Tag Archives: Victoria Brescoll

“Honest Confidence” Enables Performance, Perceived Power

Confidence mobilizes people’s performance and increases others’ perceptions of competence, likeability, and persuasiveness – but may lead to careless errors that undermine performance.

David Dunning

David Dunning

Women and men show significantly different levels of confidence, with cascading effects on performance and participation in specific occupations.

For example women tend to underestimate their performance in scientific reasoning, but actually perform about equally to men, found Cornell’s David Dunning and Washington State University psychologist Joyce Ehrlinger in their investigation of women’s low representation in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) academic programs and work roles.
They concluded that women underestimate their performance, based on lower levels of confidence.

Joyce Ehrlinger

Joyce Ehrlinger

In a related tasks, Dunning and Ehrlinger invited these volunteers to participate in a science competition for prizes.
Women were less likely to accept the invitation than men, also attributed to lower confidence in their capabilities in scientific tasks.
The researchers pointed to low confidence as a source of women’s proportionally lower participation in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) job roles.

Jessica Kennedy

Jessica Kennedy

Confidence – even unjustified confidence – seems to lead  observers to perceive assured individuals as competent, high status leaders, found Wharton’s  Jessica A. Kennedy, Cameron Anderson of University of California at Berkeley, and Don A. Moore.

Cameron Anderson

Cameron Anderson

They asked more than 240 students to estimate their confidence in identifying “historical” names and events, which included real and bogus entries.
Some participants said they could identify items that were actually fake, indicating that they believed – or wanted to convey – they knew more than they actually did.

Don A Moore

T Don A Moore

Then, Kennedy and team asked participants to rate each other based on status in the group.
Volunteers who said they could identify the most fraudulent items were rated as most prominent in the group, suggesting that confidence, even false confidence, contributes to perceived status.
The team suggested that overconfident volunteers genuinely believed their self-assessments, their confidence persuaded their peers of their task skill and commitment to the group’s success.

Ernesto Reuben

Ernesto Reuben

Honest overconfidence,” was also observed by Ernesto Reuben of Columbia, Paola Sapienza of Northwestern University, and University of Chicago’s Luigi Zingales, in their finding that men rated their performance on a set of math problems to be about 30 percent better than it was, whereas women underestimated their performance.

Carol Dweck

Carol Dweck

The power of honest and unjustified confidence may be rooted in childhood socialization patterns, observed Stanford’s Carol Dweck:  Boys’ mistakes are attributed to a lack of effort (whereas)…girls … see mistakes as a reflection of their deeper qualities.”
These different types of feedback lead men to attribute negative outcomes to external factors like unfairly difficult task, but women attribute undesirable results to their personal qualities like low ability.

Confidence is reflected in employees’ willingness to speak in work settings, and those who speak more than others are considered dominant.
However, women who exert authority by speaking more than others, even when they are in senior organizational levels, may alienate others and be seen as less capable.

Victoria Brescoll

Victoria Brescoll

Yale’s Victoria Brescoll found that even senior-level women hesitate to speak as much senior-level men due to anticipated negative reaction from others.

These concerns were validated by Brescolls investigation of men’s and women’s rating of a fictitious female CEO who talked more than other people.
Both women and men evaluated the female CEO as significantly less competent and less suited to leadership than a male CEO who talked for the same amount of time.
However, when the female CEO was described as talking less than others, participants rated her as significantly more competent.

Roger Shepard

Roger Shepard

Similarly, a high-power male who talked much less was evaluated as incompetent and undeserving of leadership, just like the high-power female who spoke more than average.
Brescoll suggested that these reactions are associated with stereotypic gender expectations.

Roger Shepard-Jacqueline MetzlerAs a result, women are unlikely to increase confidence, perceived status and power by speaking and behaving like men because this approach would violate gender stereotype expectations, leading to a “backlash” effect.

Zachary Estes

Zachary Estes

However, when women are “primed” to experience confidence, they performed better on 3D rotation spatial tasks in Roger Shepard and Jacqueline Metzler’s Mental Rotations Test, reported University of Warwick’s Zachary Estes and Sydney Felker, then of University of Georgia Health Center.

