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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Discrimination from Below: Experimental Evidence from Ethiopia


We propose and test an understudied explanation for the under-representation of

women in leadership roles: gender discrimination by subordinates may reduce the effectiveness of female leadership. Using a novel lab-in-the-field experiment in Ethiopia, we find striking evidence for discrimination: subjects are ten percent less likely to follow the same advice from a female leader than an otherwise identical male leader, and female-led subjects perform .34 standard deviations worse as a result. Subjects also give lower evaluations to hypothetical female managerial candidates. However, we find significantly higher returns to ability information for female leaders: when the leader is presented as highly trained and competent, subjects are more likely to follow advice from women than men. This pattern allows us to characterize this discrimination as statistical rather than taste-based, and is consistent with a model of statistical discrimination in which the same signal is interpreted differently for each gender. Our results suggest that discrimination from below is an important barrier for female leaders, that credible signals of ability are effective levers for closing such gender gaps, and that new policy approaches are necessary for organizations seeking to achieve gender equity.

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