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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



virile nostrilsOh, the things men say. Well, in truth, no real man said this. It’s featured in a parody of the viral Dove video where a forensic artist draws pictures of women as they describe themselves and then as they are described by a stranger. In the real ad, the women describe themselves as less attractive than the stranger describes them. In the parodies, the men describe themselves with swagger and perhaps even with total and ridiculous inaccuracy. It is very funny.

It is also an anecdotally well-documented difference between men and women. But not just anecdotal. It’s supported by actual data as well. Women doubt themselves. Men praise themselves. While there is self-doubt among members of both genders, it’s more prevalent in women. Much more.

Sheryl Sandberg talks about this concept in her book, Leaning In. Women don’t praise themselves. They give credit to others. They don’t, as Sandberg says, “keep their hands up”. Instead they sit back and let others (read men) take the spotlight. And women often leave the workforce when they have children–especially if their workplaces are male-dominated. Oddly, it happens less when their workplaces are gender-balanced or female-dominated. Here’s a 2013 summary of what happens when jobs require 50 hours or more per week:

“In male-dominated occupations, overwork was more likely than in balanced fields or female-dominated fields.

Mothers in male-dominated occupations were more discouraged despite the fact that the women who survived in those more masculine fields may on average be more committed to work than overworking women in other jobs.

Higher education levels make it more likely that women stay in their jobs, but not enough to overcome the discouraging effect of being an overworking mother.

Meanwhile, men (whether fathers or not) and women without children were not more likely to leave their jobs in overworking fields.

When mothers left their jobs, some moved to less male-dominated professions; others entirely left the labor force.”

In short, women in male-dominated fields do not seem to have the support or “voice” they have in gender-balanced or female-dominated workforces. Why this is happening and how to make it stop is a long-standing debate in the field of law. Jordan Furlong has an unusual take on women leaving BigLaw behind with an often intense comment section. All of the links in this post are worth a read if you are concerned about workplace segregation (by gender or other demographic labels). Is it a problem? Some say yes and loudly. Is it a part of an eventual solution? Voices can heard to that effect as well–although some have been saying it for a really long time already.

Cha, Y. (2013). Overwork and the Persistence of Gender Segregation in Occupations Gender & Society, 27 (2), 158-184 DOI: 10.1177/0891243212470510

Institute of Leadership and Management. (2011) Ambition and gender at work. London, England.



Victor-Cruz-salsa-dance-300x260Do we think a football player should be punished for performing a celebration dance? It depends on his race. Even non-football fans have seen the celebration dances done by athletes following touchdowns. If the football player is Black, that arrogance should be punished. If White, it may still be arrogance, but that’s okay. Because they are White.

Wow. Researchers from Northwestern University wondered if Black football players would be seen more negatively (they call it “punished”) for celebration dances following touchdowns. There is research saying that members of high-status groups can behave arrogantly without penalty but that low-status group members cannot. The researchers conducted three different experiments:

The first experiment sampled 74 part-time MBA students (29 female, 45 male) who were all US born, “non-Black” and knowledgeable about American football. They read a description of Black or White football players who either celebrated with a “signature dance” following a successful touchdown or did not celebrate. They were then asked if the athlete should get a salary increase for the successful play.

Black football players who danced were punished financially more than Black football players who didn’t dance (and were therefore seen as more humble). White football players were not penalized similarly–that is, there was no difference in the recommended financial award for the arrogant versus the more humble White football player.

Study 2 sampled 54 non-Black males who could report the length of a football field. This was an age (19 years old to 75 years old) and income diverse (average income slightly below $73K/year) sample. The participants reviewed the same story as those in Study 1 had reviewed and were then asked this question: “If the average wide receiver in the NFL makes around $1M, how much do you think Malik Johnson (or Jake Biermann if the player was reported to be White) should make?”

The results were similar to Study 1 with Black football players celebrating being financially punished while White football players were not.

