Women’s health is human health. Period.

By Erika Harrington

A few months back, news broke that Italy has introduced new legislation requiring workplaces to offer three days of menstrual leave each month for female employees. News flash: It’s highly controversiallet’s try to break it down together.

While we traditionally base InformHer articles on academic research, there isn’t a lot to go on here. So instead, I’ll offer an overview of the conversation surrounding menstrual leave, and while I’m at it, make a tasteful call to researchers to explore this topic further.

My attempts to find such research revealed the under-explored world of menstruation’s social and psychological implications. There are studies about the attractiveness of women with endometriosis. Attractiveness. Not actual health or, you know, treatments. I’ll let you ponder that.

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Okay, let’s refocus. Menstrual leave, what is it? According to the legislation, women who suffer from dysmenorrhoea–or debilitating menstrual pain–are entitled to 3 days of menstrual leave each month. This accommodates women’s unique needs without cutting into the sick leave that their male co-workers also receive. While some find this sensible and well intended, others were quick to point out the faults in the policy.

For one, some feel that this is not fair at it’s core because it gives women special treatment. Scrolling through article comments and hearing general sentiments about working women from public figures like our dear president’s son, it’s clear that many people believe that if women can’t handle the demands of the workplace, they shouldn’t be in it.” *Rolls eyes*

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On the other hand, many proponents of female empowerment disagree with this legislation because they think it diminishes women’s perceived abilities. They believe policies like these send a message that women are weaker people who need to be coddled *rolls eyes a little less*. With that, many of those on this side of the debate think a solution is not to give women added days alone, but rather push for more sick leave for all employees (which could be beneficial for those with chronic conditions that are completely unrelated to their sex).

Further, there’s an audible viewpoint that I haven’t been able to find in the public discussion, but was mentioned to me by a fellow InformHer writer. She explained that if your cramps are painful enough that you can’t go to work, it’s indicative a larger health issue that should be better researched and treated—like endometriosis, adenomyosis, STI’s, miscarriages, or fibroids, all of which which affect hundreds of millions of women across the world but are both under-diagnosed and (often) incorrectly diagnosed.

The reality is some women experience extreme pain that can lead to nausea, vomiting, lightheadedness, fainting, anemia, and diarrhea–symptoms that you’d experience once a month, or even daily in some cases. Currently, the only non-surgical way to mask (not treat) these symptoms are often hormonal birth control medications, especially IUDs and implants.

My take on this situation? What we need is to stop looking at women as only economic commodities, and as real people who need improved access to research (and doctors well-versed in this research who can treat them). Because a healthcare system that doesn’t acknowledge a uterus as more than a special interest is just wrong. Period.

The Fortune 500 Popularity Contest

By Rachel Garretson 

We all know that board numbers are critical to success in basketball (ok, maybe not all of us), but what about numbers on different types of boards? Say…corporate boards? What numbers matter there?  

Bear, Rahman, and Post used data from the Fortune 2009 World’s Most Admired Companies List and the Mergent database of annual reports (as well as various other public sources) to conduct a study on how how diverse members on a corporate advisory board affect a company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) score.

Spoiler alert: diversity matters.

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    For those who might need a crash course in CSR ratings (I know I did), they’re a big deal. Good scores attract more job applicants, obviously, since none of us want to work for a company with a bad reputation, and they’re linked with high job satisfaction for current employees—because hey, if all your buddies think the place you work at is awesome, you’re going to feel better about your job and be less likely to start seeking work elsewhere.

    Beyond providing benefits to employees, good CSR ratings enhance corporate image itself, helping organizations grow. It also positively affects ~minor~ things like financial performance, institutional investment, and share price. And further, companies can accumulate it like capital. If companies have a lot of them, they can be used to offset a some of the consequences of any nasty little publicity crises that may happen along. We’re more likely to forgive a mistake by a company we like than a company we already hate.

