Michele Gelfand

2021 Recipient: Michele Gelfand, Stanford University

The committee had many wonderful things to say about Award Winner, Michele Gelfand.


Michele is an unquestioned leader and a radical innovator in cross-cultural organizational behavior and has fundamentally shaped the scientific study of culture by integrating research from organizational behavior, psychology, computer science, neuroscience, and political science. Scholars have studied organizational processes for decades but had seldom considered how culture influenced these processes. As a result, organizational behavior was almost exclusively drawn from Western samples. Because of Dr. Gelfand’s voice – represented powerfully in her seminal 2007 chapter in the Annual Review of Psychology – non-Western organizational behavior research has quadrupled in the last 15 years, and continues to grow exponentially.


The work that Dr. Gelfand has done and continues to do has made significant impact on society. In translating her research into practice, she has edited numerous books bringing together interdisciplinary scholars who span the world geographically and offer diverse academic and cultural backgrounds, gone to Capitol Hill to lobby on the behalf of immigrants and to help design policies related to immigration, has been deeply committed to educating the public on how culture is affecting everything from our elections to our organizational failures((e.g., Trump Culture: Threat, Fear and the Tightening of the American Mind; Trump Won by Following This Psychological Formula) and her book, RULE MAKERS, RULE BREAKERS: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire our World has been featured in a multitude of news outlets and has won a multitude of awards.


Gelfand’s work on culture has been highly impactful beyond the academy to better our world. On a daily basis, cultural clashes urgently beg for an explanation. Such clashes range from international headlines (e.g. the Syrian refugee crisis, the Arab Spring, or the Ukrainian civil war) to domestic disputes over immigration and abortion. Together, they account for billions of wasted dollars and millions of needless deaths. Notwithstanding, we still have little idea how to understand them or how to rationally approach their resolution. Our inability to resolve intercultural disputes stems in part from our unawareness regarding cultural differences. Dr. Gelfand’s theory of tightness-looseness is the antidote to cultural ignorance, and represents a paradigm shift in the study of culture.


Through the profound impact that her work has had on employees and organizations and the impact that it has and will continue to have on us as a nation and worldwide community, especially within the current political climate, Dr. Gelfand embodies the spirit of the OB Contributions to Society Award—her work clearly impacts society’s well-being and demonstrates the value of cross-cultural research not only to organizations but to society, itself.


Her global collaboration embodies a scholar who is determined to escape the narrow confines of Western research and foster communication and understanding across cultures. And her interdisciplinary collaboration embodies a visionary who sees beyond the restrictive silos of contemporary social science into a future when science can make a difference through solidarity. Without hesitation, we claim that there is no social scientist alive today who has more potential to make a major positive difference than Dr. Michele Gelfand. She deserves this award.