Thanks to Forbes and to Kathy Caprino, we now know that gender bias is real. Just as feminists have been saying, we are all sexists. Which means that we need to do penance in order to atone for our sins.
But, what does this really mean? At best, it means that people perceive men and women differently. But, if everyone thought that men and women were exactly the same, wouldn’t that count as a delusional belief. After all, the science is settled, men and women really are different… in significant and not-so-significant ways.
Even feminists insist that an off-color remark made by a man to a woman is not at all the same as an off-color remark made by a man to another man.
The studies in question attempt to prove that gender bias is real by showing that when men and women both assert themselves in a work situation, they are perceived differently. Surely, it is true that men and women are often perceived differently. But, why do we need to call it bias. Perhaps people are responding to differences in tone of voice, appearance, posture and attitude. It is commonly known, even to feminists, that female voice has a higher pitch than the male voice, thus that the male voice, for reasons that we ought not to attribute to the vast right-wing conspiracy, commands more authority and respect.
If you are studying leadership and management ability, you cannot do studies in which no one knows the speaker’s gender.
Of course, you can run experiments where you reduce the importance of perceived gender. In a famous experiment, judges were asked to appraise male and female musicians when they did not know whether the musicians were men or women. The result: they had a higher opinion of women performers when they did not know that the performers were women.
In that case, it seems that gender bias did exist. If a musician's place in an orchestra is merely a function of how well he or she plays, this would be relevant.
One might even note that judgment is based on experience and that judges may have heard, over time, more better male musicians than females. Perhaps there are other reasons. Perhaps women are not as reliable when it comes to showing up for rehearsals and performances. Then again, perhaps orchestra leaders are bigots. Whatever the case, the results cannot apply to situations where women and competing against men for leadership positions.
Kathy Caprino explains:
A new study by New York Times bestselling authors,Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield revealed that gender bias in the workplace is real, finding that women’s perceived competency drops by 35% and their perceived worth falls by $15,088 when they are judged as being “forceful” or “assertive.” Compare this with the drops in competency and worth that men experience when being judged as forceful: their competency drops by 22% and their worth falls by $6,547. This significant difference reveals a true gender bias that prohibits women from succeeding fully in leadership and management roles where assertiveness is, of course, a crucial behavior.
Perhaps I am not reading this correctly, but the study seems to show that being forceful and assertive is generally considered to be a negative, in both men and women. Along with the research comparing introverts and extroverts, as reported here yesterday, this tells us again that people who are more extroverted are considered to be less competent leaders.
Of course, the study seems to have been designed to support Sheryl Sandberg’s advice for women to Lean In. But, it says that when women do so, they are punished more harshly than men who do the same thing.
For all I know, the experiment might be telling us that leaning in is a bad idea and that it is worse for women than for men. To which Caprino and Co. would respond that a good leader must be forceful and assertive. But, as Elizabeth Bernstein noted in her column about introverts, the best leaders are anything but forceful and assertive. Leadership is not an exercise in imposing your will on others.
We must also consider the fact that all of this self-assertion is really macho posturing. Real strength of character, to say nothing of real manliness, is not shown by blustering braggadocio. One must add that, like it or not, men are more naturally suited to macho posturing than are women.
In other words, a man who is acting macho is exaggerating a quality that he probably possesses.. A woman who is acting macho is pretending to be something she is not. A macho man might just turn out to be manly. A woman pretending to be a macho man is not going to turn out to be manly.
When a woman is induced to pretend to be a man, she takes the risk that she will not be perceived as knowing who she is. Moreover, she might even be mistaken for a feminist, thus for someone whose loyalty to her ideology is stronger than her loyalty to her company.
Obviously, the world has known many great women leaders and managers. In some situations they succeed by surrounding themselves with males… thus mitigating the notion that their leadership is coming from a more feminine place.
Margaret Thatcher was firm and decisive, even forceful. And yet, she surrounded herself with men, and went out of her way to show her strength and courage. By being the only woman in the room, Thatcher was able to assert her authority while allowing everyone to think that it had a manly quality.
On the other hand when Hillary Clinton tries to be decisive and forceful it comes across as posturing. But, Hillary has taken a tack that many other women leaders avoid: she surrounds herself with women. And, we must add, she has notably lacked professional achievements and accomplishments. If we were to judge her on her ability to run a presidential campaign, even with the assistance of Bill Clinton, she seems clearly not to be up to the job.
Still, rather than declaim against gender bias, culture warriors who are really interested in women’s professional advancement would do better to advise women to show that they like being women and to help them to find ways to manage the perception of their relative weakness.
In truth, women are constitutionally weaker than men. In many jobs it does not really matter, but if one is conscious of the fact—who isn’t?—one cannot just turn off the consciousness because it is politically incorrect. Some women leaders have found ways to deal with the situation. They have not done so by denying that they are women. And they have not done so by laying a feminist guilt trip on the world.