My research program addresses 3 questions:

  • What are the causes, correlates, and consequences of workplace mistreatment?

  • How can leaders and organizations prevent and respond to workplace mistreatment?

  • What are strategies for fostering greater diversity, inclusion, and justice in our teaching, research, and praxis?

What are the causes, correlates, and consequences of workplace mistreatment?

↪ Help-Seeking Barriers.

Holland, K. J., Rabelo, V. C., & Cortina, L. M. (2016a). Collateral damage: Military sexual trauma and help-seeking barriers. Psychology of Violence, 6(2), 253-261doi:10.1037/a0039467

Objective: Military Sexual Trauma (MST) can be a harmful aspect of military life. Despite the availability of resources, Service members may encounter barriers that impede help-seeking for sexual assault (i.e., encountering logistical constraints, anticipating stigma). We examined how such barriers undermine wellbeing (i.e., exacerbate symptoms of depression and PTSD) among MST survivors, both female and male. Additionally, we investigated how these barriers aggravate depression among Service members who feel unsafe from sexual assault. Method: The current study was a secondary analysis of the 2010 Workplace and Gender Relations Survey of Active Duty Members (WGRA; N = 26,505). Personnel who had experienced MST (n = 542) and those who felt unsafe from sexual assault (n = 1,016) were included in the analyses. Results: As expected, both MST survivors and those feeling unsafe reported more negative psychological symptoms as a function of help-seeking barriers. Conclusions: Results suggest that removal of help-seeking barriers may be helpful for the protection of mental health – among assault victims and non-victims alike. For instance, efforts could be taken to reduce logistical barriers (e.g., allowing time for health care visits) and stigma (e.g., enhancing training for all personnel who work with MST survivors).

↪ Feminist Activism, Gay/Bisexual Identity, Organizational Climate Around Sexual Harassment.

Holland, K. J., Rabelo, V. C., Gustafson, A., Seabrook, R. C., & Cortina, L. M. (2016). Sexual harassment against men: Examining the roles of feminist activism, sexuality, and organizational context. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 17(1), 17-29doi:10.1037/a0039151

The current study investigated men’s experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace, including sexually advancing harassment (e.g., unwanted touching) and gender harassment (e.g., derogatory comments). We examined the associations among engaging in feminist activism, being a sexual minority (e.g., gay, bisexual), and working in an organizational context that tolerates sexual harassment in predicting men’s experiences of harassment. Moreover, we examined whether activism was protective against negative personal and professional harassment-related outcomes. Our study utilized survey data from 326 working adult men. According to results, engaging in feminist activism and working in an organizational context that tolerates sexual harassment were significant predictors of the sexual harassment of men. Sexual orientation was not a significant predictor alone, although sexual minority men were more likely to engage in feminist activism. Sexual advance and gender harassment were both associated with decreased psychological well-being and job satisfaction, but engaging in feminist activism was protective for men’s psychological well-being. These findings support theoretical conceptualizations of sexual harassment as a form of punishment for men who deviate from the prescriptions of traditional masculinity. Our results suggest that organizations would benefit from comprehensive and gender-fair policies and trainings related to workplace sexual harassment.

↪ Gender Counter-Stereotypical Behavior and Appearance; Women in Traditionally Masculine Work Contexts.

Leskinen, E. A., Rabelo, V. C. & Cortina, L. M. (2015). Gender stereotyping and harassment: A “catch-22” for women in the workplace. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 21(2), 192-204. doi:10.1037/law0000040

United States law recognizes the illegality of sex/gender stereotyping when it drives formal discrimination in employment, as in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins (1989). In the present study, we investigated whether such stereotyping – and attendant intolerance for counterstereotypicality – also breeds discrimination in the form of gender harassment. That is, we examined whether and how different components of gender counterstereotypicality combined to affect women’s risk of being targeted with harassment. Using a sample of 425 working women, we tested how deviations from stereotypical femininity—masculine appearance, masculine-typed behaviors (aggression and self-reliance), and work in a masculine context—related to women’s experiences of gender harassment (specifically, sexist remarks and gender policing). We found that women were caught in a “catch-22”: professional success in many highly compensated fields required stereotypically masculine behavior and appearance, but those same attributes increased women’s harassment risk. Taken together, our findings carry methodological, practical, and legal implications. If working women are penalized for their gender deviance through different forms of gender harassment, particularly in certain work domains, this may fuel gender discrepancies in particular fields. There could be a cumulative impact on women throughout their careers, from hiring to evaluation to advancement up the ranks. Methodologically, this study can expand our understandings of how to operationalize gender-role violation and parse apart different manifestations of workplace harassment. It can also inform debates about relationships between sex stereotyping, harassment, and the law.

