This post is a transcript of discussion on the topic by one of my colleagues Jessica Hook at our informal leadership discussions. She manages a basic science laboratory and she is currently working on an MBA in healthcare organizational leadership.

The reality is that we are living, and leading, in a world defined by men. I don’t judge women, or anyone, for “playing the system.” I do think that the non-majority leaders who have come before us have had to make sacrifices. I think that MJ Hegar’s video, for example, walks a fine line between fierce warrior and loving mother, and I also think that is her reality. THIS is exactly what women and people with non-traditional backgrounds and experiences bring to the table. Many of us have taken circuitous paths, and we have gained an enormous amount of skills and experience along the way. Maybe we did not take the traditional path of many privileged white men – prominent wealthy family and support system, the best schools, internships and apprenticeships with family connections, etc., etc. I’m not knocking that path. I think there is a need for people with that experience at the table as well. I just don’t think everyone at the table should have that background.

My issue with the article on how women can escape the likability trap is that I feel it promotes gendered stereotypes and encourages women to behave in a “motherly” way to get ahead. I like the last paragraph. These issues are complex, and we all come at them from different views. Another thing I don’t like about this particular article, like most articles on this subject, is that it is oozing with white, hetero, traditional nuclear family privilege. Unfortunately, we are still living in a time where female leaders are more “likable” if they are married to a person of the opposite sex and have a beautiful nuclear family with a dog. Look at the campaign materials for women running for office. In contrast, in science, it is still the case that women who are single and childless are given more respect as “serious” scientists as though having a personal life and family is a distraction. I have never once heard the same thing said about a male scientist. I have been asked if I plan to have children or if I am using birth control. Most of my female peers have as well.

I could go on…. The complexities of these issues and all different perspectives are part of our learning and growing. It is like this huge issue that we all just side step. That’s just my view. The studies about gender bias in hiring decisions address a complex issue. I fear we are in an environment where more and more women and minority leaders will be accused of favoring women and minority candidates. The men’s rights camps are growing. I don’t want to be stuck in the middle of a gender war or any other kind of war. I just want everyone to be treated fairly. That is why I favor de-identified resumes, especially during the first round of screening. At the same time, I think it is totally fine to take into account that a candidate may have lower scores based on their background and life experiences. A refugee, for example, may have their education interrupted and fail a semester of classes bringing down their overall GPA or leading to a gap in their education or professional experience. That is not a fair comparison to someone who has led a charmed life, and I suspect those experiences as a refugee give that person certain skills and experiences that are of value in the workplace. That is sort of an extreme example. It gets more complicated when it is not so “clear.” I was very focused on these issues many moons ago and did significant research, but I have not kept up with the latest findings. The papers I am attaching are older and the 2004 paper by Bertrand has been widely referenced. There are issues with all studies. A study can be designed to “prove” just about anything. Then each camp uses that study to support their own implicit bias. I long for a time when people with different points of view can have honest conversations and really listen to one another.

Suggested Reading:

  1. https://hbr.org/2019/06/will-ai-reduce-gender-bias-in-hiring
  2. http://gap.hks.harvard.edu/orchestrating-impartiality-impact-“blind”-auditions-female-musicians
  3. https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/why-employers-favor-men
  4. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/16/opinion/sunday/gender-bias-work.html
  5. Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination Author(s): Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan Source: The American Economic Review, Vol. 94, No. 4, (Sep., 2004), pp. 991-1013  http://www.jstor.org/stable/3592802
  6. Race and Gender Effects on Employer Interest in Job Applicants: New Evidence from a Resume Field Experiment. August 2015. Rajeev Darolia, Cory Koedel, Paco Martorell, Katie Wilson, Francisco Perez-Arce. https://economics.missouri.edu/working-papers/2014/wp1419_koedel.pdf
  7. Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students. Corinne A. Moss-Racusin, John F. Dovidio, Victoria L. Brescoll, Mark J. Graham, and Jo Handelsman. PNAS October 9, 2012 vol. 109 no. 41. www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1211286109