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win-argument-cat-paperThis is something we’ve told our clients about for a number of years because it simply made sense. Now we have a current research citation for it rather than using research that is more than a decade old! We see this “new” strategy as a variation on the “you may want to disagree” strategy–or, perhaps, as an update.

What we especially like about this one is that it tells us how to make something totally implausible seem more acceptable to the listener. Say, something implausible like….Bigfoot! Actually, it goes beyond that. This research shows us how to increase the likelihood you can convince others of supernatural events having occurred. It’s all, as you may have surmised, about the narrative frame. You do not, say the authors, want to begin your narrative by starting off with an admission of long-standing beliefs in the frankly bizarre. That would totally undermine your credibility. Instead, begin by presenting yourself as a skeptic of such events. The authors explain it in this, uniquely academic, fashion:

“The presentation of the evidence that converted the narrator within the account itself offers the audience an invitation to go on the same journey from scepticism to belief along with the narrator.”

We don’t really say it like that (frankly, there should be a rule against anyone saying it like that), but we do essentially recommend that our clients embed their initial skepticism in questions for expert witnesses who explain how something works or in direct examination questions for the witness who is explaining why something was done the way it was done. The off-hand, seemingly casual, inclusion of initial skepticism bypasses juror resistance to persuasion and takes them on our client’s journey of discovery. Just like the author said above.

Here is what the researcher did. She had research participants in two different experiments (a total of 215 participants) read a description of either a “precognitive dream” in which the narrator predicted and ultimately prevented a car accident, or of a telepathic experience in which the narrator thought of “an old friend, Sally” and then half an hour later, learned Sally had been hospitalized. The research participants were placed into three different conditions as they read the descriptions:

The narrator claimed to be skeptical of the paranormal prior to describing the event.

The narrator said s/he really had no interest at all in the paranormal prior to describing the event.

Or, the narrator admitted to being a fervent prior believer.

After reading the descriptions of the events from the skeptical narrator, the disinterested narrator, or the avid believer narrator, the research participants were asked whether they saw the event described as being truly paranormal, just a coincidence, or the product of a gullible narrator.

In both experiments, having a skeptical narrator increased the likelihood participants would see the event as possibly being paranormal. The researcher clarifies that the disinterested narrator did not result in an increase in those seeing the events as paranormal.

“The narrator must establish a prior position contrary to the one they are now assumed to hold in order to influence the audience.”

However, when participants were warned about the “avowal of prior skepticism” technique in Experiment 2, the pattern was reversed–that is, a skeptical narrator was less likely to result in participants seeing an event as paranormal.

When the narrator held a position of prior belief, s/he was seen as more gullible and easily convinced only when female and not male! The researcher thinks it likely is due to men being seen as relatively rational and skeptical when it comes to the paranormal and telepathy while women are not seen that way. We have at least 33 thoughts on this finding.

The author concludes the paper with this straightforward paragraph:

“In conclusion, the present research supports the proposition that an avowal of prior scepticism serves to increase the plausibility of a paranormal causal explanation for an anomalous event as long as the audience are not pre-warned. An avowal of prior belief serves to increase the perceived gullibility of a female, but not a male, narrator, suggesting a bias towards more readily perceiving a woman than a man as gullible.”

From a litigation advocacy perspective, when you have a pretty unbelievable story to tell, embedding skepticism into your narrative can be a powerfully persuasive tool. And if your opponent employs this strategy, you may want to educate jurors on the “avowal of prior skepticism” strategy to “undo” their efforts at persuasion.

Stone, A. (2013). An Avowal of Prior Scepticism Enhances the Credibility of an Account of a Paranormal Event Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 33 (3), 260-281 DOI: 10.1177/0261927X13512115

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pink and blue chalk figuresRecently we blogged about a new study on women and leadership saying women are no longer punished for “acting like a leader” as long as they are not seen as aggressive in their leadership behavior. Here are four different, easy-to-read articles on the leadership gender gap that will give you a good sense of both the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of the issues.

