Michelle R. Hebl
Martha and Henry Malcolm Lovett Professor of Psychologyhebl@rice.edu
Mikki Hebl is an applied social psychologist who is part of the I/O program at Rice University. As such, she publishes in both mainstream social psychology and I/O psychology journals. Her research focuses on understanding "mixed" interactions, or interactions between stigmatized and nonstigmatized individuals (see Goffman, 1963) that have resulted in two lines of research topics. First, she documents how discrimination is manifested within social interactions and organizations. Although people are motivated to stigmatize others for a number of reasons (Heatherton, Kleck, Hebl, & Hull, 2000), she believes that there are simultaneous mounting pressures for them to avoid stigmatizing others and to appear politically correct or socially desirable. These complex forces as well as increases in anti-discrimination legislation have resulted in discrimination now being expressed in less overt and explicit ways than was typical in the past. A great deal of social psychological research has documented this trend toward subtle discrimination through questionnaire and laboratory-based studies, which have mainly assessed attitudes. Mikki's research has examined discrimination in the context of actual ongoing interactions in the field within organizations, assessing behaviors that can reflect the dynamic aspect of social stigma. Thus, she and her graduate students have demonstrated more subtle discrimination with obese customers trying to get customer service, gay and lesbian applicants applying for jobs, pregnant women trying to complete job applications, and obese patients receiving medical care.
Second, she examines the ways that stigmatized individuals and organizations can increase targets' acceptance in social interactions, entry into organizations, and general interactional or organizational experiences. Her research has focused on remediation both from the stigmatized individual's perspective and at the organizational level. At the individual level, she has examined the strategy of acknowledgment, or directly addressing the stigma in an attempt to reduce interactional strain related to suppression motives. At the organizational level, her research has shown that inclusive organizational policies are key to reducing discrimination and/or increasing diversity. Furthermore, there is not just a single policy but many different types of organizational policies that can effect change. She and her students have shown that this includes mentoring programs, advertisement brochures that depict diversity initiatives, and family-friendly policies. In Mikki's future research endeavors, she plans to continue investigating mixed interactions in an attempt to better understand and successfully remediate discrimination as well as increase diversity. If you are interested in working in her lab or collaborating with her on some of these ideas, please feel free to contact her!