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We’d really rather call this the “34 reasons you should get up and talk face-to-face rather than emailing or texting effect” but that’s probably why we’re not academics. It’s become habitual to email or text even when it is faster and perhaps easier to walk across the hall, over to another cubicle, or even take a quick ride up the elevator to speak to a colleague in person. But once you read the results of this study you may start moving around—especially when you really want someone you do not know to do something for you.

Today’s study is from researchers in Canada and the US and it’s all about our unreliable estimate of compliance by others when we make direct requests. The researchers call it the “underestimation of compliance effect” which we must admit is not particularly catchy. But the takeaway is pretty catchy for sure. Here it is:

Despite your belief that you are persuasive in emails to those you have not met, you are 34 times more persuasive in face-to-face communication.

34x you say? How can that be true? And how can they say that precise number (34x)? Apparently most of us overestimate our powers of persuasion in text and underestimate our powers of persuasion in person. The second author of this paper wrote up a plain language version of the paper for Harvard Business Review (and oddly, the summary is as long as the article itself). In the HBR piece, she offers a brief comment that explains the takeaway:

Imagine you need people to donate to a cause you care about. How do you get as many people as possible to donate? You could send an email to 200 of your friends, family members, and acquaintances. Or you could ask a few of the people you encounter in a typical day—face-to-face—to donate. Which method would mobilize more people for your cause?

Despite the reach of email, asking in person is the significantly more effective approach; you need to ask six people in person to equal the power of a 200-recipient email blast. Still, most people tend to think the email ask will be more effective.

So why does this happen? The researchers say that people you do not know are suspicious of links in emails (they were being asked to have strangers complete a survey which was housed online) and think you are untrustworthy. Conversely, the sender (that would be you) knew they were not trying to trick the recipient and that the URL was trustworthy. The sender simply failed to consider the recipients perspective (i.e., someone I don’t know wants me to click on an untrustworthy link).

The researchers did a second study where they found that “nonverbal cues requesters conveyed during a face-to-face interaction” made the difference in how legitimate the recipient thought they were—yet, the requester was oblivious to these cues.

From an office management (not to mention effectiveness) perspective, you may want to encourage communications between co-workers—even if they don’t know each other—to occur in a face-to-face interaction rather than in a text-based communication. When the person you are encouraging to discuss the issue in person rolls their eyes and considers you hopelessly “old school”, you can just whip out this study (or the article in Harvard Business Review) and let them know you are on top of new knowledge. They can get up and move and talk face-to-face—not because it’s “nice”, but because it works 34x better.

Roghanizad, MM Bohns, VK 2017 Ask in person: You’re less persuasive than you think over email. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 69, 223-226.


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The problem with female attorney retention has been discussed at some length in blogs, in reports sponsored by the American Bar Association, in professional association publications, in academic journals, and likely—everywhere female attorneys gather. Female attorneys leave BigLaw for many reasons but here’s a bit of research that may give insight into helping law firms retain female attorneys following childbirth or adoption.

It has long been noted that women bear the brunt of the financial/career impact related to childbirth and/or motherhood. And if you are a woman of color, the damage to income is even worse. While the research cited in this post was completed at the University of Kent, in the United Kingdom—it offers an interesting idea for law firms in the US to explore. The study results revolve around the use of flextime (which makes sense) but with an interesting twist worth investigating.

Here are the main findings:

More than half of the women in the study sample reduced their working hours after a child was born—but less than a quarter who were able to use flextime reduced their hours.

Women who were able to use flextime were only half as likely to reduce their hours after the birth of a child.

And here is the twist:

The issue was not whether new moms perceived they had access to flextime. The most important factor was the use of flextime by the woman before giving birth.

In other words, those women who had actually used flextime prior to giving birth were more likely to think they could juggle the work-life balance demands with which they were faced after giving birth. It raises the question of how ‘real’ the flextime is. If it isn’t used prior to birth, there might be cultural norms not to use it, even if it is nominally accepted. If it is seen (overtly or unconsciously) as a sign that someone is distracted, not dedicated, worn out, or otherwise not a ‘team player’–there will be a reluctance to use it, even if the alternative is to quit.

The researchers think this finding could have implications for the gender pay gap since women would not necessarily have to give up their work in order to have children. They also note it would help companies retain female employees who often tend to either leave or reduce working hours following childbirth.

From a law office management perspective, it makes sense to encourage both male and female attorneys to use flextime routinely so they can become more attuned to how flextime use can help them to balance work-life demands. For women who give birth or adopt, according to today’s highlighted research, having used flextime prior to having children may well help them juggle the challenges of having children while also retaining a rewarding and demanding career. That ‘work-life balance’ stuff is actually pretty important.