For Study 3 (now satisfied that Black football players were going to be punished for their arrogance) the researchers wanted to see why and when Black football players would be penalized. Again, 105 White participants able to report the length of a football field were gathered from an online sample. It was again a diverse sample: age ranged from 17 to 68; household income was on average $44K; and women (67 women, 38 men) were included in this sample. This time the participants read similar vignettes to the first two studies with some modifications:  the football players in the vignettes were all Black and either celebrated against a White player, celebrated against a player who race was not specified, did not celebrate at all, and in a “humble” condition, the player simply immediately surrendered the football to a referee as prescribed by the official playbook.

Black players in the celebration against a White opponent condition were rewarded significantly less than the Black player in the no-celebration condition or the humble condition. Similarly, the Black player in the celebration condition not specifying the race of the opponent was also rewarded significantly less than those who did not celebrate and “marginally less” than the Black players in the humble condition.

When the Black football players celebrated, they were penalized more than those who did not celebrate/were humble.

The researchers call this effect the “hubris effect” and refer to the “historical” notion of the “uppity Black” who needed to be taken down a peg or two. This research shows what they describe as “robust evidence” for this sort of hubris penalty against Black athletes but no similar effect for White athletes. In other words, we think it’s okay for White athletes to be arrogant, but Black athletes should know their place.

They cite other disturbing and recent research finding similar patterns:

From a 2010 study: Blacks are penalized for over-performance academically and downplaying achievement or feigning incompetence helps to avoid backlash.

From a 2009 study: Black CEOs benefitted from features that made them seem less competent than “ordinary Blacks”. The assumption here was that too much competence could be threatening to Whites.

It’s a sad and frustrating window into the state of race relations/perceptions in the current day. From a litigation advocacy standpoint, this has multiple implications. [Please understand that we are no more enthusiastic over the following recommendations than we are with the bias that spawned them. We're taking life as it comes here, and trying to optimize a bad situation.]

Prepare your witnesses and parties with awareness of this dynamic and the expectation that Blacks must be humble.

If your Black client, party, or witness is of higher education, SES, attractiveness, et cetera–pay special attention to evoking juror awareness of “universal values” your client shares with the jurors so the jurors see your Black client as more like them than not like them. The goal with this strategy is to decrease the likelihood of your White jurors being threatened by a high achieving Black party or witness). It’s a case of being more ‘humble’ than should be appropriate. It’s wrong, but it helps.

Consider mitigating the tendency to lower awards to Black plaintiffs or to penalize Black defendants too harshly by using one of our favorite litigation advocacy techniques.

Hall, E., & Livingston, R. (2012). The hubris penalty: Biased responses to “Celebration” displays of black football players Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48 (4), 899-904 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2012.02.004




wide faced man 2Model Cameron Russell has been making the rounds of various talk shows saying she is a successful underwear model not because she is particularly gifted or talented, but because she won a “genetic lottery”. Well, we bet wide-faced men are wishing they had won a genetic lottery because things are just not looking good for them. Last time we visited the topic of the wide-faced man it was to look at research telling us that, in comparison to skinny-headed men, the wide-faced man was judged by observers as being more likely to “lie and cheat”.

New research tells us the wide-faced man is more likely to explicitly endorse racially prejudiced beliefs. And not only are they more likely to do this, we anticipate they will be racist just by looking at them. That is, we are inclined to presume that wide-faced men are racist. Because they have wide-faces. And according to this research, it’s true.

These researchers believe the wide-faced man has a higher level of testosterone and is therefore more likely to be dominant, likely to be less inhibited when it comes to expressing prejudice, and more likely to be seen by others as being more prejudiced than less wide-faced men. They completed three separate studies to investigate these questions and all of these hypotheses were supported in their research. An additional and intriguing finding was that minority participants were “more motivated to accurately assess targets’ prejudice than were majority-group members”. They were also more accurate in estimating the prejudice of the particular wide-faced man. The researchers opine that this finding (wide-faced men are more prejudiced and more likely to overtly express their attitudes) adds to the body of research on how biology determines personality characteristics.

One of the problems we often encounter with research reports is the mighty leap that is taken between a finding (“wide-faced men harbor racial prejudice, just as people expect”, and causation (“wide-faced men have more testosterone which causes them to be domineering and uninhibited.”). Really? Is that a fact? Like the actual observed finding? No, it isn’t. It’s a theory. It may be based on some correlational data, but it could be as much due to other ‘causes’, or even coincidence. Beware of sensationalist research. And especially beware of glib causation assertions that goes so far beyond the data.