↪ Supervisor Support and Organizational Support for Sexual + Gender Diverse Employees.

Rabelo, V. C., & Cortina, L. M. (2014).  Two sides of the same coin: Gender harassment and heterosexist harassment in LGBQ work lives. Law and Human Behavior, 38(4), 378-391. doi:10.1037/lhb0000087

This project investigated the incidence, interplay, and impact of gender- and sexuality-based harassment, as experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer (LGBQ) employees in higher education. Unlike much queer empirical research, participants in this study were residents of noncoastal regions of the U.S. that are predominantly White, rural, and conservative (i.e., "red states"). They completed surveys about their harassment experiences (gender harassment-sexist, gender harassment-policing, and heterosexist harassment), perceived support systems (from supervisors and organizations), and job attitudes (job burnout, job stress, and job satisfaction). Results showed that gender harassment-both sexist and policing subtypes-rarely occurred absent heterosexist harassment, and vice versa. Harassment severity (experiencing moderate to high levels of all three harassment types) was significantly associated with greater levels of job burnout (both disengagement and exhaustion) and job dissatisfaction. Even infrequent experiences of harassment related to large increases in the "threat" variety of job stress (i.e., sense of feeling hassled and overwhelmed on the job). Additionally, employees who perceived the lowest organizational support reported the most harassment. We interpret results in light of research on organizational behavior and LGBQ psychology. Moreover, we discuss our findings in the context of Title VII, currently interpreted to protect against harassment based on gender, sex, and sex stereotyping, but not sexual orientation. Our results can inform several possible avenues of expanding gay civil rights in employment: broadening judicial interpretations of Title VII, passing new legislation (e.g., the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA), and strengthening organizational supports and policies that protect against sexuality-based abuses.

How can leaders and organizations prevent and respond to workplace mistreatment?

↪ Knowledge of Organizational Resources.

Holland, K. J., Rabelo, V. C., & Cortina, L. M. (2017). (Missing) knowledge about sexual assault resources: Undermining military mental health. Violence and Victims, 32(1), 60-77. doi:10.1891/0886-6708.VV-D-15-00042

In 2005, the Department of Defense reformed military sexual assault (MSA) prevention and response efforts. However, research suggests that some Service members may not be informed of MSA resources. We examined how lacking such knowledge may undermine psychological well-being (i.e., symptoms of depression and posttraumatic stress) among MSA survivors as well as Service members who feel unsafe from MSA. The data were collected by the DoD in 2010 and sampled active duty Service women and men. Experiencing MSA, feeling unsafe from MSA, and lacking knowledge of MSA resources predicted greater psychiatric symptoms. Service members who felt unsafe from MSA reported greater psychiatric symptoms as a function of lacking knowledge of MSA resources. Findings suggest that education about sexual assault resources may be critical for the protection of mental health—among survivors and nonvictims alike.

↪ Personnel Selection, Training, Performance Evaluation, Organizational Climate, Leadership, Community Relations.

Ruggs, E. N., Hebl, M. R.Rabelo, V. C., Weaver, K. B., Kovacs, J., & Kemp, A. S. (2016). Baltimore is burning: Can I-O psychologists help extinguish the flames? Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 9(3), 525-547doi:10.1017/iop.2016.5

See, also, 11 commentaries on this piece. 

Recent media coverage has called attention to what some see as an unreasonable use of force by law enforcement officers against unarmed Black citizens. Many of these incidents have stirred widespread concern, as there has been a large public outcry indicating that the incidents appear to have racial undertones, which is particularly pronounced given the fatal consequences that are too frequent. This article focuses on how psychological research on racial bias can explain some of the cognitive and affective processes that could be influencing law enforcement officer behavior in at least some of these incidents. Further, we discuss how industrial–organizational (I-O) psychologists can use this research and leverage current practices within the field to develop solutions and effectively deal with individual racial biases among officers within the law enforcement community. We also discuss avenues of future research within I-O psychology and hope to spark a conversation within the I-O community about additional ways the field can address tensions that have arisen between law enforcement and different communities regarding perceptions of excessive use of force by officers. 

↪ Bystander Intervention.