Chung, H. van der Horst, M. 2017. Women’s employment patterns after childbirth and the perceived access to and use of flextime and teleworking. Human Relations.


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An effective way for women to #humblebrag 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017
posted by Rita Handrich

We have blogged a number of times on the problems with humblebragging. Observers see you as insincere and self-involved. But Forbes recently published an article that just may allow you to promote yourself as well as promoting others. The practice of effective self-promotion for women is strewn with pitfalls. A well-known example is that women will offer ideas that are ignored in group discussion and then when a male colleague says the same thing—the idea is often embraced. Last week we posted on the challenges faced by female and minority managers and this strategy may be a good way around that dilemma.

The idea is a simple one: repetition. And we know it works based on research. The problem is that if you repeat yourself too often (either in meetings or in court) your input will likely be discounted. This strategy gets around that issue as well. And the idea is simple and just requires simple strategies:

Team up with your co-workers to humblebrag about each other.

How? There are several basic steps:

Amplification: First, know each other and reinforce each other’s good ideas in meetings. The article uses an example from the Obama administration. Women in strategy meetings were often not heard, so they banded together to do what they called “amplification”. When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it and give credit to the original woman. When this was done, a man in the meeting could not then take credit for the idea.

Brag Club: This is not like a Fight Club. A brag club is where you share your successes and attendees agree to promote the accomplishments of colleagues across the organization. Every month, you meet to update each other and change the content of the messages about you and the other members of the group that are shared across the organization.

Social Media Promotion: We are used to self-promotion on social media. This philosophy encourages you to promote each other on social media. Tweet about each other’s accomplishments and share and ‘like’ professional accomplishments on various social media platforms.

Get a mentor. This one has been around for a while. Choose someone credible and we would say, based on this research, choose someone who is demographically different from you.

Keep a success journal. Sometimes it’s hard to recall your achievements and successes. At the end of each week, make time to enter your achievements on a list so that you are aware of things you have achieved. Schedule regular meeting with your supervisor and keep them updated on the results of projects on which you are working. Use the journal at your monthly brag club meetings.

Overall, the idea of humblebragging on others (while others humblebrag on you) is a terrific idea.  But in truth, what is being proposed here is more meaningful—it is creating a culture of mutual appreciation and respect. You don’t get penalized for tooting your own horn while pretending not to, but, word of your successes—and those of others who share your ethos of mutual respect—spreads. It is possibly a way to avoid the penalties non-White and female managers receive when they promote other minorities within the organization. Have others you trust promote you through a coordinated network within your organization.


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Women often think that “one day” they will garner the professional respect and standing that will stop men from interrupting them when the woman is speaking. Today we are presenting two studies of women who’ve reached heights in their professions which most women (and most men for that matter) will never achieve. Both studies tell us the fantasy of speaking without interruption is likely untrue.

Harassment of female “Space Scientists

Despite all the professed desire to increase the number of women in STEM fields, the working environment experienced by women scientists continues to be hostile. A recent survey of astronomers and planetary scientists asked whether they had been harassed either in school or at work. The survey (for those who like to know such things) was distributed online in early 2015. The researchers received responses from 474 planetary scientists and astronomers.

What is important to know here is that this was not a random sample. The authors report the sample was different from the entire field of space scientists in the following ways: the participants were earlier in their careers than would be a randomly selected sample, were more likely to be women or racial minorities, and were probably savvier about social media than the average space scientist. The researchers say the results are not generalizable to all space scientists but the results do answer (with a resounding yes) the question of whether there really is a problem.

The results were even worse than expected by the supervising professor. Here are a sample of the findings:

Female scientists were more likely than male scientists to report having heard racist or homophobic remarks and to have experienced both verbal and physical harassment (at work and at school) during the five most recent years.

Scientists who were ethnic or racial minority group members were more likely than white scientists to have heard racist and homophobic remarks and to have been harassed.

40% of scientists who were women of color said they had felt unsafe at work because of their gender.

Among female non-white scientists, 28% reported feeling unsafe because of their race.

White women (12%), women of color (18%) and one man of color (6% of his male of color cohort) reported having skipped at least one class, meeting or other professional event because they felt unsafe.