Given the findings in this research, we encourage you to read our original post on strategies to de-accentuate the impact of your own wide-face or your client’s wide face. In addition to simply buttressing the initial study’s results, this one also tells us that minority individuals are going to be especially attuned to bias and prejudice in wide-faced men. It becomes especially important, if you have minority members on your jury, that you are sure to inoculate jurors against their own biases and assumptions by educating them on the stereotypes against the wide-faced man.

Hehman E, Leitner JB, Deegan MP, & Gaertner SL (2013). Facial Structure Is Indicative of Explicit Support for Prejudicial Beliefs. Psychological Science. PMID: 23389425



We’ve all seen the research showing that men are more physically aggressive than women. But it’s been tough for researchers to explain just why that difference exists. They’ve proposed it’s due to social learning or evolutionary pressures but there’s been no real consensus since men are not measurably more angry than women (according to what’s been measured in research). The authors of this blog each have one daughter and one son, and we can join those who are mystified by the pattern of aggressiveness. To our observation, the difference was seen in toddlerhood.

So researchers chose to explore the idea of revenge and to look at whether the revenge motive differs between men and women. Surprise! It does! Here’s what they did over three different studies.

In Study 1, 89 undergraduate students (64 women and 25 men, average age 20.1 years) at the University of Wyoming completed questionnaires on physical aggression and trait anger and revenge motivation.

Men reported more physical aggression than did women. There were no differences in reports of anger between men and women (everyone gets mad– this is consistent with past research) but men reported more motivation to seek revenge than women reported.

In Study 2, 69 undergraduate students (50 women and 19 men with an average age of 19.6 years) from the University of Wyoming completed the same questionnaires used in Study 1.

Again, men reported more physical aggression than women, anger reports for men were slightly higher than they were for women, and men were more likely to have higher levels of revenge motivation.

For Study 3, 95 undergraduate students (55 men and 40 women with an average age of 19.6 years) from North Dakota State University were seated in separated cubicles equipped with desktop computers and headphones for the delivery of noise blasts. They were told they were competing against another research participant. Their task was to press the space bar as soon as they heard a brief beep. Whomever won the competition was able to choose a loud noise blast to administer to their opponent “to encourage them to respond faster”. They were allowed to choose how loud the noise blast would be and also allowed to choose a “no-noise, non-aggressive option”.

There was no real opponent. The computer randomly chose the “winner” as well as the intensity/volume of the noise blast received by the loser. There were 20 rounds of the “game” and each participant (there really was only one) won about half of the rounds (so each participant received 10 separate noise blasts). Following the competition, they filled out questionnaires on their emotional state (having just been repeatedly blasted by their invisible competitor) and then on how much revenge motivation they experienced during the competition.

Men were more aggressive in their noise blast suggestions than women. Men were more revenge motivated than women but not more angry than women nor more generally negatively oriented. The level of revenge motivation expressed was predictive of aggression: that is, men were more aggressive and their revenge motivation was also higher than that of women.

The researchers are quick to say that revenge is not the only reason men are more aggressive than women, but it certainly appears to be one of the reasons. One theory would be that men are more territorially competitive, and want to reassert their dominance. Thus a desire for revenge or retribution would drive aggressive behavior.

What is of interest from a litigation standpoint is whether people find it acceptable, and what circumstances mitigate public dismay at aggressive behavior by men. The studies and stories of aggression by women being judged far more harshly than the same behavior by men are commonplace. But what makes aggression/retaliation seem okay? What constitutes justification, and what is seen as aggressive? And what characteristics correspond to those who are tolerant of retaliation, versus those who are most likely to punish it?

While not from different planets and certainly not different species, men and women are different. They negotiate differently and they deliberate differently. Our task is to find out when gender is a bright line divider in how jurors think about specific cases. It doesn’t happen often–but when it does, it is critical to know.

Wilkowski, B., Hartung, C., Crowe, S., & Chai, C. (2012). Men don’t just get mad; they get even: Revenge but not anger mediates gender differences in physical aggression Journal of Research in Personality, 46 (5), 546-555 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2012.06.001