are big exceptions to that rule that give women plenty of leeway to take charge.
Is Housework a Career Killer?
The Huffington Post online
The study's co-authors, UC Berkeley psychologist Serena Chen and Emory University assistant professor of business Melissa Williams, conducted a series of experiments that demonstrated ambition wasn't affected when women shared household responsibilities with their spouses, only when they controlled them. While both female and male survey participants agreed having control of household decisions is desirable and advantageous, only women indicated that actually having that control impacted their career ambitions...
Speaking Out About Women And Power
One set of studies, by professors Melissa Williams at Emory University and my colleague Serena Chen at UC Berkeley, found that women who saw themselves as "leaders" at home were on average less ambitious about career advancement, with no comparable effect for men. In other words, power inside the home seemed to compensate for power outside the home, but only for women...
Working Moms Study: Household Managers Found To Have Less Ambition At Work
The Huffington Post online
"As a result, women may make decisions such as not going after a high-status promotion at work, or not seeking to work full time, without realizing why," said Melissa Williams, an assistant professor of business at Emory University and lead author of the study...