Archive for the ‘It’s hard to be a woman’ Category
Two weeks ago we did a mock trial with a group of attorneys who were passionate about their case and yet got along very well with each other. It was a high-adrenalin experience that lasted 48 hours. On the morning of the second day, the Plaintiff attorney went into the presentation room a little early and sat down. There was good-natured commenting from his colleagues in the observation room that he was trying to influence the jurors.
Suddenly, one of the jurors complimented him on his necktie and others (all middle-aged women) chimed in as well. The attorney smiled and said he had three daughters and the middle daughter picked out his ties. There was uproar in the observation room as the opposing attorney’s protested the unfairness of this personal interaction with the jurors. When the Plaintiff attorney returned to the observation room after his presentation, he grinned and stroked his (very attractive) tie as his colleagues griped about ‘undue influence’. Later, we found multiple comments on written questionnaires about how “very, very likable” the “first attorney” was for the mock jurors.
We always assess likability, credibility, and trustworthiness as mock jurors view witness deposition excerpts and assess the attorney’s presentations. But new research on ‘what leaders look like’ has us contemplating adding dominance to this lineup of personal characteristics assessed by our mock jurors. Apparently, dominance cuts both ways, but competence and trustworthiness are a golden pairing.
Researchers from the University of Delaware examined how participants inferred personality traits of political candidates based on looking at their faces. According to these researchers, the literature on competence, trust and dominance is very mixed.
Some studies show that a first impression of dominance can lead to positive social outcomes in real life for politicians and CEOs, and even managing partners of the top 100 law firms in the US. Others show that impressions of dominance can backfire when people resent feeling controlled by dominant leaders. The authors think there is a fine line between when dominance feels like competence and when it veers off into feeling like coercion. They also report multiple studies have combined dominance and competence into a single composite score and this, opine the researchers, could mean dominance is given credit for positive outcomes that should be explained by competency.
So, the researchers designed their studies to separately assess dominance and competence inferences made when participants examined photos of faces of candidates for the U.S. Senate. The outcome measure was whether the candidate actually won their election in the real world. Findings were consistent across three studies:
Being seen as trustworthy increased the chance the candidate actually won the election, but only if they were also perceived as competent.
Being seen as dominant increased the chance the candidate won the election, but only if they were also perceived as competent. When competence perceptions were controlled, dominance was not related to electoral success.
The researchers say that when you are highly competent, if you also “look trustworthy”, this increases your chances of positive outcome. And when you are perceived as dominant, it can create a backlash against you (when benefits associated with competence are removed) due to the possibility of fear (on the part of voters) of an authoritarian leadership style. In these studies, candidates who were seen as dominant, were also seen as being unlikable and untrustworthy.
The analogy that came to my mind as I read this material involved driving a car. If you drive authoritatively—then you are fast, aggressive, and dominant. It’s a high-risk approach that works well in the minds of some people as long as you are a really good driver. But the risk of doing harm is far greater with someone like that than it is for someone who is less dominant and aggressive.
It’s an intriguing characteristic to ponder in the litigation setting. We have assessed trustworthiness, credibility and likability for years now. But dominance? It would be an intriguing wrinkle for us to consider.
What about a witness leads jurors to assess him or her as dominant?
Is that a good thing in litigation or a bad thing like in political candidacy?
In the particular mock trial noted above, jurors tended to think the Plaintiff attorney’s case was more credible. But they also liked his tie and his story of his middle daughter picking out his ties. He was likable and he created a friendly connection. He was competent. And in the mock juror’s perceptions–he was also dominating his opponents. This is one we will consider at length in designing new research questions and strategies.
As an aside and unrelated to this research [although not to the larger issue], apparently leaders also look like men. An image search for “how leaders look” came up with entirely male faces. To see female faces, we had to select “famous women leaders”. While it’s hard to miss Oprah gracing this post, the question of why women don’t look like leaders is likely a whole ‘nother post.
