<em>Lean in</em> messages increase attributions of women’s responsibility for gender inequality.

Although women’s underrepresentation in senior-level positions in the workplace has multiple causes, women’s self-improvement or “empowerment” at work has recently attracted cultural attention as a solution. For example, the bestselling book Lean In states that women can tackle gender inequality themselves by overcoming the “internal barriers” (e.g., lack of confidence and ambition) that prevent success. We sought to explore the consequences of this type of women’s empowerment ideology. Study 1 found that perceptions of women’s ability to solve inequality were associated with attributions of women’s responsibility to do so. Studies 2, 3, 5a, and 5b experimentally manipulated exposure to women’s empowerment messages, finding that while such messages increase perceptions that women are empowered to solve workplace gender inequality, they also lead to attributions that women are more responsible both for creating and solving the problem. Study 4 found a similar pattern in the context of a specific workplace problem, and found that such messages also lead to a preference for interventions focused on changing women rather than changing the system. Studies 5a and 5b sought to replicate prior studies and document the weakened effects of messages that explicitly explain that women’s “internal barriers” are the products of “external barriers” obstructing women’s progress. This research suggests that self-improvement messages intended to empower women to take charge of gender inequality may also yield potentially harmful societal beliefs. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)