In one set of tests, women and men performed similarly when women and men again completed each item and reported their:
Confidence level in their answers,
-Whether they would change their responses if given the opportunity.

Women’s performance dropped below previous scores whereas men’s increased significantly when they elected to change answers.
Second-guessing” and “over-thinking” eroded women’s confidence which affected their scores.

Albert Bandura

Albert Bandura

People who have a strong sense of efficacy focus their attention on analyzing and figuring out solutions to problems, whereas those beset with self-doubts of their efficacy tend to turn their attention inwardly and become self-preoccupied with evaluative concerns when their efforts prove unsuccessful,” explained Stanford’s Albert Bandura and Forest Jourdan.

Robert K Merton

Robert K Merton

However, both men and women significantly improved their scores after they were told that they achieved high scores on the previous test irrespective of actual score.
This finding demonstrates the performance-enhancing effect of positive expectancy, and replicated “The Rosenthal Effect,” or “self-fulfilling prophecy,” described by Robert K. Merton of Columbia.

Jeffrey Vancouver

Jeffrey Vancouver

Confidence may have performance-eroding effects despite much previous research documenting performance-enhancing effects, according to Ohio University’s Jeffrey Vancouver and Charles Thompson, with University of Cincinnati’s E. Casey Tischner, and Dan Putka of Human Resources Research Organization.

Dan Putka

Dan Putka

They primed confidence or “self-efficacy” among half the participants in an analytic game, and found that those who received positive feedback about their performance didn’t perform as well in the next game, and were more likely to make logical errors.

Vancouver and team suggested that participants whose confidence was artificially-inflated tended to apply less mental effort to challenging tasks before attempting the next item.

Fortunately, actual skill trumps inflated confidence.
Women considering technical training and careers may be reassured by Kennedy and team’s observation that, “…Acting capable was beneficial, but actually being capable was better.”

However, these findings suggest that women aspiring to STEM careers are likely to be more effective when they create a “hybrid” style of communication and professional presence, drawing on behaviors that demonstrate confidence, competence, and proactivity without violating gender-linked expectations.

-*How do you capitalize on the performance-enhancing effects of confidence without alienating others or reducing future performance efforts?

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Managerial Gender Bias in Granting Flex Time, Backlash Against Men Flex-Time Seekers

Managers hold gender biases in granting flex time requests, and most employees inaccurately anticipate managers’ likelihood of approving these proposals, found Yale’s Victoria Brescoll with Jennifer Glass of University of Texas-Austin and Harvard’s Alexandra Sedlovskaya.

Victoria Brescoll

Victoria Brescoll

Men across job levels were more likely than women to receive flex time to pursue career advancement or to address family issues, found their survey of 76 managers.

Jennifer Glass

Jennifer Glass

Men in high-status jobs were more likely receive approval for career development, and men in low-level jobs tended to get flex time for family issues.
Both groups were more likely than women to receive requested work schedule accommodations.

Women in low-status jobs with childcare requirements were among the least likely to receive accommodations from their managers.
In addition, all employees tended to overestimate the likelihood of receiving a flexible work schedule and underestimate “backlash” after the request.

Women in high-status jobs requesting flextime for career advancement were most likely to expect their requests would be granted, yet they had a lower approval rate than men in high-status jobs.
Conversely, these schedule-accommodated men were least likely to believe they would receive flextime for career development reasons, yet they often received approval.

Brescoll suggested that men in high-status positions who are granted flex time to pursue career development achieve more rapid career advancement.
In contrast, women in high-status roles who request flex time for the same purpose may “…be suspected of hiding the true reason for their request, or they may be viewed as less deserving of further training because it’s assumed that they’ll leave their jobs in the future.”

Women in the workplace encounter a “gendered wall of resistance” (schedule accommodation denials due to gender), whereas men face “status-specific resistance” (objections based on reason for flex time request), according to Brescoll.