    So CSR ratings are a big deal for the companies, but why did these researchers care? The bottom line is that they found gender diversity on a company’s board helps increase CSR ratings. For example, women bring different ideas to the table and differing decision-making styles to the table. This benefits the company in general, as almost all successful corporations pride themselves on innovation. Another way women helped out is just that they tend to be more aware of and sensitive to CSR. Since women are more aware of the company’s reputation and how that can affect it, they make more conscientious decisions that take those factors into consideration. In fact, women just being present is a big factor. Not just one token woman too. What our fearless researchers found was that as the percentage of women on the board increased, corporate reputation increased as well.

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Need another reason to expand diversity efforts within your organization, especially by including more women? Now you have it. When boss ladies join the table, everyone else benefits, too.

Now I’m Mad

By Erika Harrington

Have you all seen the #BlackWomenAtWork hashtag? If you haven’t, you need to check it out right now. Sparked by Bill O’Reilly’s comments towards congresswoman Maxine Walter, the trending tag is a perfect example of the layered problems professional women of color face throughout their careers, a problem characterized by a policing of emotions and anger.

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But let’s back up for a second. What are we talking about when we talk about “anger”?

A snide comment? A side-eye? The silent treatment? Or, if you’re like me, a tearful and dramatic outburst? However you show it, we all get angry sometimes. Things get frustrating, things get tough, and people get vicious. And they can get frustrating with family, get tough with friends, and peopleyes, even professional peopleget vicious at work.

It’s natural and it’s something you can recover from…right?

Well, let me clarifyit’s easy for some people to recover from. It’s a little tougher for women because when they get mad, it tends to be perceived as the result of their over-emotional and irrational nature. But we’ve already covered this.

And we know there’s a misconception that when women get angry, it’s because they’re just inherently emotional. But men? Well, men were obviously just reacting to something upsetting.

Now this actually makes me mad. If Tina from accounting has been dodging my emails and skipping our meetings, and our project doesn’t get done because we never worked out the budget, and then my boss chews me out for not delivering, I’m going to be bitter. And Tina and I might have to have an unpleasantyet professionalconversation. And no one, and I mean no one is going to tell me that it’s my fault that I’m mad. Yes, yes, we all know there’s more to it than thatbut you get my point.

So I’ve spent a lot of time ranting on something we’ve already read about–I just can’t help it, these matters always get me riled up. Must be my angry nature, right? I want to take time to remind you all that is even worse for women of color, specifically black women who have to deal with the ~angry black woman~ trope.  

Researchers Durr and Wingfield did an extensive study of black, female professionals with participant observation and in-depth interviews. One notable conclusion was the strain and wasted energy that participants experienced when trying to avoid certain stereotypes. They find themselves constantly worried that they aren’t controlling their emotions well enough. They must “pick their battles” so that they aren’t viewed unprofessionally, but the reality is that, in any job there are times where you have to fight for the ideas that you believe in.

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So while it’s more than troublesome that black women deal with a constant threat of being stereotyped, it’s especially problematic when avoiding the stereotype hinders one’s ability to forward their contributions. This can have long-term effects on careers if it prevents individuals from taking the career risks that are key to success. Speaking of impacts on career, let’s consider the emotional cost of constantly worry about not acting “too black” for the workplace. All that time black women spend concerned with image, they could spend doing, oh I don’t know, their actual job maybe?

So what’s the solution here? Well, many advise women to make sure that their anger is accompanied with justifications. When things get frustrating, make sure you’re communicating in a level-headed manner, with fool-proof explanations so your accuser can’t claim that you’re acting irrational. This is good advice day-to-day advice for black women. But let’s also encourage others  to make work environments inclusive and free of prejudice. If your black, female co-worker gets mad and “goes off,” and you find yourself thinking “typical,” then you need to check yourself. Better yet, be willing to check others. A simple “I think her response was appropriate given the situation,” can go a long way at the water cooler.  Remind yourself, or anyone who makes comments like these, that they aren’t angry because they’re black, they’re angry because it be like that sometimes.

I’m Sorry, it’s Not Me–It’s All of Us: Truth Told by Transmen in the Workplace

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By Joey Konrad

Have you ever pointed out a troubling gender pattern at your work, only to have it explained away in personal terms? Maybe it sounded something like this “I think you’re overreacting, he’s a jerk to everyone,” or “oh, that’s just how we do things around here, you’ll get used to it” or my favorite “it’s just a joke, why are you being so sensitive?”