Chen, FF, Jing, Y., & Lee, JM (2013). The looks of a leader: Competent and trustworthy, but not dominant. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2013.10.008
Recently we shared the results of a study on gender and corruption. That study showed that both genders were capable of corruption and that corrupt behavior depended upon context. Researchers at Penn State recently released a study completed in America and looking at gender and corporate crime/fraud.
If you read the title of this post, you will not be surprised to learn that men lead the charge to corporate corruption. The researchers developed a database of 83 corporate frauds which involved a total of 436 defendants. After extensive data analysis, here is what they found:
Less than 1 out of 10 defendants was female (91% were male and 9% were female).
Whenever crimes were committed by a single person, that person was a male.
Almost 3/4 of the crimes committed by groups of people involved groups entirely composed of males. (Less than 1/3 of the groups contained both men and women. There were no all female conspiracy groups.)
All male conspiracies were concentrated in professional/scientific/technical and management services (where female employment is lower) while mixed-sex conspiracies were higher in finance/insurance, real estate and healthcare. In the latter areas, women make up more than half of the employees.
Female defendants were likely “to play minor roles in schemes”.
When you are female and involved in corporate conspiracies, you tend to profit significantly less than men (or not at all). You are often included in conspiracies because you have access to funds (through your job responsibilities) or because you are dating or partnered with a primary conspirator. You may be pressured to participate by your male significant other (who is involved in or initiating the activity). Yes. Women are marginalized even when committing corporate crimes! This is the only benefit to the ‘glass ceiling’ we have yet encountered.
The researchers say that if more women were in higher positions in American corporations we might have less corporate crime. They believe women might be more ethical decision-makers, more risk-averse, and less likely to foster a “criminogenic organization”. Alternately, say the researchers, more woman “would not make any difference because of organizational inertia and because women who move up the corporate ladder will be socialized into the ethos of commercial interests and market dominance at all costs”. In other words, “leaning in” might corrupt successful women.
From a litigation advocacy perspective, there is much to help Defense attorneys mitigate blame placed on female defendants charged with corporate fraud. Women who participate in these crimes are often pressured by men leading the effort. They are often recruited due to their “utility”–they have access to funds, they sign off on the reports or accounting statements. In short, the men directing the crimes need the woman’s access to sensitive information in order to be successful. Jurors would likely understand the pressure placed on these women to participate and would also understand the idea that the women were just being used for what they could offer.
If your female defendant was not only used but offered little to no profit for her activity (as was the case with most women defendants in this study), jurors may have additional sympathy for her. Your female defendant might be seen as a pawn in a master plan, or ensnared due to being the intimate partner of a man driving the effort. It is perhaps the only time when marginalization of a woman’s role works for her (in the larger cosmic picture).
Steffensmeier, DM, Schwartz, J, & Roche, M (2013). Gender and Twenty-First-Century corporate crime: Female involvement and the gender gap in Enron-era corporate frauds. American Sociological Review. DOI: 10.1177/0003122413484150
Some believe society has evolved to the point that beautiful people are no longer penalized for being beautiful. Others think “What? Beautiful people are penalized for being beautiful? Oh, please.” Thankfully, academics in search of tenure continue to do their research exploring dynamics we did not even know existed.
This post will be a little different from what we typically do here. Instead of looking at a single study, we’re going to give you a summation of what researchers have recently found with regard to the “beauty is beastly” effect. You are likely familiar with the “what is beautiful is good” effect. This is the idea that we assume positive things about people who are attractive. We’ve written about it here, in fact and, more than once. There is also, however, the “beauty is beastly” effect. The idea was originally proposed in 1979 as a way to explain how attractive women were not likely to be considered for masculine-stereotyped positions in the workplace. More than 30 years ago, those authors concluded:
“As predicted, attractiveness consistently proved to be an advantage for men but was an advantage for women only when seeking a non-managerial position.”