Employees’ lack of awareness of managerial bias in granting flextime coupled with realistic concern about negative consequences of workplace accommodation requests can lead to lower productivity, unnecessary turnover and persistent social problems like child poverty and lack of upward mobility for low-wage workers.

Laurie Rudman

Laurie Rudman

In fact, volunteers attributed more “feminine” traits (weakness, uncertainty) and fewer “masculine” traits (competitiveness, ambition) to male leave requestors, found Laurie Rudman and Kris Mescher of Rutgers University.

Kris Mescher

Kris Mescher

Rudman and Mescher asked volunteers of both genders and diverse ethnic backgrounds to evaluate fictional vignettes concerning men who requested a 12-week family leave to care for a sick child or an ailing mother.

Participants attributed poor organizational citizenship (“bad worker stigma”) to men who requested family leave and recommended organizational penalties (e.g., demotion, layoff, ineligibility for bonus) for them.

When men were viewed with the “feminine stigma” of “weakness” and other traditionally-feminine characteristics, they were more likely to incur organizational penalties.

Joseph Vandello

Joseph Vandello

Jennifer Bosson

Jennifer Bosson

The impact of these stigmas on men seeking flexible work arrangements was confirmed in related research by University of South Florida’s Joseph Vandello, Vanessa Hettinger, Jennifer  Bosson, and Jasmine Siddiqi.

Their experimental study found that volunteers assigned lower job evaluations, less masculine and more feminine traits to employees who requested flex time than those with traditional work arrangements.

Jasmine Siddiqi

Jasmine Siddiqi

However, evaluators judged requestors as “warmer” and more “moral,” suggesting that flexibility-seeking employees may be more well-liked and judged as a desirable work colleague.

-*How do you counteract implicit biases in approving workplace flexibility arrangements?

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Air Time Matters: Speak Up in the First Five Minutes of a Meeting

More than thirty years ago, University of Florida’s Marvin Shaw observed that participation in small group approximates the 80/20 Principle:

Marvin Shaw

Marvin Shaw

In a 5 member team, 2 members make 70% of comments
In a  6 member team, 3 members make 70% of comments
In a  8 member team, 3 members make 67% of comments

Most of the comment contributors were men, and those who speak most are typically viewed as most influential, according to Melissa Thomas-Hunt of University of Virginia.
This suggests that women can be at a disadvantage in groups if they don’t speak up.

Melissa Thomas-Hunt

Melissa Thomas-Hunt

Thomas-Hunt found that women were less influential in small groups even when they possessed specific expertise in survival skills, a stereotypically male endeavor.
Further, women with elite knowledge were judged as less expert by others.

Conversely, men who possessed expertise were more influential than expert women.
Overall group task performance was affected by these dynamics:  Groups with a female expert made less accurate assessments than groups with a male expert, perhaps because females’ expertise was discounted or ignored due to gender-related expectations for specific competencies.

Christopher Karpowitz

Christopher Karpowitz

Women spoke less when there are fewer women in a group, but not when women predominated and decisions were made by majority rule, according to Christopher Karpowitz of Brigham Young University, Princeton University’s Tali Mendelberg and Lee Shaker of Portland State University.

Tali Mendelberg

Tali Mendelberg

They also found that women spoke equally in small groups when there were few women but the decision required unanimous vote.
One implication is that women benefit from building consensus when they are in the minority.

Powerful women who talk more than male counterparts incur backlash from both male and female observers, according to Victoria Brescoll of Yale.

Victoria Brescoll

Victoria Brescoll

In an experimental study, both female and male volunteers read about a female CEO who talked longer than others.  They judged her as significantly less competent and less suitable for leadership than a male CEO who was reported to speak for the same amount of time.

A high-power woman who talked much less than others was judged as equally competent and capable of leading as a high-power man who talked much more than others.
Raters were less generous in their ratings of a high-power male who talked much less than others:  He was judged as equally incompetent and unsuitable for leadership as a high-power female who talked much more than expected.

This suggests that both men and women are punished for behaviors different from gender-role expectations.