If only there was a way to find out if it really is about gender, rather than the person! Of course the best way to do that would be to change a person’s gender, while keeping the actual person the same, and that would be impossi….wait, maybe not.

Transmen are individuals who were assigned female sex at birth but whose gender identity aligns with men. Many transmen transition from a women’s to a men’s identity while a part of a workforce. That means this group of transmen understands what it’s like to work as both a woman and man.

So what happens? That’s exactly what Kristen Schilt asked in a 2006 study in which she interviewed 29 transmen that transitioned while working.

What did she find? Many of the men interviewed noted an increase in the amount of respect given to them during professional meetings and conversations. Some men felt their thoughts and ideas were given a sense of authority and competence that they did not experience when they were women.

Want to hear something really absurd? One man interviewed recalled a moment when his associates applauded their boss for firing a female coworker for being incompetent, and pointed out the new man hired was skillful. They did so not knowing that both people in question were the same person with the same abilities, education, and experience who had transitioned their gender.

These interviews confirm that those comments women often face in the workplace are, in fact, due to their gender. Chances are you’re not “overreacting” and if it’s the office culture, your culture might be a sexist one.

So you’re not wrong. Even if your co-workers can’t see what is going on.

Male privilege is the widespread favoring of men’s ideas, voices and personalities because they are men. Women are treated as uneducated and incompetent often by people who don’t even realize they are doing it. The result: women must constantly prove their competence.

So Really. You’re not overreacting.  This male privilege thing is ridiculous–and it’s real.  

And since someone should do it,  we just want to say we’re sorry.  It sucks that you have to work so hard to for people to see how valuable and skilled you are.  

The Leadership Double Duty: Being woman, becoming CEO

By Rebekah Peterson

Beyoncé knows “who run the world? Girls!”

Well, if Beyoncé declared it, then why hasn’t the business world caught on yet?

Only 14.2% of the top leadership positions at the companies in the S&P 500 are held by women.

What’s worse? Out of those 500 companies, there are only 24 female CEOs.

The good news? Companies that sustain a high representation of women board members significantly outperform companies with few or no women board members, according to a 2011 Catalyst analysis.

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Point: Having women in leadership pays off. Literally.

In fact, there is research that proves women’s leadership is more effective than men’s. In a 2003 analysis of existing research, van Engen, Eagly, and Johannesen-Schmidt found that transformational leadership is the most effective for managing. This type of leadership inspires employees to go beyond the call of duty, foster creative solutions, serve as mentors, and articulate plans for achieving a vision. As shown in the analyses, women exceed men on overall transformational leadership, which leads to more effective styles.

In 2011 those same researchers teamed up with Claartje Vinkenburg to analyze questionnaire responses from 271 men and women participants who had considerable management experience and assessed their beliefs about leadership. They found that people perceive women as having effective leadership.

AKA, women demonstrate effective leadership, get stuff done, and people know it. So, why aren’t they reaching the highest level of management?

Well, in the second part of Vinkenburg et al’s study, they analyzed questionnaire results from 514 men and women participants who had considerable management experience to assess how they believe men or women should lead. They found “inspirational motivation” style, which is when one rallies optimism and excitement about goals or future states, was deemed a less important “should” for women.

Here is where the damage is done: While we don’t look to women for inspirational motivation,  Inspirational motivation is most correlated with promotions to senior level management, especially CEO.

Tricky how that works. Right?

Inspirational motivation was perceived as the most important for a male manager to receive a promotion to senior management. So, if a male manager is seeking a higher level promotion he should adopt this style to increase his chance.

…Women have to do double duty:

The research suggests that women managers who want higher level promotions must combine inspiration motivation and a style called “individualized consideration”—a leadership style that emphasizes developing and mentoring followers and attending to individual needs.

Why?

Women must show their leadership style is congruent with senior level management (AKA inspirational), but must also use individualized consideration because this is congruent with female gender roles as caretakers. In other words, women must combine leadership styles that correlate with the most common white male CEO, but also display leadership style that fits the stereotype of female roles to mitigate backlash.