In essence, it seems that hiring decisions (generally made by men) result in attractive women being welcome in the workplace, but not as peers of the managers. Has the way we perceive women changed in the past three decades? There are some indications that it has since researchers have had difficulty replicating the “beauty is beastly” effect in workplace studies. But, there is also evidence of a disparate effect of attractiveness for male and female job applicants.
And while “what is beautiful is good” is believed to continue to be a factor in multiple lawsuit outcomes, beauty is not always a positive thing in the minds of jurors. In domestic violence litigation, for example, if you are an attractive woman charged with an assault on your spouse, you are more likely to be found guilty. So we thought we’d take a look at some of the studies in search of the “beauty is beastly” effect and see what they say.
Braun, Peus & Frey (2012) looked at women and men and their leadership styles. Specifically, they examined both transactional and transformational leadership styles. (As defined by these researchers, transactional leadership focuses on task completion [including rewards and punishments for meeting goals]. Transformational leadership focuses more on stimulating critical thinking, motivating people, supporting the personal growth of followers, and being a role model. Currently, the transformational approach is most dominant in the leadership literature.) The researchers examined how the attractiveness of male and female leaders interacted with their leadership style.
When leaders were transactional, there was no difference in the loyalty of followers regardless of whether the leader was attractive or not attractive. This was true for both female and male leaders. It is a performance-measured management style, and appearances were not influential.
However, when leaders were transformational, followers “showed lower levels of trust and loyalty toward attractive than unattractive female leaders”. In other words, for female transactional leaders, beauty is beastly even in 2012.
You may wonder how followers react differently to attractive and unattractive male transformational leaders. They don’t. It doesn’t make a difference if your male transformational leader is attractive or unattractive. It’s only women who are vulnerable to stereotypical evaluations based on their appearance.
Another study by Johnson, Podratz, Dipboye & Gibbons (2010) examined hiring biases based on the applicant’s attractiveness. They asked study participants to match photos of men and women (both attractive and unattractive) with job descriptions for which they thought the pictured applicant would be a good fit. In this study too, attractive men got all sorts of job matches. But, if the job was one seen as male-dominated and where appearance was deemed unimportant, attractive women simply were not seen as suitable for the position. This was for job titles like manager of research and development, director of finance, mechanical engineer, director of security, hardware salesperson, prison guard, truck driver, or construction supervisor.
If you were an attractive woman, you tended to be sorted into jobs like receptionist or secretary. (Yes, this research was done just a few years ago.)
Another study published on SSRN (Ruffle & Shtudiner, 2010) examined call-back rates from CVs with photos of attractive or plain male and female candidates, or with no photo at all. What they found was unexpected: attractive male candidates got lots of callbacks.
But, female applicants with no photo at all got the most callbacks among the women!
So you may be thinking, this is all research based on undergraduate students perceptions. Surely, adults with work experience have more sense than to stereotype solely based on appearance. Take a look at the results of a 2010 Newsweek survey of “202 hiring managers and 964 members of the public”. The survey participants say looks matter at work and looks matter more for women.
In fact, survey participants (which included those 202 hiring managers) said your looks rank above education and your sense of humor when it comes to being hired.
So, have things changed in the last 30 years? Of course they have. But in some ways, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Stereotypes about women are deeply ingrained in our society. Attractive women are apparently seen as decorative and thus most suited for jobs like receptionist and secretary.
So to our female attorney clients who continue to struggle with how to dress for court appearances, your sense of the fact you will be judged is accurate. We are working on some general principles about attire to consider as you present yourself in the courtroom as a female professional in a male-dominated profession. Until then, is beauty beastly? It certainly can be. Even in 2013. But, apparently, only for women.
Braun, S, Peus, C, & Frey D (2012). Is beauty beastly? Gender-specific effects of leader attractiveness and leadership style on followers’ trust and loyalty. Zeitschrift für Psychologie, 220 (2), 98-108 DOI: 10.1027/2151-2604/a000101
Johnson SK, Podratz KE, Dipboye RL, & Gibbons E (2010). Physical attractiveness biases in ratings of employment suitability: tracking down the “beauty is beastly” effect. The Journal of Social Psychology, 150 (3), 301-18 PMID: 20575336
Ruffle, Bradley J., & Shtudiner, Ze’ev (2010). Are Good-Looking People More Employable? SSRN.
