Ask Ariely: On Anticipating Allies and Perceiving Progress

January 15, 2022 BY Dan Ariely

Here’s my Q&A column from the WSJ this week  and if you have any questions for me, you can tweet them to @danariely with the hashtag #askariely, post a comment on my Ask Ariely Facebook page, or email them to AskAriely@wsj.com.


Dear Dan,

The majority of my colleagues at a computer engineering company are male, as am I. Gender equality is important to me, but I’m not in charge of the hiring decisions, so my power to change this situation is limited. Nevertheless, I want to do my share to make my workplace an inclusive and positive one for my female colleagues. Any advice?


You can start to set norms of gender equality in your organization by communicating how much you care about this issue and expressing your intention to support female colleagues. Studies show that doing so will make the women in your workplace feel not only more included but also less inclined to anticipate harassment and hostility.

Researchers in a series of studies asked women to imagine they had received job offers at a chemical company. The women then viewed slideshows of their future co-workers—in some cases, all men, and in others, a gender-balanced mix. Some women were asked to imagine that the company included an “ally”: a man who expressed support for gender equality and was willing to help promote it.

When the workplace was gender-balanced, the presence or absence of an ally made little difference to the job seekers. But when the company was male-dominated, the addition of the ally improved the women’s sense that their future co-workers would support them and decreased their anticipated degree of isolation. Interestingly, the findings held regardless of the race of the woman or the ally.

So if you want to make your workplace more inclusive, let your female colleagues know that you’re a ready and willing source of support.


Dear Dan,

I’m mentoring a high-school student who is just starting to think about college. He attended an information session and came away overwhelmed by all the tasks he needs to complete. He’s feeling discouraged by the complexity and having a hard time getting started. What can I do to help motivate him?


The college admissions process can be overwhelming, and when we’re overwhelmed, it is hard to get going, because any step we might take feels trivial compared with what still lies ahead.

To counteract that drop-in-the-bucket feeling, it can help to change your perception of progress. A study demonstrated this idea through coffee purchases. Some customers were given 10-punch cards specifying that if they bought 10 cups of coffee, they would get one cup for free. Researchers found that as customers got closer to the free cup, they bought coffee more frequently. They also found that if they gave customers 12-punch cards, but with the first 2 punches premarked (effectively making them 10-punch cards), coffee-drinkers purchased their beverages faster. The sense that we are already moving forward helps motivate us to continue advancing toward our goals.

With this observation in mind, you should point out to your mentee all that he has accomplished already, including the time he has spent pursuing extracurricular activities, getting good grades and attending the information session. Suggest that these are steps he has completed in the college admissions process and that he just needs to take the next ones, one at a time.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.