Balancing Bias

By Jennifer PeeksMease

Is the challenge of balance a hill only women climb?

usatsi_9431971_168381878_lowresFact: tune into any gymnastics competition, and you’ll only find women flipping, turning, and twisting on a strip of wood just 4 inches wide.

Whether you’re on a beam, or at work, it seems the ability to balance is a necessary virtue for any woman who wants to bring home the dough. 

But as we’re sure you, your besties, and Simone and Laurie have clearly demonstrated: women ARE master balancers. We will find a way to get to that charity event, console our friend going through a terrible breakup, hit the gym, read a book (to our kids if we have them), do the laundry, feed the mouths that need to eat, and still find time to make sure our family knows they are loved.

The moral of the story—we’ve got this.  

But I’m afraid there’s more to it than that.  

While you may think you have this work life balance thing down, your boss may not…and that can spell trouble for you.

Jenny Hoobler, Sandy Wayne, and Grace Lemmon of the University of Illinois at Chicago conducted a survey of employees and their bosses to assess perceptions of work/life conflict and its effect on promotability.  

As it turns out, women employees actually reported less work life conflict than men who were surveyed, but that didn’t change the fact the bosses were more likely to perceive women employees as having greater work life conflict.  

More importantly, this perception of women’s work life conflict impacted boss’s perception of female employee’s “fit” with the organization and promotable roles, two factors they found to be most important to a boss’s perception of promotability.  (Yep, these two things mattered even more than their perceptions of an employee’s performance.)

Let me recap this for you: If your boss perceives you to have work life conflict, they are less likely to see you as “fit” for promotion.  And, bummer for you ladies, they are more likely to perceive women as having this work life conflict.

But what good does it do us to know this?

First, if you’re a person in the position to promote, check yourself! (And we mean all of you, the sex of bosses in this study didn’t significantly change this bias.)  Don’t let even casual conversations about an employee’s “fit” for a promotion digress into speculation about her obligations outside of work.  

And while we hate to put the burden on women to navigate yet one more hurdle, we encourage you to monitor how you talk about your obligations outside of work.  

Show your love for your family by talking about how wonderfully supportive they are of your career, and how much they help you out at home. (Oh, and don’t waste your time on a partner who isn’t worth bragging about in the first place…but that’s another blog post.)

Finally, make sure you’re managing your relationship with your superiors to position yourself well for promotion, to….balance out….this bias.

Not sure what you can do? Check out some of our other posts on promotion, networking, mentoring, and self-promotion.

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.

The girl power hour

By Eliana Huffman

Beyonce. Angela Merkel. Emma Watson. Michelle Obama.

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We are hashtag #blessed to live in an era graced by so many influential women. They serve as role models, mentors, and further— in a professional context—allies.

According to a recent analysis of 5,679 workplaces located in Texas, more women in charge within an organization leads to increased gender-integration across all employees, regardless of status. This means that for every position within an organization, women and men are given equal opportunities to obtain said position, as well as opportunities to be promoted from it. This gender-integration also includes more equal pay for equal work.

But what does this mean overall? For one, it means that women are agents of change. Climbing up the corporate ladder is already challenging for most, and near impossible for some, especially women. However, this study goes to show that a little girl power goes a long way.

It’s easy to see other women as competition, in more ways than one. We live in a world that’s overly conducive to tearing each other down, and in fact encourages it (thinking of mainstream media examples here, like Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” music video, or the movie Mean Girls).

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In a professional setting, this behavior doesn’t always stop. According to a recent study done at Bentley University, over 50% of respondents said that women-specific networking programs would be beneficial [to women as a whole], and yet only 17% of people who sit on corporate boards in the United States are women.

Houston, we have a problem.

What can we as individuals do to fix this? Well, for starters, include women in your professional network. Seriously. Whether you’re a college student seeking a mentor, or you’re a tenured careerist wanting to pay your wisdom forward, have at it.

This goes for men too—serving as an ally not only makes you feel good, but actually pushes your own career forward. In the words of Meghan Casserly, Forbes magazine, “women are meeting, sharing and connecting in ways that men often shy away from. The result is lasting relationships that are the building blocks of future job placements, sales leads and partnerships.”

Now that’s more like it.

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.