Holland, K. J., Rabelo, V. C., & Cortina, L. M. (2016b). See something, do something: Predicting sexual assault bystander intervention in the U.S. military. American Journal of Community Psychology, 58(1-2), 3-15. doi:10.1002/ajcp.12077

Sexual assault is a pervasive problem in the U.S. military, especially against women. Bystander intervention is increasingly promoted as important for reducing sexual violence, and it may be particularly helpful in contexts with high rates of sexual violence. Bystander training encourages and enables people to intervene safely and stop sexual violence. In this study, we drew from an ecological model to investigate intrapersonal, microsystem, and exosystem factors that predicted Service members’ assumption of personal responsibility to intervene in an alcohol-involved sexual assault. Moreover, we examined how these predictors played a role in decisions about how to intervene: confronting the perpetrator, assisting the victim, or finding someone to help. We analyzed data from 24,610 active duty personnel collected by the Department of Defense. Several factors significantly related to Service members’ bystander intentions: gender, rank, morale, attitudes about sexual assault, training, and trust in the military sexual assault system predicted the likelihood and method of bystander intervention. These findings help identify how and why people intervene (or fail to intervene) when they witness situations that could develop into sexual violence.

↪ Training to Prevent and Respond to Sexual Assault.

Holland, K. J., Rabelo, V. C., & Cortina, L. M. (2014). Sexual assault training in the military: Evaluating efforts to end the “Invisible War.” American Journal of Community Psychology, 54(3-4), 289-303. doi:10.1007/s10464-014-9672-0

Sexual assault is an insidious problem in the United States military. In 2005 the Department of Defense (DoD) created the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, which centralizes responsibility for sexual assault training. However, this training initiative has undergone little evaluation by outside researchers. Addressing this need, we analyzed responses from over 24,000 active duty personnel who completed the 2010 DoD Workplace and Gender Relations Survey. We assessed whether sexual assault training exposure (None, Minimal, Partial, or Comprehensive) predicted accurate knowledge of sexual assault resources and protocols. Using a social-ecological framework, we investigated whether institutional and individual factors influenced Service members' training exposure and judgment of training effectiveness. According to our results, exposure to comprehensive training predicted lower sexual assault incidence and superior knowledge. However, comprehensive training differed as a function of military branch, rank, gender, and sexual assault history. Judgments of training effectiveness also varied across these dimensions. Our results highlight the importance of considering context, gender, and victimization history when evaluating institutional efforts to end sexual violence. The DoD's 2010 annual report on military sexual assault concluded that "most Active Duty members receive effective training on sexual assault" (p. 104). Our results cast doubt on that assertion.

What are strategies for fostering greater diversity, inclusion, and justice in our teaching, research, and praxis?

↪ Improving Climate for Black, Latinx, and Native American Business School Students + Faculty.

Minefee, I., Rabelo, V. C., Stewart, O. J. C., Young, N. J. (2018). Repairing leaks in the pipeline: A social closure perspective on underrepresented racial/ethnic minority recruitment and retention in business schools. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 17(1), 79-95. 

* All 4 authors contributed equally and share first authorship; names are listed alphabetically.

Despite initiatives to diversify business school administration, faculty, and doctoral student bodies, challenges to the recruitment and retention of underrepresented racial/ethnic minorities (URMs) persist. A “leaky pipeline” metaphor is often leveraged to describe these challenges, whereby disproportionately few racial/ethnic minorities initially “enter” the pipeline (i.e., academic career), and this initially low supply dwindles (“leaks”) at more advanced stages of the pipeline. Beyond simply describing leaks in the business school pipeline, we seek to explain why leaks occur and how they can be repaired. Specifically, we contend that mechanisms of social closure—discriminatory evaluation, knowledge- and resource-hoarding, and the preservation of dominant group identities—not only restrict URMs’ access to the academic pipeline, but also contribute its “leaks.” After discussing these mechanisms, we conclude with recommendations to the AACSB, an institution that can facilitate change and reduce social closure within business schools.

↪ Intersectionality Research Methods in Industrial-Organizational Psychology and Organizational Studies.

Rabelo, V. C., & Cortina, L. M. (2016). Intersectionality: Infusing I-O psychology with feminist thought. In T. Roberts, N. Curtin, L. M. Cortina, & L. E. Duncan (Eds.), Building a better psychology of gender: Best practices in feminist psychological science (pp. 179-197). Springer. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-32141-7