“When you are representing a client in court, don’t wear bright red lipstick. Don’t wear colorful clothes. Don’t try to be fashionable. Don’t wear too much makeup. Don’t wear colorful nail polish–actually, don’t even wear nail polish. Judges don’t like it.”
This was the advice Peggy Li received from a female attorney during her first year of law school. We’ve seen variations on this theme before in exhortations of proper attire for women in court. It remains a troubling question for many female attorneys who do not want something like their appearance to harm their client in court.
Is it fair? No. Is it a real concern? Unfortunately, yes. You may think these questions are old-school but they are as real today as they were ten years ago.
Should I wear a suit with a skirt or are pants okay?
Can I wear a dress with a jacket or is that too casual?
Should I dress colorfully or should I be plain and blend in?
What about fingernail polish?
Should I wear my hair up or is it okay to leave it down?
Can I wear my bracelet with religious symbolism since I wear it daily anyway?
This article by Peggy Li (available for download on the SSRN network) talks frankly about how the physical attractiveness and femininity of women attorneys relates to how your competence, skills and abilities are assessed by others. She covers both the “beauty is good” and the “beauty is beastly” stereotypes (the latter is believed to be applied to women in male-dominated professions such as the law).
Of particular interest is the section on female attorneys who are “perceived as sexy”. “Sexy” is in the eye of the beholder, and can be particularly difficult for the female attorney choosing attire for the courtroom. Li poses the dilemma this way: Does a tasteful skirt-suit convey conservatism and deference to the court or does the exposure of skin mean it is sexual? It’s a provocative question and while Li poses it, she does not answer it.
It is reminiscent of a mock trial we moderated where a female attorney was presenting against “good old boy” attorneys who joked with (and bonded with) mock jurors. When the highly skilled female attorney cracked a joke and then winked at jurors (as the men had done), she was rewarded with comments sexualizing her behavior from the mock jurors.
“She needs to stop flirting with us (winking and batting her eyes) and focus on improving her presentation.”
“I don’t want to hear what roads she drives on locally. She just needs to present the facts.”
“Her skirt was too short.”
It was simply a different unit of measure the jurors expected. The male attorneys could guffaw and grin and wink and it was all fine. But, not the female attorney. No matter how good she was. The jurors didn’t want her to be flirtatious, attractive, or disclosing. They didn’t want her to be sexy. In truth, she wasn’t being sexy and she wasn’t trying to be flirtatious. But that’s how she was seen.
Li describes a number of cases within law firms where women attorneys have been targets for discrimination. Li recommends training women in male-dominated professions such as the legal profession in how implicit bias works so they can see situations or variables that might elicit those biases against them. She does casually mention she has developed her own style that feels comfortable for her in court but she does not discuss the factors she considered as she developed that style. She says women attorneys should be both smart and likable and recommends Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In book. These ideas are theoretical and “interesting” but they lack substance and specific responses to the question of how to dress in court so you are seen as credible and competent. Nonetheless, Li’s article is a good overview of the research on “why” this happens to women. Now all we need is someone to tell us what to do in response to the why.
It’s a question we get routinely from our women clients. Those who read our blog (especially the category on how hard it is to be a woman) know this is not a simple question. Nor does it have a blanket answer. This complex dynamic (far more complicated than it is for men) involves physical appearance, personal authority, and style. Our recommendations vary depending on the person and the context. Sometimes it is about speech patterns. Sometimes it’s about how to tell a story. Sometimes it’s about something as superficial as wearing eyeglasses. More often though, it’s about building confidence and preparedness for battle without apology and without rancor.
Li, Peggy (2013). Physical attractiveness and femininity: Helpful or hurtful for female attorneys? Social Sciences Research Network (SSRN).
