Ph.D Thesis

Ph.D StudentEliav Emuna
SubjectCan Funny Women Get Ahead?
Managing the Warmth-Competence Paradox Through
DepartmentDepartment of Industrial Engineering and Management
Supervisors ASSOCIATE PROF. Ella Miron-Spektor
ASSOCIATE PROF. Rakefet Ackerman
Full Thesis textFull thesis text - English Version


To gain influence, leaders need to be seen as competent and warm. Male leaders can be seen as simultaneously warm and competent; however, when apprising women in senior positions, people tend to trade-off these characteristics. Competent women are usually viewed as less warm and likeable, and this perceived deficit likely hinders their influence. We suggest humor expression as a micro-practice for managing this warmth-competence paradox. In a series of studies in the field and the laboratory, we examine whether humor expression contributes to leaders’ perceived warmth and subsequently improves their influence on others. In Study 1 (N = 101), employees evaluated female supervisors as equally competent but significantly less warm than male supervisors. In Study 2 (N = 300), we manipulated humor and gender using scenarios and tested their effect on perceived warmth and influence. Female leaders who did not use humor were rated as less warm relative to male leaders and, as a result, exerted less influence, but this gender gap disappeared when they used humor. In Study 3, an analysis of 95 frequently viewed TED talks revealed that female speakers benefited more than male speakers from using humor in their talks, as indicated by their perceived warmth and increased influence. In Study 4 (N = 686), we manipulated gender, humor expression and leadership context (operationalized as the target being a physics or psychology professor) and tested their effects on influence. Expressing humor enhanced perceived warmth and influence across the target gender and field, but this effect was stronger in physics compared to psychology, as predicted. Interestingly, whereas the positive perception of women when using humor in both fields was similar, for men, the effect was stronger in physics. Implications for theory and practice are discussed, as well as avenues for future research.