Although reaching the top is not easy for anyone, or fair for women, knowing what leadership styles to combine can help get you that promotion. Be your team and employee’s motivator, while also reaching out as a mentor to them.whorunthe

Now get out there and prove Beyoncé right.

We can run the world… Next stop: CEO

Talk Like Me

By Rachel Garretson

You know all those self-help books proclaiming revolutionary, catch-all formulas for success in this male dominated business world? Right after that chapter that tells you how you should stand and sit, they always tell you to learn their language.

Well…. Not to give those self-help books too much credit, but there is some scientific evidence supporting this although it’s not so straightforward. It turns out that there are different styles of language but while it’s true that many women grow up learning a more tentative style of speech, not all women do!

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Powerless speech (typically thought of as female) is characterized by things like hesitations (“well,” “like” or “um”), tag questions (“right?” or “don’t you think?”), and disclaimers (I’m not sure, but…”). Powerful speech does not include these characteristics.

Of course, rules are made to be broken! Many men use powerless language, just as many women use powerful speech. I mean come on; do you think Daenerys’s language could ever be considered tentative?

Even so, many studies like this one by Rob Thomson, Tamar Murachver, and James Green demonstrate that in addition to gender, things like situation influence the speech pattern you take. They learned this by having participants talk online with a “friend” (experimenters) who used either powerful or powerless speech styles. They found that participants often adapted their speech styles to mimic the one being used by their friend. The speech styles of those around you, power dynamics within a group, and even the topic of your conversation can influence the speech styles you adopt!

Unfortunately, in our individualistic society, which values standing out, powerful language is touted as the best and those self-help books we mentioned are constantly telling women they need to use powerful language or they won’t get ahead. This is not the always the case!

Each style has benefits. Alison Fragale had participants complete tasks online with a “partner” (really a scripted computer program) then they were asked to make judgments and confer status to their partner. In groups that didn’t need to cooperate as much, individuals with powerful speech were indeed considered more competent and intelligent. In groups where cooperation was key, however, this pattern reverses! Powerless speech, which emphasizes relationship building and consensus, was considered the better speech pattern!

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Thus neither style is more appropriate for a certain gender or even better over all, merely better in certain situations. We don’t need to avoid powerless speech, we need to become more aware of which style we’re using and which would be best in this situation.

Guess your mom was right after all when she always told you to think about what you say before you say it!

Say Her Name, Say Her Name

By Liv Stephens

It’s time to talk about a little bit of Monica, Erica, Rita, Tina, Sandra, Mary, and Jessica.

anigif_enhanced-28999-1428709735-5Lou Bega was definitely not afraid of name dropping when he wrote the jive pop 1999 classic Mambo No. 5.  However, the song has us vibing for more than one reason; it promotes female autonomy!

No, it’s not a trap. You see, research suggests that male and masculine voices address women using language that identifies women through their relationships with other people. It is almost never done with malicious intent, and research basically chalks it up to a style of speech that men learn by talking with other men called “attachment erasure”and it looks kinda like this:

“This is so-and-so, she’s that one dude’s __________ [girlfriend/roommate/sister/cousin/ hookup/friend/classmate/dog groomer]”

Or this:

“Oh, I know you! You work for/with ______ [the name of your sweaty co-worker] ”

You may not have even noticed it before, but everyone does it to everyone.  It’s hard to not fall into this language pattern.  The problem is that references to women are much more likely to use attachment erasure than references to men. This means that womens’ networking looks and sounds a lot different than mens’.

Here’s the deal: generally speaking, we prefer to network with people who we like.  And research indicates that we like people more when we perceive them to be similar to us.  It’s called the principle of homophily.

Here’s why that matters: A 2006 study conducted by Vasilyeva and Doerfel interviewed and surveyed employees of a retail company to study differences in the ways that guys, gals, and androgynous pals communicate. Among the tsunami of relevant findings they uncovered, they found that women need a higher degree of homophily (aka social sameness) than men do when networking with men in their field. As in, women need to be seen as similar to the man they are talking to in order for social attachments to form.  Unfortunately, this “one of the guys” feel is confirmed through statements of attachment erasure.  

Men, on the other hand, do not need need to establish similarity through others to affirm their attachments in the workplace, and can instead assert their sameness through personal characteristics such as similar goals, activities, or achievements.

