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 is currently an Associate Editor at Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, and serves as Area Coordinator for the Organization & Management area at Goizueta.
Selected recent papers:
Negro, G., Williams, M. J., Pontikes, E., & Lopiano, G. (2021). Destigmatization and its imbalanced effects. Management Science.
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: PhD, Social / Personality Psychology 2008
Rice University: BA, Psychology 1995
In the News (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...
The subtle suspension of backlash: A meta-analysis of penalties for women's implicit and explicit dominance behavior.PubMed
Feb. 2016 Previous research suggests that women, more than men, experience negative outcomes when they display dominance. A closer look, however, reveals ambiguity about the specific forms of dominance proscribed for women.
Serving the Self From the Seat of Power Goals and Threats Predict Leaders’ Self-Interested BehaviorPubMed
Why do some leaders use their position to amass personal prestige and resources, and others to benefit the team, the organization, or society? This article synthesizes new, cross-disciplinary research showing that self-serving leader behavior is predictable based on the function and nature of power—an essential component of leadership. First, because power increases goal-oriented behavior, it amplifies the tendency of self-focused goals to yield self-interested behavior.
Selectively friending: Racial stereotypicality and social rejectionElsevier
November 2012 Three studies show that people whose physical features are seen as more (versus less) racially stereotypical are more vulnerable to social rejection and exclusion from those outside their group.
The masculinity of money: Automatic stereotypes predict gender differences in estimated salariesPsychology of Women Quarterly
2010 We present the first empirical investigation of why men are assumed to earn higher salaries than women (the salary estimation effect). Although this phenomenon is typically attributed to conscious consideration of the national wage gap (ie, real inequities in salary), we hypothesize instead that it reflects differential, automatic economic valuing of men and women. In the four studies described here, we demonstrate that the salary estimation effect is present in both student and community samples, is not explained by participants' ...
Biological conceptions of race and the motivation to cross racial boundariesJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
2008 The present studies demonstrate that conceiving of racial group membership as biologically determined increases acceptance of racial inequities (Studies 1 and 2) and cools interest in interacting with racial outgroup members (Studies 3-5). These effects were generally independent of racial prejudice. It is argued that when race is cast as a biological marker of individuals, people perceive racial outgroup members as unrelated to the self and therefore unworthy of attention and affiliation. Biological conceptions of race therefore ...