Many of us have read about Sheryl Sandberg’s stories of being called “bossy” in her book Leaning In and recent stories characterize Jill Abramson (former NYT Executive Editor) as “pushy”. So, a linguistics doctoral student at Georgia State looked at a “random sample of 200 to 300 occurrences” of the following words: brusque, condescending, pushy, and stubborn, in the Corpus of Contemporary American English. Women were only mentioned 37% of the time, so he checked to see if the adjective was used significantly more than 37% of the time to test for gender differences. He found “brusque” and “stubborn” were words equally applied to men and women but men were more often labeled “condescending” and women were more often labeled “pushy”. We may not like either trait, but we are quicker to attribute it one gender or the other. Read the entire article to see more about this language issue.

linguistic pulse pushy condescending

Another interesting article “The self-assurance imbalance in the workplace” was recently featured in the Washington Post. This brief article speaks to the self-doubt rampant among working women and mentions several recent books discussing how to minimize self-doubt. She ends with the following memorable quote:

“Rather than advocating that an entire class of people start faking it ‘til they make it, maybe we should be coaching voters, students, bosses, and viewers at home how to be a bit more skeptical of the loudest guy (or gal) in the room.”

The longest article was featured over at the Atlantic: The Confidence Gap. Written by the authors of the book, The Confidence Code, this article is an easy, albeit long, read. If you are interested in the challenges women face as leaders, this is an interesting spin on the questions we have all asked over and over again. The short version is that men have self-doubt just like women do, but perhaps due to socialization, they have the confidence to step up and ask to do tasks in which they might fail. Confidence matters as much as competence when it comes to success. The bottom line to the message in this book may be the famous Nike advertising slogan: “Just Do It”. Women need to stop thinking so much and just take action (like men do). With practice, acting will become more natural than obsessing over the possible pitfalls. These authors also end with a lovely closing paragraph:

“Almost daily, new evidence emerges of just how much our brains can change over the course of our lives, in response to shifting thought patterns and behavior. If we keep at it, if we channel our talent for hard work, we can make our brains more confidence-prone. What the neuroscientists call plasticity, we call hope.”

And finally, Amy Cuddy is a social psychologist who does research on confidence and judgment. We’ve written about her work on power poses here before. You might find them useful for job interviews, in the courtroom, and for persuasion in general, although sometimes posing has to vary by gender. Perhaps though, today you feel more like watching a 20 minute video than reading additional blog posts. Cuddy’s talk is for people in general–both men and women. It just seemed to fit well with the other three articles in this post.

Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk message is that “tiny tweaks can make big life changes”. She also says “don’t just fake it until you make it”, but instead, “fake it until you become it”.

Changing small behaviors can, according to Cuddy, change your life. Her twenty-minute TED Talk is well worth your time (and truly deserves a blog post of its own).

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how women leadWe’ve written about women and leadership before. While some new research shows female leaders handle stress more effectively than male leaders, we’re not going to write about that one today. Instead, here is a report on a study showing some other good news: women are no longer punished for behaving assertively in a leadership role!

It’s a positive change. The past research showed us that women who were assertive were seen negatively due to perceived violations of their gender role expectations. That is, men are assertive and women are sweet. And when women are not sweet, we call them witches (or something like that). So. The news that what these researchers call “agentic behavior” (i.e., acting like a leader) is now acceptable for women (as long as they are not aggressive and ruthless as they exhibit leadership behavior) is good news indeed.

Alas, though. Every silver lining seems to have a cloud and the battle is not yet won. As it happens, while women are now evaluated just as positively as men leaders for behaving assertively in their leadership role–women leaders who are tentative or submissive are rated much more negatively than are tentative or submissive men who lead. Leaders frequently fake their confidence and strength, but if a woman is seen as doing that, reactions they get are worse than those accorded to men.

The researchers used 185 participants (47% female, average age 28.3 years, either undergraduate students or graduates from an Australian university) who were told they were participating in a study on effective communication. The participants read a transcript of a speech (on climate change) which was identified as being given by an Independent (non-party-affiliated) candidate for national office. They were told the speech was given by a female (Annette Hayes or Susan Hayes) or a male (David Hayes or Andrew Hayes).