Lee Shaker

Lee Shaker

Women’s tendency not to speak up in groups begins well before they enter the workplace, found Harvard’s Catherine Krupnick.
She and her team investigated differences between male and female students’ participation in classroom discussion and the impact of the instructor’s gender on students’ participation.

They reviewed videotapes of 12 women and 12 men instructors, and concluded that male students talked two and a half times longer than female students when the instructor was male and the majority of the students were male — a frequent situation in many educational and work organizations.
On the other hand, female students spoke almost three times longer when instructors were female.

Women students were interrupted more frequently than their male counterparts, most often by other women, and leading them to withdraw from the discussion for the remainder of the class.

Krupnick posited that women’s lower participation in classrooms – and perhaps in other small groups – may be explained by their:

  • Unwillingness to compete against men,
  • Vulnerability to interruption,
  • Unwillingness to interject into men’s and other women’s long uninterrupted statements, known as “discourse runs,”
  • Individual differences in assertiveness, confidence, and speed of formulating responses.
Elizabeth Aries

Elizabeth Aries

Amherst’s Elizabeth Aries noticed that groups composed entirely of women students tended to have a participatory style in which women took turns and spoke for about equal amounts of time throughout the class hour.

In contrast, male groups appeared more contest-like, with extremely uneven amounts of talk per man.
They competed by telling personal anecdotes or raising their voices to establish hierarchies of participation, and this competitive style persisted in mixed-gender groups.

Kathleen Welch-Torres, then of Yale, compared women’s and men’s assertiveness in class discussions at Yale and Brown (mixed-gender institution) with women’s class participation at Wellesley and Smith (single-gender).
She reported that women at both of the mixed-sex institutions were verbally less assertive than men, by using “hedges,” qualifiers and questioning intonations.
However, women at the single-gender institutions Smith and Wellesley were more assertive than women at Yale and Brown and more assertive than men at the coeducational institutions.

Larraine Zappert

Larraine Zappert

Kendyll Stansbury

Kendyll Stansbury

Welch-Torres linked these behaviors to measures of self-esteem and her findings are similar to those of Stanford’s Laraine Zappert and Kendyll Stansbury  who reported that female graduate students held lower self-esteem, less trust in their judgments, and greater fear of making mistakes than male graduate students.

Recommendations to help women move toward fuller participation in small groups from Melissa Thomas-Hunt and Margaret Neale of Stanford include:

Margaret Neale

Margaret Neale

  • Before a meeting:
    • Ask trusted attendees to:
      • Support your ideas during the meeting,
      • Solicit your input in the meeting,
    • Refer to your specific expertise during the meeting,
    • Set a goal for number of contributions in the first five minutes of a meeting.
    • In a meeting:
      • If interrupted: Restate, rephrase and provide specific evidence based on expertise,
      • Showcase  others’ expertise by soliciting their input,
      • Create environment in which  other participants have equal opportunity to participate,
      • Urge members to consider each alternative, rather than disregarding suggestions presented by “lower status” individual.

-*How do you ensure that your expertise is recognized and influential in small group settings?

*What “best practices” do you apply to ensure active participation by women and minority-group members?

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Women Who Express Anger Seen as Less Influential

Jessica Salerno

Jessica Salerno

Men, but not women, who expressed anger were more likely to influence their peers in computer-mediated mock jury proceedings, evaluated by Arizona State University’s Jessica Salerno and Liana Peter-Hagene of University of Illinois.

In fact, they found that women who expressed anger are seen as less influential, reinforcing trends reported in a previous blog post.

Liana Peter-Hagene

Liana Peter-Hagene

More than 200 U.S. jury-eligible volunteers reviewed a presentation summarizing opening and closing statements in a homicide, and related eyewitness testimonies, crime scene photographs, and an image of the alleged weapon.

Participants rendered an initial guilty or not guilty verdict, then exchanged instant messages by computer, with “peers” who were said to be deliberating their verdict decisions.

In fact, “peer” messages were scripted, with four of the fictional jurors agreeing with the participant’s verdict, and one disagreeing.
The dissenting participant had a male user name or a female user name or a gender-neutral name.

