Women face significant workplace challenges when they “succeed” in traditionally-male roles, found New York University’s Madeline Heilman, Aaron Wallen, Daniella Fuchs and Melinda Tamkins.
The team conducted three experimental studies on volunteers’ reactions to a woman’s success in a male gender-typed job.
They found that when a woman is recognized as successful in roles dominated by men, they are less liked than equally successful men in the same fields.
Likewise, successful women managers avoided interpersonal hostility, dislike, and undesirability when they or others conveyed “communal” attributes through their behaviors, testimonials of others, or their role as mothers, found Heilman in a study with University of Queensland’s Tyler Okimoto.
This competence-likability disconnect was demonstrated by Stanford’s Frank Flynn in a Harvard Business School case of Silicon Valley venture capitalist and entrepreneur Heidi Roizen, who was seen as competent but disliked.
He and collaborator Cameron Anderson of UC Berkeley changed Heidi’s name to “Howard Roizen” for half of the students.
Participants who read the Heidi case and the Howard case rated each on perceived competence and likability.
Heidi was rated as equally highly competent and effective as Howard, but unlikable and selfish.
Most participants said they wouldn’t want to hire her or work with her.
Whitney Johnson-Lisa Joy Rosner
A more recent example of backlash toward high-profile, accomplished women was illustrated in social media mentions of Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg and Anne-Marie Slaughter,
Whitney Johnson, co-founder of Rose Park Advisors (Disruptive Innovation Fund) and her colleague Lisa Joy Rosner evaluated “Brand Passion Index” (BPI) for Mayer, Sandberg, and Slaughter over 12 months by:
- Activity (number of media mentions),
- Sentiment (positive or negative emotional tone),
- Intensity (strong or weak sentiment).
These competent, well-known women were not liked, and were evaluated with harsh negative attributions based on media coverage and at-a-distance observations:
- Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s former CEO, was described as impressive and super-smart, and annoying, a terrible bully,
- Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg‘s was characterized as truly excellent, successful working mom and crazy bizarre,
- Anne-Marie Slaughter, former director of Policy Planning at the U.S. State Department, was depicted as an amazing, successful mother and destructive, not a good wife,
The competence-likability dilemma is also apparent in hiring behavior, demonstrated in experiments by Rutgers University’s Laurie Rudman and Peter Glick of Lawrence University.
Volunteers made “hiring decisions” for male and female “candidates” competing for a “feminized” managerial role and a “masculinized” managerial role.
Applicants were presented as:
- “Agentic” (demonstrating stereotypically male behaviors) or
- “Communal” (displaying stereotypically female behaviors) or
- “Androgynous” (combining stereotypically male and female behaviors).
Women who displayed “masculine, agentic” traits were viewed as less socially acceptable and were not selected for the “feminized” job.
However, this hiring bias did not occur when agentic women applied for the “male” job.
Niceness was not rewarded when competing for jobs: Both male and female “communal” applicants received low hiring ratings.
However, combining niceness with agency seemed to buffer “androgynous” female applicants from discrimination in the simulated hiring process.
Rudman and Glick noted that “… women must present themselves as agentic to be hirable, but may therefore be seen as interpersonally deficient.”
They advised women to “temper their agency with niceness.”
Once women receive job offers, the competence-likability disconnect continues when they negotiate for salary and position, reported by Linda Babcock of Carnegie Mellon.
Her research demonstrated and replicated negative evaluations of women who negotiate for salaries using the same script as men.
The likability-competence dilemma may result from women’s challenges in integrating expansive, powerful body language with more submissive, appeasing behavior to build relationships and acknowledge others’ authority, suggested Stanford’s Deborah Gruenfeld.
She posited that many women have been socialized to adopt less powerful body positions and body language including:
- Tilting the head,
- Applying fleeting eye contact,
- Speaking in sentence fragments with uncertain, rising intonation at sentence endings.
In addition, many people expect women to behave in these ways, and negatively evaluate behaviors that differ from expectations.
Body language is the greatest contributor to split-second judgments (less than 100 milliseconds) of people’s competence, according to Gruenfeld.
She estimated that body language is responsible for about 55% of judgments, whereas self-presentation accounts for 38%, and words for just 7%.
Her earlier work considered the impact of body language on assessments of power, whereas her more recent work investigated gender differences in attributions of competence and likability.
The likability-competence conflict may be reduced by shifting from taking up physical space when demonstrating competence and authority.
Powerful body language may be risky for women unless counterbalanced with giving up physical space to convey approachability, empathy, and likability, she noted.
Posing in more powerful positions for as little as two minutes can change levels of testosterone, a marker of dominance, just as holding a submissive posture for the same time can increase cortisol levels, signaling stress, according to Gruenfeld.
She suggested that women practice “the mechanics of powerful body language.”
Women’s competence-likability dilemma is not mitigated by achieving workplace success and status.
University of North Carolina’s Alison Fragale, Benson Rosen, Carol Xu, Iryna Merideth found that successful women and men are judged more harshly for mistakes than lower status individuals who make identical errors.
Fragale’s team found that observers attributed greater intentionality, malevolence, self-concern to the actions of high status wrongdoers than the identical actions of low status wrongdoers.
Volunteers also recommended more severe punishments for higher status individuals in two experiments.
The team found preventive and reparative value in when women display warmth and likability.
Wrongdoers who demonstrated affiliative concern for others, charitable giving, and interpersonal warmth built goodwill that could protect from subsequent mistakes.
-*How do you convey both likability and competence?