Industrial and organizational psychology, or I-O, is concerned with the study of human behavior in the context of work. Since the growth of I-O psychology over the past century, research on diversity has proliferated, with much of this scholarship focusing on a single axis of diversity, such as gender or race/ethnicity. However, research that examines a single axis of identity (e.g., gender) tends to focus on the most prototypical subordinate members of that group (e.g., White women) at the expense of considering other group members who hold additional subordinate identities (e.g., women of color and/or transwomen). One consequence of the single-axis approach that pervades I-O diversity research is the erasure, invisibility, and marginalization of people with multiple subordinated identities. In contrast to this single-axis approach, intersectionality is a feminist framework that accounts for the mutual interdependency of multiple social identities: the meanings of one social identity group depend on its intersections with other identity groups. Intersectionality is concerned with the simultaneous interplay of various social group memberships and the location of these social groups within larger structures of power, privilege, and oppression. In this chapter, we aim to provide I-O psychologists with an introduction to intersectionality as an analytical lens for research. Intersectionality as an analytical lens serves as an approach to guide the formulation, testing, and interpretation of research questions. This chapter is structured as follows. We begin with a brief history of intersectionality scholarship, an important branch of feminist theory spearheaded by women of color. Next, we discuss the relevance and importance of intersectionality to I-O psychology. Finally, we provide guidelines and challenges for I-O psychologists interested in engaging with intersectionality in their research.

Parker, P. S., *Jiang, J., *McCluney, C., & *Rabelo, V. C. (2016). Race, gender, class, sexuality: Researching communication and difference. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780190228613.013.204

Authors contributed equally so names are listed alphabetically.

Difference in human experience can be parsed in a variety of ways and it is this parsing that provides the entry point to our discussion of “race,” “gender,” “class,” and “sexuality” as foci of study in the field of organizational communication. Social sorting of difference has material consequences, such as whether individuals, groups, organizations, communities, and nations have equal and equitable access to civil/participative liberties, food, clean water, health, housing, education, and meaningful work. Communication perspectives enable researchers to examine how difference is produced, sustained, and transformed through symbolic means. That is, communication organizes difference. In the field of organizational communication the communicative organizing of race, gender, class, and sexuality is examined in everyday social arrangements, such as corporate and not-for-profit organizations, communities, and other institutional contexts locally and globally. Topics of central concern in organizational communication difference studies are those related to work and the political economy of work, such as labor, conflicts between public and private domains, empowerment, and agency.

Research on race, gender, class, and sexuality as communicatively structured difference has progressed in the field of organizational communication from early top-down functionalist approaches, to bottom-up and emergent interpretive/critical/materialist methods, to poststructuralist approaches that deconstruct the very notion of “categories” of difference. More complex intersectional approaches, including queer theory and postcolonial/decolonial theory, are currently gaining traction in the field of organizational communication. These advances signal that difference studies have matured over the last decades as the field moved toward questioning and deconstructing past approaches to knowledge production while finding commensurability across diverse theoretical and research perspectives. These moves open up more possibilities to respond to societal imperatives for understanding difference.

↪ Research Recommendations for the Study of Immigrants.

Mahalingam, R., & Rabelo, V. C. (2013). Theoretical, methodological, and ethical challenges to the study of immigrants: Perils and possibilities. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 141, 25-41. doi:10.1002/cad.20041

Research on immigrant communities has often been reductionist, stereotypical, and simplistic, and even the most well-intentioned researchers are susceptible to using cultural deficit models. This chapter critically evaluates some of the dominant tensions and problem areas with respect to researching immigrant communities. Specifically, we analyze three primary challenges that researchers encounter: the heterogeneity of immigrant lives, adequate representations of immigrant communities, and researcher privilege. In addition to identifying these unique theoretical, methodological, and ethical concerns, we draw from critical theory, feminist scholarship, and cultural psychology to provide an interdisciplinary solution. For researchers investigating immigrant communities, we advocate the following: (a) grounding of intersectional frameworks; (b) reliance on a risk and resilience framework; (c) phenomenological understanding of immigrants' everyday lives; (d) inclusion of immigrant participants' voices; and (e) cultivation of negative capability. Finally, we briefly review selected studies that address three recurring challenges that researchers face and heed our five recommendations.

↪ Impact of Ideologies on Research and Organizations.

Cortina, L. M., Rabelo, V. C., & Holland, K. J. (2018). Beyond blaming the victim: Toward a more progressive understanding of workplace mistreatment. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 11(1), 81-100.

See, also, 11 commentaries on this piece. 

