Though we would like to believe that people universally consider workplace mistreatment to be an indicator of injustice, we describe why bystanders can react to justice events (in this study, vicariously observing or becoming aware of others being mistreated) with diverging perceptions of organizational injustice. We show that a bystander's gender and their gender similarity to the target of mistreatment can produce identity threat, which affects whether bystanders perceive the overall organization to be rife with gendered mistreatment and unfairness. Identity threat develops via two pathways-an emotion-focused reaction and a cognitive-focused processing of the event-and each pathway distally relates to different levels of bystanders' justice perceptions. We test these notions in three complementary studies: two laboratory experiments (N = 563; N = 920) and a large field study (N = 8,196 employees in 546 work units). Results generally show that bystanders who are women or similar in gender to the target of mistreatment reported different levels of emotional and cognitive identity threat that related to psychological gender mistreatment climate and workplace injustice following the incident as compared to men and those not similar in gender to the target. Overall, by integrating and extending bystander theory and dual-process models of injustice perceptions, through this work, we provide a potentially overlooked reason why negative behaviors like incivility, ostracism, and discrimination continue to occur in organizations.
- Identity threat
- Organizational justice
- Psychological gender mistreatment climate
- Vicarious gender mistreatment