The speech itself was written in either an assertive voice (indicating dominance, confidence and strength) or a tentative voice (indicating deference, hesitancy, and a lack of confidence). After reading the transcripts, the participants rated the candidate’s likability and influence (i.e., how persuasive they were and therefore how likely to convince others of their position). They also rated the leaders on agency (i.e., how dominant, forceful and confident they were) and communality (i.e., how friendly, sensitive and warm they were).

Assertive female leaders were rated more likable than tentative female leaders but there was no difference in likability between the assertive and tentative male leaders. Further, while there was no difference in likability between assertive male and assertive female leaders, tentative males were more likable than tentative females.

Assertive female leaders were significantly more influential with participants than were the tentative female leaders. There was no difference in influence exerted on participants between the assertive and tentative male leaders. Further, while participants saw no difference in influence by the assertive women and assertive men leaders, they saw the tentative man as more influential than the tentative woman.

In other words, say the authors, women in political leadership will only be as effective as men if they are always confident, strong and decisive. When their behavior deviates from these male-stereotypic leadership ideals, they will be punished far more than their male counterparts. A follow-up study found the same pattern. The authors summarize their findings as follows:

“Based on men’s continued dominance in positions of power, expectations of women to show unwavering signs of confidence and strength will provide a considerable challenge. While a few women will be able to meet this expectation, the majority who cannot remain disadvantaged, with men avoiding similar penalties for equivalent non-agentic behaviors. Therefore, this subtle form of prejudice towards women demands our attention and effort if gender equality is to be achieved.”

It’s a societal double standard recently highlighted by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. When male leaders display emotion– even inappropriate emotion– it is often celebrated. When women display even a little emotion, it is interpreted very negatively. It’s a good thing to keep in mind as you consider the behavior and leadership potential of male and female attorneys. We are all subject to bias– until we pay attention to it. Merely by being conscious of its potential, it can become a much smaller problem.

Bongiorno, R., Bain, P., & David, B. (2013). If you’re going to be a leader, at least act like it! Prejudice towards women who are tentative in leader roles. British Journal of Social Psychology DOI: 10.1111/bjso.12032

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credibility and smilingWomen smile more than men. Men are typically seen as more credible than women. So these researchers decided to see if there was a relationship between smiling and assessments of credibility on actual witnesses in the courtroom. 

The researchers used the Witness Credibility Scale to assess actual witnesses overall credibility. They thought that if smiling influenced observer evaluations of likability, confidence, trustworthiness and knowledge (the facets of credibility measured by the Witness Credibility Scale) then smiling could influence witness credibility. So off to the courtroom they went to collect observational data from real courtroom testimony. They observed both criminal and civil trials (including proceedings related to worker’s compensation, assault, domestic violence, drug trafficking, and capital murder) over a period of 6 months and, in total, observed 22 male and 10 female witnesses. The majority of the ratings (87.5%) were based on direct examination by the prosecution (84.4%).

There were 21 Caucasian witnesses and 11 African-American witnesses and witnesses ranged in age from 19 to 70 years. The researchers used four trained raters–two assessing the frequency of “smiling behavior” and two assessing credibility using the Witness Credibility Scale. (The credibility raters were trained to use the scale but had no awareness of the study’s hypotheses. The raters counting smiles included the principal investigator and one other person who knew the hypotheses.)

Here is what the researchers found:

Of the 32 witnesses observed, 23 smiled (71.9%) and nine (28.1%) did not.There were more women that smiled than men and although the difference between male and female smiling witnesses did not reach significance, it “trended that way” according to the researchers.

Male witnesses were seen as more trustworthy than female witnesses.

Witnesses who smiled were seen as more likable and female witnesses who smiled were significantly more likable than both smiling male witnesses and non-smiling female witnesses. Oddly, smiling female witnesses were not more likable than non-smiling male witnesses. (The researchers wonder if the smiling male witnesses were seen as behaving in a way incongruent with gender norms and thus the smiling male witnesses were less likable than the non-smiling males.)

The researchers say that, “Contrary to expectations, gender and smiling did not impact ratings of trustworthiness”. Men were found more trustworthy than women witnesses, but when women smiled, they were more likable than everyone but unsmiling men. The researchers recommend female witnesses smile during testimony since it is expected of them (by virtue of gender roles).

