· A New Yorker cartoon highlights a key struggle many women face at work.
· Often, women must choose between seeming confident and likable.
· The reason comes down to prescriptive stereotypes, where women are punished socially when they directly or seemingly violate how people think they should act.
It can be hard to keep track of all the different expectations and assumptions people have about women.
To say women walk a tightrope in the workplace would be an understatement.
As Dai highlighted in her cartoon, every day, women make tradeoffs between seeming smart, confident, and assertive and appearing warm and likeable.
The reason women are held to entirely different and much more critical standards as men comes down to gender bias.
According to research conducted by NYU psychology professor Madeline Heilman, women’s career advancements are often impeded by two kinds of gender stereotypes:
- Descriptive stereotypes attribute certain characteristics to women, like “caring,” “warm,” “modest,” and “emotional.” This creates problems, Heilman says, when there’s a disconnect between what women are perceived to be like and what attributes are necessary to successfully perform in male gender-typed roles.
- Prescriptive gender stereotypes designate what women and men should be like. With this kind of stereotyping, women are disapproved of and punished socially when they directly or seemingly violate the prescribed ways they should act.
Numerous studies have shown the disturbing role prescriptive gender stereotypes play in the workplace.
Another study conducted by Heilman showed that successful women working in “male domains” are penalised when they are perceived to be less nurturing or sensitive, since they violate gender-stereotypical prescriptions.
Women who violate prescriptions of modesty by promoting themselves at work were found to be less hireable in a Rutgers University study, and a study conducted by Harvard’s Hannah Riley Bowles showed women were penalised by evaluators more often than men for initiating negotiations, thus violating the prescription that women be passive.
After analysing more than 248 performance reviews, Kieran Snyder wrote in Fortune, “negative personality criticism — watch your tone! step back! stop being so judgmental! — shows up twice in the 83 critical reviews received by men. It shows up in 71 of the 94 critical reviews received by women.”
Women’s reviews included gems like, “You can come across as abrasive sometimes. I know you don’t mean to, but you need to pay attention to your tone,” and, “You would have had an easier time if you had been less judgmental about R — ‘s contributions from the beginning.”
And according to research by McKinsey & Co. and Lean In, which surveyed 132 companies employing more than 4.6 million people, women actually negotiate for promotions and raises more often than men do, but they’re far less likely to receive them. Again, the issue is that, when women negotiate, people like them less for it.
The study found that women who negotiate are 30% more likely than men who negotiate to receive feedback that they are “intimidating,” “too aggressive,” or “bossy” — and they are 67% more likely than women who don’t negotiate at all to receive the same negative feedback.
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