A 2016 article by Susan Durbin explains that mentor relationships that involved at least one woman were only reported to form between those who already had common social connections, often initiated through a statement of attachment erasure.

This might look like:

“Oh, you’re Linda’s cousin!”

“Hey, did you work for Tom over at Company Inc.?”

Men, on the other hand, were able to create mentoring relationships via activities and hobbies both internal and external to the workplace.

That might look like:

“Hey, did you also go to Expensive University?”

“Were you the guy who gave that presentation at that conference last week?”

You get the picture.

So, what does this mean for women? Women must focus especially on their social credentials, and not their personal credentials, to boost their networking abilities. The semi-unfortunate truth is that who they know may be more important than what they know. In order to regain their autonomy, women must establish personal similarities (or what the research calls attachments) instead of social attachments through other people.

We can all help close this attachment gap by referring to people of all genders using their personal characteristics, instead of their social connections.
Bega said it best: you “must stay deep, ‘cuz talk is cheap.”

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to comment. We love to hear what you have to say, and as always, thanks for reading The InformHer.

American Horror Story: Earning more money than your husband

By Erika Harrington

Lions, tigers, and high-earning women! Oh, my!

Framing a situation where a woman makes more than her husband as a marriage-dooming horror story is nothing new. From family to friends to tv shows, we’re constantly told that if we ever find ourselves making more money than our partner, we’ll be welcoming a host of problems into the relationship.

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Now you’re probably wondering, do you have to choose between a fulfilling marriage and a fat paycheck?

Not quite. Don’t let this myth crush your hopes of a decent future, and allow me to ease your stress. I’m happy to report that these fears, instilled in you by society and the media, are just as real as the boogeyman.  (Assuming, of course, that you don’t believe in the boogeyman. You do know he’s not real, right?)

According to Gregory Eirich and Joan Robinson, there is no evidence that the wife being the higher-earning spouse has any effect on financial satisfaction and marital stress [in the context of a heterosexual relationship]. Although some marriages may face finance-related strains, Eirich and Robinson report that those strains have little to do with who makes more money.

Amazing. Who would have ever imagined that which person makes the most money does not actually matter in the relationship? Oh but wait, because the best is yet to come.

giphyThe best part about this study was the finding that at the end of the day, what really matters isn’t who makes more money, but how much money a couple makes combined. It turns out that no one really cares who’s picking up the bill for a five-star dinner, or whose credit card the tropical vacation gets charged to. The only thing that matters is actually eating that steak and laying on that beach. The moral of the story: Marital strife is influenced by how much money a couple makes combined—not by who is making it.

Revolutionary.

With that said, this wouldn’t be a proper InformHer post without reminding you that a problem still persists. If people don’t really get divorced because the wife is bringing home all the bread, then why are we talking about it? Sadly, even though a woman out-earning her husband isn’t the life ruining issue that so many American dramas say it is, this myth can still impact the important professional decisions of many women. Further, it can have an impact on the egos of some men. The idea that each spouse has certain marital roles to fulfill and that a woman should be afraid of being more successful than her partner can seriously alter a woman’s intended career path.

So let’s use this research as a guide to closing the gender gap, and to shoot down any excuses keeping women from the top. It’s time to readdress our priorities, and start putting a possible beach house and a new Mercedes over an overly protected male ego.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to comment. We love to hear what you have to say, and as always, thanks for reading The InformHer.

When collaboration becomes overkill: How collaboration can kill your career

By Erika Harrington

“Women aren’t authoritative.” “A commanding voice is a masculine one.” “Women are too dainty to lead.” We get it. You think it takes a certain type of a person to be a leader, and that type of person is usually a man. Thankfully, when it comes to the success of a company, what you think doesn’t matter; what actually matters are performance and results.

With that in mind, it’s high time that we face the truth that women can produce as well as men. Don’t believe me? Well, maybe you’ll believe British sociolinguist Judith Baxter, who published a study on the leadership abilities of males and females. Baxter wanted to find out if different, gender-specific language characteristics affected an individual’s ability to become a leader, and how well people  respond to them as such.

mulanclimbingUsing groups of all male, all female, and mixed gender participants, she was able to see who stepped up to the plate and hit a home run. Her findings—women were just as likely to exhibit leadership qualities and deliver respectable results. While women did communicate differently, they weren’t any less likely to take command or any less effective in command.