The authors of this paper (which is available on-line) make some recommendations for reducing this harassment. They suggest both schools and labs have diversity training as well as a code of conduct that is enforced. They suggest leaders in the field model “appropriate behavior” (unlike, for example, the example set by leading “planet finder”/space scientist and tenured professor Geoff Marcy who harassed women in his field for decades), and that the profession actually follow their written codes and sanction offenders quickly and fairly.

Surely women who are Supreme Court Justices are free of interruptions!

Nope. Not even. “There is no point at which a woman is high-status enough to avoid being interrupted”. The Harvard Business Review recently summarized the results of a new empirical study [available at SSRN] by Northwestern University researchers. The results mirror the results from the survey of space scientists. If you are a female or a minority (or both) and happen to be a Supreme Court Justice—prepare to be interrupted (and keep reading to see the strategies used by real Supreme Court Justices who are women to decrease the number of interruptions from men).

The HBR summary first tells us that Neil Gorsuch will fit in well at the current Supreme Court since he “repeatedly interrupted” liberal female senators during his Senate hearings. Then, they move on to summarize the new study (the result of reviewing transcripts from 15 years of Supreme Court oral arguments) which shows the following disheartening information:

As more women join the Supreme Court, male justices are increasing their interruptions of the women justices rather than decreasing them (as one might hope). As an example, in the last 12 years, women were 24% (on average) of the Supreme Court composition. During that time frame, 32% of the interruptions were of the female justices (by either their male colleagues or by the male advocates arguing cases). In comparison, only 4% of the interruptions came from the female justices. The researchers looked at transcripts all the way back to 1990 to see if the pattern of interrupting women was the same when there fewer female justices.

In 1990, Sandra Day O’Connor was the only female justice and 35.7% of all interruptions were directed at her.

In 2002, there were two female justices (O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg) and 45.3% of all interruptions were directed at them.

In 2015, there were three female justices (Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan) and, maintaining the increasing frequency of interrupting female justices, 65.9% of all interruptions were of those three women.

In fact, in 2015, Sonia Sotomayor (the only woman of color on the bench) was the most common justice target for interruption by male advocates. (This despite the Supreme Court rule mandating advocates stop talking immediately when a justice begins speaking). The total number of interruptions by male advocates was 10% of the interruptions with 8% (of the 10%) directed at Justice Sotomayor.

Conservative justices are more likely to interrupt liberal justices (70% of the interruptions made by conservative justices) than to interrupt their conservative colleagues (30%).

“Junior” status on the bench also results in more interruptions (at a statistically significant level) from senior justices. However, the researchers say gender is about 30x more powerful a predictor of interruption than length of time on the bench. The researchers expect the introduction of Gorsuch as the most junior colleague will result in an intensification of the gender over seniority interruption relationship.

So if both male Supreme Court advocates and male Supreme Court Justices are increasing their interruptions of women justices, what does a woman do to make a difference? The women who are Supreme Court justices adapt, according to the researchers. They change their speech patterns to mirror those of the male justices. They are, again according to the researchers, less polite. Here’s how the researchers summarize it:

Early in their tenure, female justices tend to frame questions politely, using prefatory words such as “May I ask,” “Can I ask,” “Excuse me,” or the advocate’s name. This provides an opportunity for another justice to jump in before the speaker gets to the substance of her question.

We found that women gradually learn to set aside such politeness. All four of the female justices have reduced their tendency to use this polite phrasing. Justice Sotomayor adjusted within just a few months. Justices O’Connor and Ginsburg gradually became less and less polite over decades on the court, eventually using the polite phrases approximately one-third as much as they did initially. Justice Kagan is still learning: She uses polite language more than twice as often as the average man, although half as often as she did in 2010. We do not see a similar trend with the men, because male justices rarely use these polite speech patterns, even when they first enter the court. It is the women who adapt their speech patterns to match those of the men.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, the results of this study are instructive. Female litigators would perhaps do well to modify their speech patterns to mirror those of men. This raises the question that has dogged women in authority forever—conduct and speech which is acceptable and expected from men often results in women being viewed as emasculating or ‘bitchy’. There is a double standard, and ignoring it risks alienating jurors on the one hand, or getting run over by men on the other. Women litigators and female witnesses would do well to review our blog posts on traditionally feminine speech patterns and work to minimize their frequency.

The researchers also call upon the Chief Justice to intervene in the interruptions of women justices and we would say the same for senior partners at law firms. If women are interrupted, speak up and demonstrate an environment that is receptive to both female and male opinions. (It matters.)