Victoria Brescoll

Victoria Brescoll

Half of the dissenting “jurors”, both male and female, sent messages containing no emotion, anger, or fear.
These communications had no influence on participants’ opinions.
However, participants’ confidence in their verdict decision dropped significantly even when their vote was shared by the majority of other “jurors” but when a single “male dissenter” sent angry messages, characterized by “shouting” in all capital letters.

In contrast, volunteers became more confident in their initial verdict decisions when their vote was echoed by the majority of other participants.
These participants’ assurance was not significantly diminished when a single female dissenter responded with angry emotional message, suggesting that “females” expressing the same angry message as males were discounted and contributed to greater conviction in the shared decision.

Eric Luis Uhlmann

Eric Luis Uhlmann

Previously, Yale University’s Victoria Brescoll and Eric Luis Uhlmann, now of HEC Paris School of Management, demonstrated that both male and female evaluators conferred lower status on angry female professionals, regardless of the actual occupational rank, compared with angry male professionals.

They reported that evaluators assigned lower status to female CEOs as well as to female trainees when they expressed anger, despite these women’s varying job role statuses.

Kristi Lewis Tyran

Kristi Lewis Tyran

In addition, men who expressed anger in a professional context were conferred higher status than men who expressed sadness.
Likewise, women who expressed anger and sadness were rated less effective than women who shared no emotion, according to Kristi Lewis Tyran of Western Washington University.

Evaluators judged men’s angry reactions more generously, attributing these emotional expressions to understandable external circumstances, such as having external pressure and demands.

This differential judgment of anger by men and women suggests that women who do not regulate their emotional expressions are more harshly evaluated because their behaviors deviate from expected societal, gender, and cultural norms.

-*What impacts and consequences have you observed for women and men who express anger at work?

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Women’s Self-Advocacy: Self-Promotion and Violating the “Female Modesty” Norm

Corinne Moss-Racusin

Corinne Moss-Racusin

Many women experience anxiety and stress when required to showcase their accomplishments and skills, yet many in the U.S. have repeatedly heard that self-promotion, personal marketing, and “selling yourself” are required to be recognized and rewarded at work.

Gender norms about “modesty,” or holding a moderate opinion of one’s accomplishments and skills, lacking pretentiousness, minimizing responsibility for success, and accepting responsibility for failure, all contribute to women’s discomfort in showcasing their accomplishments.

Laurie Rudman

Laurie Rudman

By contrast, many American men freely share their accomplishments, which leads others to see them as “competent,” “capable,” and “confident.”
In fact, Skidmore’s Corinne Moss-Racusin, Julie Phelan of Langer Research Associates and Rutgers’ Laurie Rudman reported a “backlash” against men who adopt the “modesty” norm and do not advertise their successes.

Women from cultures that value cooperation, collaboration, and collective accomplishment over individual recognition have even greater challenges adopting local career advancement strategies.

Marie‐Hélène Budworth

Marie‐Hélène Budworth

Yet, conforming to these norms limits women’s career advancement, found York University‘s MarieHélène Budworth and Sara L. Mann of University of Guelph.

Deborah A. Small

Deborah A. Small

Women who adhere to implicit “female modesty” expectations experience this career handicap because they are less likely to ask for promotions and raises.
This reluctance to ask contributed to women’s long-term pay disparity in research by University of Pennsylvania’s Deborah A. Small, Linda Babcock of Carnegie Mellon University, University of Maryland’s Michele Gelfand and Hilary Gettman.

Peter Glick

Peter Glick

However, if women violate “modesty norms”, they can experience discrimination in hiring, promotion, and wages, found Rutgers’ Rudman and Peter Glick of Lawrence University along with other adverse interpersonal consequences, reported by Yale’s Victoria Brescoll.

Mark Zanna

Mark Zanna

In addition, people who violate norms typically experience situational arousal including discomfort, anxiety, fear, nervousness, perspiration, increased heart rate, noted University of Waterloo’s Mark Zanna and Joel Cooper of Princeton.

