Last Monday, Adam Grant published an interesting article in the NYT, discussing how using weak language “I might be wrong” or “I hope” and disclaimers like these might help women in negotiations. In multiple experiments, women who used this kind of “hedging” language were deemed more likely to be hired and more likely to get a raise. Not surprising to this readership (and as Prof. Grant strongly agrees at the end of his article), I find that backlash to women’s assertiveness is gendered, sexist and super frustrating (my own technical term). And, as we work to change society, in the meantime, this is all good advice. Let me also note, as an important caveat to this article, I and and others have consistently found that backlash is minimized when acting on behalf of others so attorneys (at least on behalf of clients versus on behalf of themselves) do not need to use this language.
And another article (hat tip to Kelly Browe Olsen) adding to the challenges that women face at work–here’s an article noting how women will get criticized on virtually anything in ways that men will not.
The women leaders in our study were considered too young or too old. They were too short or too tall, too pretty or too unattractive or too heavy. They had too much education or not enough or their degrees were not from the “right” schools. They suffered from disrespect and misperceptions due to race, color, or ethnicity. Whether they had children or were childless, the women were expected to work harder than men to prove their worth. Women were held back from leadership opportunities due to being single, married, or divorced. There was no personality trait sweet spot, as introverted women were not seen as leaders and extraverted women were viewed as aggressive. The effect, then, means women leaders are “never quite right.”
Fortunately, they are ways to combat all of these biases through an updated version of Role Reversal–Flip It to Test It:
Leaders can be particularly effective in thwarting sexist criticisms toward women. It’s not about changing the behavior of women—who are the recipients of the unfair treatment—but it is about changing the behaviors of those who justify their actions as somehow merited. Many criticisms fail the “flip it to test it” method miserably. Ask yourself, would the following statements ever be said about a man?
He needs to smile more.
Since Larry has prostate cancer, he can no longer fulfill his job duties.
The clear answer is no. Leaders can infuse awareness of this simple, yet effective, tool to reduce such bias-laden criticisms. And workplace allies can help stop unfair criticism of women by calling it out.
And, finally, on another constructive note, there’s this article reporting a study from Peggy Neale and colleagues at Stanford showing how walking rather than sitting helps women in negotiation. The act of walking together, side by side, both improved how women felt about the negotiation and how they did. Even sitting side by side was better than across the table for women. As Prof. Neale noted, these small shifts in context can help shift the dynamic to a more collaborative one in which women are more comfortable and more effective. (BTW, men also enjoyed the walking!)
Lots of good food for thought as we head into the school year!