Why a Businesswoman is a Bitch

This is not a post with an agenda. I’m not interested in the way some subset of people might have sexist beliefs. There is no soapbox about the evils of sexism.

Just recently, Dr. Melissa Williams at Emory University and Dr. Larissa Tiedens at Stanford went beyond the typical “How people see business women vs. business men.” Instead of asking how they’re seen differently, they asked when they’re seen differently and when they’re NOT.

What they found that that women are judged more harshly than men for direct, open displays of dominance, like direct demands.

But women are NOT judged more harshly for indirect, implicit displays of dominance, like direct eye contact.

Further, the effects of dominance in women didn’t have a significant effect on how competent they were seen. A bitch may be a bitch, but that doesn’t mean she’s bad at her job. What it affected was how likeable she seemed, and so how hireable she was (because who wants to work with someone you dislike?).

So women are judged on the social side of their actions.

Other research has shown people expect women to be more socially sensitive and socially competent than men. They’re thought to “read” people better and be more sensitive to others’ needs or feelings.

Dr. Williams and Tiedens suggest that what matters in judging women is whether the viewer notices (encodes) the dominant behavior as breaking stereotype, and the viewer punishes them for that.

But maybe it’s just that we think men are bad at social sensitivity, and give them a little more slack?

Like I talked about in my post, How to be offensive without offending, there are lots of ways to communicate something harsh while letting people save face. Women tend to be more sensitive to other people’s face, and being indirect in your dominance is a way of preserving it.

Maybe the men-vs.-women-in-business is a case of getting a harsher punishment because “you know better.”

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