Corporate Curves Report: The Subtle Bias

Scene in the television series Two Broke Girls: Caroline is changing into her ball gown in the bathroom while Max waits outside the stall, having already changed into hers. They are sneaking into a gala where they hope that Martha Stewart will taste one of their cupcakes.

 Martha

They talk about Martha, first in a positive manner, and then Max says she’s not perfect. Then Martha walks out of the stall next to Caroline’s. Caroline continues on about how “yeah, Martha is not perfect, I hear she’s a real ballcrusher” and goes on about that while Max tries to get her to stop, finally telling her to come out NOW.

When she does, she’s continues that she loves Martha for being a tough ballcrusher and a genius business woman. Also she says that some people say she’s a bitch herself when she really isn’t. Martha answers, “Well, that’s debatable.” The scene continues until they present the cupcake. Martha looks at Max in her very cleavage-y gown and says in a who-could-have-guessed tone, “You’re the baker?!?”

While this scene played on the telly, I was reading the Harvard Business Review article “Women Rising, The Unseen Barrier”.

 HBR cover

Basically, this study showed that the process of becoming a leader “is often more difficult for women than for men because of subtle biases. For example, behavior considered assertive in a man is seen as aggressive in a woman and thus denigrated rather than rewarded.”

The study’s suggestion for the path forward is that “naming those biases can help men and women alike to understand what’s going on. That frees women to focus more on leadership purpose and less on how they’re perceived.”

The study, same as the Two Broke Girls scene, points out that women are subjected to biased perceptions by women and men alike.

  • Caroline describes Martha as an aggressive bitch who can steamroll over men.
  • Caroline says that she’s been called a bitch as well in her “rich kid life”, often out of jealousy–by women.
  • Max is subjected to bias because of her looks–pretty booby girl can’t seriously be a business woman, can she?
Nine West jacket, Steve Madden scarf, Pepperberry dress and Clarks heels, Gucci frames.

Nine West jacket, Steve Madden scarf, Pepperberry dress, Clarks heels and Gucci frames. At 8 a.m. preparing for the 9 a.m. three-hour SCM workshop meeting with nine people, to be led by this columnist.

In the Harvard Business Review article there’s an example of a female investment banker whose career stalled in her thirties. “Her problem, she was told, was that she lacked ‘presence’ with clients (who were mostly older men) and was not sufficiently outspoken in meetings.” Amanda’s career got a boost later, and I will write more about the aspect of women growing to leadership roles in upcoming Corporate Curves Reports.

Women have many roles in life–daughter, partner, mother, lover, and professional in their chosen field. Historically, men’s roles aren’t as varied as women’s. I feel this is a root cause for the continuation of this subtle bias. As the article says, “Integrating one’s leadership into one’s core identity is particularly challenging for women, who must establish credibility in a culture that’s deeply conflicted about whether, when and how they should exercise authority.”

I plead guilty to sometimes judging women in the workplace more harshly than I do men. I can’t help it. I don’t intellectually wish to do so, but I also can’t help thoughts that just come to mind. At the same time, this makes me well aware that I’m judged in the same way by some other women, so I try to avoid doing, saying or looking like anything that I would personally judge. That of course won’t affect how others see me, but it makes me feel more confident.

162942_489838714734_1523147_n

Unshakeable self confidence is the key to overcoming this perception barrier. I would encourage my fellow women to embrace themselves, appreciate themselves, and build their own self-acceptance and self-confidence in a way that suits them personally. The world will always be subtly biased in some way, but we don’t need to let it get to us.

Comments

  1. Great post! I’ve seen this so often too in my own work place. I know in my generation it’s been easier for females (not saying easy but easier), but for the handful of women that are now at retiring age they almost all have a “reputation”. Whether it’s deserved or not.

  2. I enjoyed this, Tina. I had never thought of how many more roles women tend to play. It makes me wonder if, by integrating leadership in our “core identity”, we would then tend toward leadership in every role, which isn’t something I would necessarily want. It’s hard work being a leader! Also, can you share with us some of the things you avoid doing, saying or looking like that you would judge in other women?

    • I do feel that incorporating leadership in to our core indentity does make it hard not to be a leader in every field in life but then I personally feel I’ve always been a leadership persona which my competitive horse riding nurtured in my youth. It is often cited that women who are great with horses are natural leaders or have capacity for leadership. I need to let go and give room in other life fields than work.

      As for things I avoid doing or saying, hmm, touchy topic but ok. Cleavage at work, too edgy haircuts or clothes, too girly demeanor and the wrong kind of interaction with men. Just to generally name a few. Oh, and make fun of my figure so it’s not a busty topic!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] examines how subtle biases against women can prevent them from moving into leadership positions, citing a Harvard Business Review study and an example from “Two Broke [...]