Monday, June 02, 2008

The Tinsley Report

Or rather, an article by Cathy Tinsley in yesterday's Washington Post says something quite interesting about women in management jobs, something that Michael Gurian's simplistic and over-generalizing theories (see Suzie's post below) completely miss: Women and men are not read the same by others:

In a series of studies involving hundreds of participants since 2005, my colleagues and I have found systematic social and financial backlash against even mildly assertive female executives. In one study, for example, people judged the behavior of a hypothetical human resources manager (alternately male or female) negotiating for a refund on unused hotel space. Female managers were judged as significantly more offensive, and less likely to receive any refund, than male managers, even though all managers engaged in exactly the same behavior. In later studies in which human resources managers asked for a refund, displaying mildly assertive behavior, the behavior was routinely judged appropriate when displayed by a man but offensive when displayed by a woman.

In another set of experiments, a finance director (again, alternately a man or a woman) had to choose between attending to a work crisis (an information technology system crash) or a family emergency (a sick child). When the finance director was female and chose to stay at work, she was seen as competent but unlikable. When the female finance director went home, she was rated as incompetent but likable. Yet the choices male finance directors made did not matter -- the men were always judged to be fairly likable and competent.

What is especially interesting is that most of this bias is wholly invisible to the judgers themselves (who express astonishment when the bias is pointed out). Also, men and women are both likely to judge the genders according to this differential scheme.

What is to be done? Note that there might be an "appropriate" way for women to act in the examples having to do with the right amount of aggression. Perhaps there is some acceptable girl-brain way of doing those tasks? We should ask Mr. Gurian.

But no such solution will help women in the example about coping with either a work crisis or a family emergency, because either choice leaves her with a negative evaluation. The solution must be a change in the way we judge others and must include making these gender schemes something we are aware of.