So it’s been a while since we’ve revisited this category of posts. We know you’ve missed them, so here’s a new one. Apologies from men in the workplace are less expected and therefore more effective. Oh, good grief. Extra credit for conjuring up some manners?
Researchers review prior findings on apology: women apologize more and we tend to take their apologies for granted; we don’t care about apologies from our subordinates as much as apologies from our managers; and so on.
Research participants were “asked to imagine a specific situation in which a person [David or Rachel] who scheduled a work meeting with them did not show up and did not notify them ahead of time. The following day, “David” or “Rachel” [the person was identified by both gender and role-- either a subordinate or a manager] sent a letter apologizing: ‘I am sorry I did not come to our meeting yesterday. I had so many unexpected things to do and I completely forgot about it. I heard from the secretary that you did all the work by yourself. I’m sorry you left work late and will try to make sure this does not happen again’.”
After reading the above description, the research participants responded to several questions about the effectiveness of the apology and how expected the apology was to them. And, here is what the researcher’s found (much of which you likely can predict):
A manager’s apology was more effective than a subordinate’s apology.
A man’s apology was more effective than a woman’s apology but only when the reviewer was a woman. Specifically, women reacted more positively to an apology from a man than to an apology from a woman. Men, on the other hand, reacted similarly to apologies regardless of whether the apology came from a man or a woman.
Apologies from male managers were the most effective. Then female managers, male subordinates, and finally female subordinates.
An apology from a manager was more important (statistically speaking) than being either a male or a female apologizing. The researchers say that since apologies from managers are unexpected, they are more powerful and effective.
In short, say the researchers, “a woman’s apology is less accepted than that of a man, but a female manager’s apology is accepted more than an apology from a male subordinate.” They also go on to say something we see semi-regularly in our pretrial research: “women were less willing to forgive a female who apologized than a male who apologized”. The researchers believe female coworkers believe a female (manager or subordinate) who has wronged them has somehow violated what should be a “sisterhood” and so the women are less willing to forgive.
What we see in our pretrial research is less a sense of sisterhood breached, than a sense of bristling by female mock jurors over a female Plaintiff or female Defendant who has made an error that would never have been made by our female mock jurors. They identify with the female in the story more than most men do of male characters. Women display amazing levels of hindsight bias when it comes to other women– female mock jurors would always have supervised their children better, judged the character of a romantic partner more accurately, gotten that verbal agreement in writing, always gotten second and even third opinions when positive medical information was received…
In short, we see female mock jurors more severely judging female parties (and yes, even female attorneys) frequently.
But we don’t see it as due to a breach of “sisterhood”. Instead, we think it’s due to a desire to stay safe. Women want to keep their children safe, not invite untrustworthy men into their lives, succeed professionally, stay healthy, and in general, stay safe. The reaction is one of reassuring themselves that they are safe, that they are not vulnerable to this particular misfortune. When they see female parties in lawsuits who have not done that, they assure themselves (and us) that they would have succeeded where these other women failed. It’s not so much an offensive maneuver, as a defensive strategy.
But we digress. People in lesser power positions are seen as apologizing too much and women (by virtue of gender) are seen as less powerful than men. Thus, we expect women to apologize and so when they do, we shrug. It doesn’t register. But when a powerful man apologizes, we revel in it and give him kudos for doing the unexpected.
There is some reason to be positive about these research results. If you have risen to a managerial position in the workplace as a woman, while your apology will not be as effective or as accepted as the apology of a male manager, it will be more effective than an apology from a male subordinate. That’s a good thing, right?
The researchers advise transgressors on apologizing: “When a manager is indecisive about whether to apologize or maintain his or her silence, our answer is apologize, but make sure you do not have to do it too often”.
Walfisch, T, Van Dijk, D, & Kark, R (2013). Do you really expect me to apologize? The impact of status and gender on the effectiveness of an apology in the workplace. Journal of Applied Social Psychology. DOI: 10.1111/jasp.12101