As with the research on female expert witnesses we covered earlier this month, there is not a lot of good news for women witnesses here but what we do know now is that women witnesses can relax a little and smile–it won’t make them more credible than stoic men but it will make the women witnesses a little more likable. And every little bit helps.

Nagle JE, Brodsky SL, & Weeter K (2014). Gender, Smiling, and Witness Credibility in Actual Trials. Behavioral sciences & the law PMID: 24634058

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woman expert witnessFemale attorneys know they a special challenge to being accepted as authoritative, just because they are women. Looks like things are about the same for expert witnesses who are women. A new literature review just published by Tess M.S. Neal in Behavioral Sciences and the Law offers a succinct picture of what the research has found over the years. This is an article well worth reading and we are only going to cover the main effect summary findings. There are few rays of sunshine in this research but it’s important information to know (and we bet Tess Neal will be around doing good work for some time to come).  

Neal first discusses stereotypes and gender roles and looking at the historical (and unfortunately current) reality that men are expected to be leaders and logical while women are expected to be more emotional followers. Research as recent as 2009 shows we still value what we continue to define as masculine characteristics (e.g., competence, assertion, rationality) above those characteristics defined as feminine (e.g., warmth and expressiveness).

She reviews research findings on the gender of experts, finding women experts twice as likely as men to believe gender is a factor in the selection of an expert witness. Women experts report being sometimes told explicitly that the hiring attorney thought their gender would help the case (e.g., being a female expert in a sexual harassment or sexual assault case). Another study found 55% of female attorneys but only 13% of male attorneys thought judges assigned more credibility to male experts than to female experts. A 1994 study showed women made up only 11% of experts identified in written court opinions, and testifying in 21% of cases overall. The good news was the number increased over time (and Neal points out that trend has likely continued since 1994). And then she summarizes the research on the gender of the expert witness. Here are the highlights of only the main effects findings:

Male experts are rated as more likable, believable, trustworthy, confident, and credible than female experts in a 2010 study. (Yes. 2010–aka, yesterday.)

Expert gender (when the expert was an automotive engineer) made no difference in terms of verdict in a civil case involving an auto accident. However, female experts elicited higher compensatory damages than did the male experts in a 2002 study.

A 1984 study tentatively suggested that female experts might be preferred over male experts when the testimony concerned opinions about child custody. The researchers think research participants could think (due to gender role stereotypes) that women would be better judges of what children need than would men.

There is much more covered in this article. Neal examines the importance of context (what is the gender “domain” of the case, how complex is the information the expert must convey, when is the expert giving testimony in the overall case presentation, and will the experts violate expectations for behavior of men or women). The author of the 1994 study cited earlier observed that women were more likely to be testifying in disputes that had a “human” face–like education, family court or social services. Women accounted for only 4% of experts in corporate cases and 0% of those in contract disputes (again, in 1994). However, the traditional division of labor still seems to be in force in the more recent research Neal reviews.

Finally, she makes recommendations for both experts and attorneys hiring experts, based on the findings in the literature.

Consider if the case revolves around a traditionally male or traditionally female domain. Either gender may have an edge if the conflict is in their domain.

Consider whether the testimony is complex, because jurors may grant men an advantage. When testimony is not complex, women may have an advantage.

Competence is important for both men and women witnesses, but paying attention to gender role expectations may also matter. A 2008 study showed male witnesses were seen as more credible if they maintained high levels of eye contact with the questioner (“assertive eye contact”) but women’s eye contact with the questioner did not matter in terms of their credibility.

Being likable is more important for women experts than for men (according to 2009 and 2012 findings). She recommends the use of informal speech, explaining key terms, using the Plaintiff or Defendant’s name rather than referring to them as either the plaintiff or the defendant, among other things.

Overall, Neal says there are indeed gender differences in how male and female experts are perceived but those differences tend to be relatively small and largely determined by context. So, a little good news and a fair amount of what female expert witnesses likely already knew. Times are changing, albeit slowly. What was a major obstacle documented in 1994 now appears to be a lower barrier.

Neal TMS (2014). Women as Expert Witnesses: A Review of the Literature. Behavioral Sciences & the Law PMID: 24623554

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