Clancy, K. B. H., K. M. N. Lee,E. M. Rodgers, and C. Richey (2017). Double jeopardy in astronomy and planetary science: Women of color face greater risks of gendered and racial harassment, Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets. 122. Open access pdf at:


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This is a really disturbing and yet, so intuitively predictable article about what happens when you are a Black, Brown, and/or Female manager in your workplace. While past research has blamed the high achiever for acting as gatekeepers and keeping other minority members out of positions of leadership—today’s research has a more empathic explanation for why that gatekeeping happens. Essentially, these researchers say that successful minority managers “know it could spell disaster for their own careers” if they support diverse candidates for management positions. Regardless of how many male or White managers promote the candidates most similar to themselves, it often spells trouble for a minority manager who does the same thing.

Today’s researchers wondered if minority status (being an ethnic minority or female) made a difference in how diversity initiatives proposed by managers were received. So they recruited 350 executives from a variety of American organizations (10% were non-White and about 30% were women). These executives represented 20 industries and 26 different job functions. Their bosses and up to three colleagues were asked to rate their competence and performance, how ready they were to be promoted, and whether they valued working with a diverse group of people.

According to Alex Fradera, who summarized this article over at the BPS Digest blog, there were findings consistent with earlier research about the importance of valuing diversity—but there were also some more disturbing findings we have not seen before.

“Promoting diversity” is seen as important in many organizations and findings in this study were consistent with earlier work—those who were rated higher for diversity-valuing behavior also received higher ratings for performance and competence.

But. And this is a big but. For non-white executives and for female executives, the more they were seen as valuing diversity, the lower the scores they received on competence and performance. (And those in this group who did receive higher scores on competence and performance, also were rated as showing the least interest in diversity.)

The researchers saw this as reflecting attitudinal biases where minorities who value diversity are negatively perceived since they are seen as favoring “their own” rather than maintaining the status quo. So they did a second study to ensure this was an accurate interpretation. You likely know what the results of that study were.

If a female or non-White manager, hired a female or non-White Vice President and mentioned promoting diversity in the hire—research participants gave that hiring manager poor ratings.

However, much like the first study, when a White male manager made that same decision with the same explanation of promoting diversity—they were not negatively rated by research participants.

So, no wonder past research has found that high-achieving non-White or female employees do not advocate for others “like them” to move ahead in the organization. Perhaps, rather than wanting to serve as a gatekeeper and avoid competition—they simply realize the career cost is too high for them to stand up and welcome in diverse others. Additionally, it seems that they will have less organizational influence —in minority hiring and more generally—than if they said or did less. In other words, as the researchers say, “ethnic minorities and women who engage in diversity-valuing behaviors tend to be negatively stereotyped, and thus, receive lower competence and performance ratings”.

It’s  a research finding that is clearly disturbing, but these researchers actually have some ideas to successfully develop a diverse workplace without harming anyone’s career path. Some of their recommendations may seem odd at first, but they also make sense given these research results.

Here are their recommendations:

Stop focusing attention on diversity-valuing behavior and focus instead on leaders’ “homogeneity-valuing behavior”.

Why? This puts the burden of proof on those trying to maintain the status quo rather than on those trying to change it. The researchers acknowledge that this is likely often an unfair standard and suggest it is more practical to follow their second and third recommendations.

Reward any hiring manager who hires someone demographically different from the hiring manager.

Why? The researchers say this will automatically increase minority numbers in the organization because White hiring managers are going to be looking for good minority candidates.

Also, non-White and female employees who seek to hire White males are going to likely avoid the negative ratings they would receive if they hired more diverse candidates. The researchers go so far as to say that hiring White males may be a “beneficial career strategy” for non-White and female hiring managers.

Consider putting a White male in charge of your diversity initiatives.

Why? The researchers say these positions in organizations are usually staffed by women or non-White employees who—based on these research results, will be suspect for supporting diversity.

If, for example, the CEO of the company (or the senior partner of a law firm) is a White male, that person may be a good choice to lead a diversity-valuing committee since it will help all employees see diversity as a legitimate goal. A White male leader will not be suspect and the diversity messages may be more successful because of it.

One simple example was the manager Al Harrison (played by Kevin Costner) in the 2016 film “Hidden Figures”, a film about the astonishing contributions of three African-American women during the Apollo program at NASA. Harrison was as blind to the institutional racism these women faced as anyone else, but when he realized the negative effects on the women and his program, he aggressively sought to desegregate his workforce.

Hekman, DR Johnson, SK Foo, MD Yang, W. 2017. Does diversity-valuing behavior result in diminished performance ratings for non-white and female leaders? Academy of Management Journal, 60(2), 771-797.


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