For men, behaving in a friendly, communal way was optional. For women, it was mandatory.
Perhaps the most dispiriting experiment was conducted in 2004 by Madeline Heilman, a psychologist at New York University. Heilman handed out a packet giving background information about a certain employee who was an assistant vice-president in an aircraft company.
In some cases, the employee was described as not yet having received a performance review. In other cases, the employee had gone through the review and been deemed a “stellar performer” or a “rising star”. The only other difference was that in some cases, the employee described in the packets was “Andrea” and in others “James”.
Among those who believed the employee had not yet received a review, Andrea and James were judged equally. But among those to whom the employee had been described as a “rising star”, there were vast differences in response. People judged rising star Andrea as far less likable and far more hostile than James; in fact, the Andreas were judged to be “downright uncivil”, Heilman says, even though there was no information provided to support that view.
Subjects merely assumed that “Andrea” must have done some nasty things along the way in order to break through in such a male-dominated field.
Study reveals tips for overcoming stereotypes
A few years later, Heilman repeated the Andrea/James experiment, only this time she added extra descriptions. Andrea/James “demands a lot from her/his employees” but is “caring and sensitive to their needs” or “fair-minded” or encourages “cooperation and helpful behaviour”.
Any of these three descriptions did the trick for Andrea, making subjects like her as much, be happy to have her as a boss and consider her competent.
In 2011, researcher Hannah Riley Bowles, working with Babcock, picked the simple scenario of an employee receiving a job offer, then asking for a higher salary. Each subject saw a video of different employees, played by actors, asking for a raise using a different script.
Her working hypothesis was that, to be successful, the performance had to fulfil two different criteria: it had to be girlish enough not to trigger a backlash, but aggressive enough to convince the research subjects that the woman should be given a raise.
“I think I should be paid at the top of that range. I’d also like to be eligible for an end-of-year bonus.”
No. Too aggressive.
“I hope it’s OK to ask you about this. I’d feel terrible if I offended you in doing so.”
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