However, if women attribute this physical activation to something other than the norm violation, they were more likely to engage in self-promotion, express interest in self-promotion, and more effectively and extensively describe their accomplishments.
One example is described in a recent blog post when “anxiety” was reattributed as “excitement”, leading to improved performance.

Jessi L Smith

Jessi L Smith

Despite women’s career “double bind,” targeted interventions can help women to communicate more effectively about their successes, noted Montana State University’s Jessi L. Smith and Meghan Huntoon.

More than 75 women wrote sample essays for a merit-based “scholarship” valued up to $5,000.
One group was composed essays about their own accomplishments whereas another group wrote about another person’s accomplishments.

Andrew Elliott

Andrew Elliott

In addition, they completed Achievement Goal Questionnaire – Revised by University of Rochester Andrew Elliot and Kou Murayama of Tokyo Institute of Technology to evaluate “performance approach” and “performance avoidance.”

The laboratory contained a black box described as a “subliminal noise generator.”
Half the volunteers were told the box produced “inaudible but potentially uncomfortable ultra-high frequency noise,” and they were later asked to evaluate “the effects of extraneous distractions on task performance.”
The remaining participants received no information about the black box.

Victoria Brescoll

Victoria Brescoll

Women who could attribute their experience to the “noise generator” produced higher-quality, more convincing descriptions of their achievements, measured by being “awarded” significantly higher scholarships prizes – up to $1,000 more.
In addition, these women said they were more interested in the task, which is typically associated with greater intrinsic motivation to showcase personal accomplishments

In contrast, women who violated the “modesty” norm without reference to the “noise generator” said they were less interested in describing their achievements, negatively evaluated their performance, produced lower-quality essays, and were more likely to fear failurethan when they advocated for another woman.

Women perceived as displaying their accomplishments in essays were negatively evaluated by judges, who “awarded” an average of $1,500 less to people wrote about their own accomplishments rather than about someone else’s.

Leon Festinger

Leon Festinger

One “workaround” for women’s double bind is to reciprocally advocate for female colleagues.
This strategy highlights women’s accomplishments as organizational policies evolve to support and encourage women’s self-promotion.
An example is Google’s self-nomination process for advancement and promotion, coupled with reminder emails to submit self-nominations.

When women reconstrue self-promotion, “selling” and “marketing” professional accomplishments as “part of the job,” they tend to experience less “cognitive dissonance” and perform more effectively when showcasing their capabilities.

  • How do you manage the norm against women “bragging” and showcasing their accomplishments?

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Expressing Anger at Work: Power Tactic or Career-Limiting Strategy?

Organizational pressures including complex relationships, chronic constraints, high stakes, and factors beyond individual control can lead to anger expressions at work.

Victoria Brescoll

Victoria Brescoll

Women and men receive differing evaluations of status, competence, leadership effectiveness when they express anger
Yale University’s Victoria Brescoll and Eric Luis Uhlmann, now of HEC Paris School of Management, report that  both male and female evaluators conferred lower status on angry female professionals, regardless of the actual occupational rank, than on angry male professionals.

Eric Luis Uhlmann

Eric Luis Uhlmann

The team found that evaluators assigned lower status to female CEOs as well as to female trainees when expressed anger, despite these women’s varying  job role statuses.

In addition, men who expressed anger in a professional context were conferred higher status than men who expressed sadness.

Kristi Lewis Tyran

Kristi Lewis Tyran

Similarly, women who express anger and sadness are rated less effective than women who express no emotion, according to Kristi Lewis Tyran of Western Washington University.

Building on Brescoll and Uhlmann’s findings, Tyran’s laboratory study found that men who expressed sadness received lower effectiveness ratings than those who expressed in neutral emotions.

Observers also attribute different motivations and “root causes” to anger expressions by women and men.
Brescoll and Uhlmann found that  evaluators attribute women’s angry emotional reactions to less changeable internal characteristics such as “she is an angry person,” and “she is out of control”.