So why aren’t we seeing more balance in top-level professional positions?

There are many explanations for the scarcity of women leaders. One especially was noted in this study; Baxter found that the all-female group did not allow for a leader to emerge, and reacted negatively to one woman trying to take control of the group.

I know what you’re thinking: Here we go again with cattiness and women tearing each other down.

Not so fast, though—this article pointed out a more probable explanation; Baxter noted that the all female group seemed to value a group where everyone was equal. This approach allowed for a more diverse set of ideas to emerge. Nice job, ladies!

However, it is important to remember that there is also value in having a leader. The downside of this diversity enhancing collaborative approach was that no single idea gained significant focus. Kinda like when you spend 20 minutes driving around town with your friends trying to decide where to eat before Natalie finally caves and (in a truly hangry manner) screams, “Screw it! Let’s just get McDonald’s!”

Sometimes, having a leader just makes final decisions easier.

So, what can we learn from these findings?

Allowing a single individual (or a small group of individuals) to have power over a group or organization is important for productivity.  But, ensuring that these individuals can do a good job is just as important (let’s be real, McDonald’s was not the best choice, Natalie).
What isn’t important is that every leader fit the same mold. Masculine and feminine styles  differ, but these differences do not mean one is better than another. So let’s end the illusion that there’s one right way to get things done, because thinking that way is how one social group gets an unfair advantage. There is a time and place for all of these styles, so let’s all acknowledge strong women leaders for what they are. Let’s get more ladies in top-level professional positions and watch them thrive with their male peers.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to comment. We love to hear what you have to say, and as always, thanks for reading The InformHer.

The betrayal of badass boss ladies

By Jennifer PeeksMease

A few weeks ago I was on the phone with my mom. We were talking politics. Don’t worry, it’s a relatively safe topic in my family.

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No one insulted anyone’s intelligence. No feelings were hurt. It was just good ole’ fashion discussion. Then, the topic turned to Hillary Clinton, and my mom said something along the lines of this: “I think Clinton is well qualified to be president. She has the best set of experiences…I’m just not sure that I like her.”

There it is: She’s good. She’s competent. And what does the research suggest? We don’t really like that.

I first learned of the “likeability penalty” from Sheryl Sandberg’s TED talk. Sandberg references a study in which MBA students were asked to read a scenario involving a leader, and were then asked to evaluate the competence and likeability of the leader. The good news? The assessed level of competence didn’t change much when researchers changed male and female names.

Believe it or not, that’s an improvement. The bad news: women were deemed less likeable. And that, my friends, is a downer.

But, in 2011, two researchers noticed that most studies showing a likeability penalty dealt with hypothetical scenarios, so they set out to assess the situation by conducting a nationwide study that asked people to assess their real-life bosses. One of many conclusions was that people assess a likability penalty less often when they are assessing the boss they actually work with.

Whew! Uh, sort of…

What does it mean that we assess women more harshly in imaginary relationships than we do in actual relationships? On one hand, it’s good to hear. It suggests that women can be powerful, competent and liked by the people they manage.

But there’s still a troubling catch: despite the fact that real relationships with women leaders don’t support the need for a likability penalty, when we imagine relationships with powerful, competent women, research indicates that we assume they aren’t likable.

That goes for you too, Secretary Clinton.

But there is something we can all do, men and women alike: We can interrupt this somehow shared imagination. We can call people out on it. We can question our own judgment of successful, competent women.

Let’s be honest. We believe our gut feelings have some kind of intuitive authenticity to them, and so we often trust them blindly. While I believe that intuition matters, it’s important to recognize gut feelings aren’t always unique insights.

Anyone can earn your distaste, women included. But if you’re looking for things to justify that nagging feeling that you “just don’t really like” that kickass, successful woman in your office—whom you don’t even know—then check yourself. It may not be your intuition talking, it might just be patriarchy.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to comment. We love to hear what you have to say, and as always, thanks for reading The InformHer.