Theories of human aggression can inform research, policy, and practice in organizations. One such theory, victim precipitation, originated in the field of criminology. According to this perspective, some victims invite abuse through their personalities, styles of speech or dress, actions, and even their inactions. That is, they are partly at fault for the wrongdoing of others. This notion is gaining purchase in industrial and organizational (I-O) psychology as an explanation for workplace mistreatment. The first half of our article provides an overview and critique of the victim precipitation hypothesis. After tracing its history, we review the flaws of victim precipitation as catalogued by scientists and practitioners over several decades. We also consider real-world implications of victim precipitation thinking, such as the exoneration of violent criminals. Confident that I-O can do better, the second half of this article highlights alternative frameworks for researching and redressing hostile work behavior. In addition, we discuss a broad analytic paradigm—perpetrator predation—as a way to understand workplace abuse without blaming the abused. We take the position that these alternative perspectives offer stronger, more practical, and more progressive explanations for workplace mistreatment. Victim precipitation, we conclude, is an archaic ideology. Criminologists have long since abandoned it, and so should we.

Rabelo, V. C. (2017). Cleaning the ivory tower: (De)constructing neoliberal discourse and dignity in dirty work (unpublished doctoral dissertation). The University of Michigan. https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/handle/2027.42/138587 

The growth of neoliberal ideologies since the 1970s has (re)structured many organizations in the U.S., including education. University administrators in a neoliberal climate are pressured to expand facilities and matriculation while minimizing labor costs. One way they accomplish this is by privatizing services, including cleaning. Private commercial cleaning companies often provide staffing, training, workloading, and performance evaluation. Administrators contracting these companies are able to save money by displacing responsibility for human resources functions. Although neoliberal practices (e.g., privatization) appear to offer benefits for organizations’ bottom-lines and senior leaders, less is known about the impact on frontline personnel.

Addressing this gap, my dissertation addresses two questions: How does neoliberal discourse shape organizational practices? And how does such discourse affect the lived experience of cleaning work? To answer these questions, I conducted a content analysis of a commercial cleaning company to examine the discursive strategies used to legitimize the regulation of cleaners and cleaning work. I then conducted a case study of four cleaners, and the ways their work has changed over time (as a function of working within or outside of the commercial cleaning system). The content analysis reflects the intention of the cleaning management system, whereas the case study reflects the implementation of the system from cleaners’ perspectives.

In the content analysis, language around cleaning was couched in seemingly positive neoliberal language: progress, professionalization, profit maximization, and prescription as a means of efficiency. In particular, communication from the commercial cleaning management system reflected three primary ‘discursive regimes’ to justify its organizational strategy: the need for a science of cleaning, professionalization, and environmental responsibility. Yet, these discursive regimes often were referenced in service of greater regulation over cleaners and their work. The language of neoliberalism casts many service workers (including cleaners) as unskilled, unprofessional, incompetent, and unmotivated, thus justifying greater control over workers and their labor.

To examine how such discourse shapes the experience of work, I then conducted a case study of four cleaners: two of whom work under the cleaning management system content-analyzed in the first study, and two of whom were exempt from the system. Three themes emerged from participants’ narratives: how the cleaning system shapes the experience and organization of work, how cleaners protect themselves, and the discursive resources used to narrate these experiences. I found that the approach to managing and organizing cleaning work prescribed by the commercial cleaning system contributes to dignity injuries for cleaners through four mechanisms: deskilling, objectifying, surveilling, and infantilizing. Cleaners responded to these injuries via four practices to restore dignity: distancing from work, idealizing the past, reversing infantilization, and narratively constructing a moral(ized) self. I found that narratives are an important resource for sharing stories of organizational suffering, as well as discursively constructing dignity.

This project demonstrates how power flows through ideologies, institutions, and individuals; and how neoliberalism shapes the experience of work. These results carry important theoretical and practical implications for dignity, occupational health, and the (re)organization of service work in a neoliberal climate. Greater standardization of work may save money for institutions—but at the expense of service workers who enable these savings. Neoliberalism enables the expansion of ivory towers by exploiting the people who construct, clean, and maintain them. I conclude with a discussion about the production of suffering and (in)dignity in organizations, and possibilities for institutional transformation.

Currently, I am working with the following collaborators:

At the University of Michigan, I was a member of three research labs:

Research in the Gender and Respect in Organizations lab (PI: Lilia M. Cortina, PhD) addresses gender and (dis)respect in organizations, with a special focus on personal and professional outcomes of the targeted individual.

The Mindfulness, Loving Kindness, and Intersectionality lab (PI: Ram Mahalingam, PhD) examines resilience in a way that is sensitive to issues of power, social marginality, and compassion with the goal of enhancing positive attitudes towards others, compassion towards the self and others, and positive career trajectories.

Through CompassionLab (PI: Jane Dutton, PhD), we view organizations as sites for the expression (and depletion) of compassion.