Last week, the Washington Post had an article on its blog with this title reviewing the depressing research that women “don’t ask” at the same rate as men and exploring why this might be so. After all, as the author notes, women are negotiating every day at home–why do we choose not to do this in the workplace? * * *
[I]t does appear that the trap of either being likeable or competent holds women back [in politics[ (and is clearly at play during election season.) At the same time, some good news appears to occur with female lawyers which seem to escape this backlash because their role, status, and expectations as a negotiator do not fit into the “feminine” stereotype but rather the “lawyer” one. And, as one of my students just asked, is that good news for women in general or just for women lawyers?
Professor Schneider, with co-authors Catherine H. Tinsley, Sandra I. Cheldelin, Emily T. Amanatullah, explore these themes in their article Likeability v. Competence: The Impossible Choice Faced by Female Politicians, Attenuated by Lawyers. Here is the abstract:
The 2008 election highlighted a dilemma often faced by women in the professional world – a double bind between being perceived as competent or as likeable. Both qualities are imperative for success but the incongruity of normative female roles (warm, nurturing) with characteristics perceived necessary for professional success (independence, assertiveness) means that Wherever you fell along the political spectrum, it is clear that Hillary Clinton’s historic candidacy for the Presidency of the United States followed by Sarah Palin’s candidacy for Vice-President provided a unique lens for considering how gender is viewed in our culture. Of course, Clinton’s loss in the Democratic primary and Palin’s (and McCain’s) loss in the election was determined by multiple factors specific to their personalities and their campaigns. Yet, the election coverage demonstrated what workplace and social science research have shown for years: women face unique constraints when trying to be successful in traditionally masculine domains.
Interestingly, lawyers do not seem plagued by this same double bind. After reviewing election coverage and social science research, this Article focuses on research about lawyers demonstrating that, in style and in effectiveness, there is no difference between how female and male lawyers are perceived. In a study of lawyers rating other lawyers in their most recent negotiation, female lawyers were described in terms that were similar to their male colleagues (ethical, confident, and personable) and both were equally likely to be judged as effective in general. In fact, women lawyers were rated more highly in assertiveness than their male counterparts, and yet did not seem to suffer negative consequences for violating feminine proscriptions. This Article examines why lawyers appear to escape the backlash effect and argues that unique features of legal work reduce the perceived incongruity between assertiveness and proscribed feminine behavior thereby attenuating the likelihood of backlash. Finally, the Article concludes by suggesting further advice for how lawyers can deal with the backlash effect in contexts where incongruity is still salient.
The full paper is available here.
I haven’t read the paper yet, but it’s next on my list. My (non-expert, uninformed) hypothesis is that, in general, women are better at negotiating on behalf of others than for ourselves because negotiating for others is, in some ways, the kind of “protecting” behavior for which women historically have been rewarded. Super Mom can face off against a child’s monsters under the bed. When Super Mom puts on her Super Attorney suit, she acts to protect her client’s interests.
When a woman negotiates for herself, she’s acting on her own behalf. Noone is “protecting” her. Ok, some women don’t need or want protection. But to protect oneself requires putting oneself — one’s own interests — first. That isn’t so easy for some women.
Or for some men, no doubt.