Men seem to get “the benefit of the doubt” from evaluators, who attributed men’s angry reactions to external circumstances, such as having external pressure and demands.

Managers who help employees deal with angry feelings and expressions at work may be seen as more powerful and effective leaders by employees.

Ginka Toegel

Ginka Toegel

Ginka Toegel and Anand Narasimhan of IMD Lausanne with University College London’s Martin Kilduff found that employees expect managers to provide emotional support, and attribute leadership qualities to managers who provide emotional support in their analysis of a recruiting agency headquarters.

Further, employees considered that managerial support requires no reciprocation because it is a role expectation.

Anand Narasimhan

Anand Narasimhan

Managers have a contrasting view:   They consider providing emotional support as “above-and-beyond the call of duty” and outside their role requirements.
As a result, most managers believe that employees have an obligation to reciprocate or express gratitude and are disappointed  when employees fail to show appreciation for emotional support.

Martin Kilduff

Martin Kilduff

These discrepant views may reflect employees’ view of managers as having:

  • Formal authority based on their job roles
  • Parental-like authority, based on their help-giving.
Donald Gibson

Donald Gibson

Fairfield University’ s Donald Gibson and Ronda Callister of Utah State University note societal and cultural norms and expectations for women to regulate anger expressions and the resulting negative consequences that follow violations of these expectations.

Rhonda Callister

Rhonda Callister

Women may buffer the status-lowering , competence-eroding, and dislike-provoking consequences of anger at work by:

-*What impacts and consequences have you observed for people who express anger in the workplace?

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Role Pioneers May Encounter “The Glass Cliff”

Sally Ride

Sally Ride

Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer

Holding a role usually occupied by the other gender can lead to significant media coverage, such as Sally Ride’s selection as an astronaut or Marissa Mayer’s appointment as CEO of Yahoo while in the later stages of her first pregnancy.

However, incumbents of roles usually held by people of the other gender can evoke harsh judgments about competence and suitability for leadership roles, according to Yale’s Victoria Brescoll and Erica Dawson with Eric Luis Uhlmann of HEC Paris.

Victoria Brescoll

Victoria Brescoll

This effect was most noticeable when both male and female leaders in “gender-incongruous” roles made minor errors in experimental studies.
Both male and female evaluators judged minor mistakes as indicators of role incompetence when male and female leaders held jobs typically performed by the other gender.

Erica Dawson

Erica Dawson

Brescoll, Dawson and Uhlmann suggested that “gender-incongruous” roles are seen as “ambiguous” by observers, leading to uncertainty, and negative assessments to “restore implicit order.”
The team referred to this rater bias as the “glass cliff effect.”

The researchers concluded that “the high status and senior leadership achieved by both men and women in gender-incongruent roles is fragile, vulnerable and unstable.”

Eric Luis Uhlmann

Eric Luis Uhlmann

This effect may be due to both the role’s gender incongruity and high status.
An earlier blog post highlighted Alison Fragale’s demonstration that higher status individuals are judged more harshly than lower status people when they make the same mistakes.

Alison Fragale

Alison Fragale

Her team at University of North Carolina found that observers in two experiments attributed greater intentionality, malevolence, self-concern to the actions of high status wrongdoers – and recommended harsher punishment for the same actions that earned lower status people “the benefit of the doubt.”

Although Brescol, Dawson and Uhlmann did not offer recommendations to mitigate the risks of being a pioneer in holding non-traditional job roles, Fragale’s team found that high status wrongdoers could protect from the impact of subsequent mistakes by demonstrating, warmth and concern for others and engaging in charitable giving.

Other strategies to consider include:

  • Cultivating strong executive alliances and sponsorship
  • Assembling a risk mitigation team to provide expert messaging during a crisis, focusing on external attributions of the error
  • Balancing demonstrated competence with the “humanness” of a small error
  • Offering plans for future action unrelated to the error to demonstrate decisive leadership and action-orientation.

-*What approaches are most effective to mitigate “The Glass Cliff”?

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Women’s Likeability – Competence Dilemma: Overcoming the Backlash Effect

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