We've all heard of the gendered double standard of assertiveness before, which allows men to express their anger culturally, but which labels women who do the same as "bitches." Well, this gendered bias has once again been confirmed to exist by a new study of gender inequality at work. Conducted by VitalSmarts, the study found that women's deserved pay level decreases by over $15,000 if she is forceful at the office. Men suffered somewhat, as well, but not nearly as much — the loss for them was half as much as it was for women.
This finding came about as the result of research conducted in June, which surveyed over 11,000 people about their experiences in the workplace. 4,517 of the 11,000 people they studied were asked to watch set-up performances on video of a male or female manager speaking to employees; then they were asked to rate the manager's competency and how much money they deserved to make using a survey. The remaining 7,921 participants watched the same actor performances, but beforehand, read framing statements to give some context — things like, “I see this as a matter of honesty and integrity, so it’s important for me to be clear about where I stand," and "I know it’s a risk for a woman to speak this assertively, but I’m going to express my opinion very directly.”
What they found was that women in managerial roles who were rated by observers as being critical or angry were also rated 35 percent less competent and worthy of a $15,088 salary cut than a woman who doesn't speak assertively. For men in managerial roles, observers only said they deserved about half as much of a pay cut for expressing the same assertive behavior. “Speaking up in forceful, assertive ways is especially risky for women. ... An emotion-inequality effect punishes women more than men," lead researcher Joseph Grenny commented in the report. Why is that, though? "Women are burdened with the assumption that they will conform to cultural stereotypes that typecast women as caring and nurturing. ... Women are judged more harshly than men for the same degree of assertiveness," Grenny explained.
Fortunately, Grenny and his team came up with some solutions as to what workplaces can do to eliminate this kind of gender bias. If you find yourself being punished for being assertive in the office, try to use one of these two techniques they suggest to combat this sexism.
1. Spread Awareness
The first step to recognizing any problem is to become aware of it. Grenny explained that this internal gender bias is often not something people even realize they are doing, since it's usually an unconscious process. So, start with tuning into this bias and doing everything you can to stop yourself from falling prey to it. The next time your female supervisor makes an assertive remark, try to see her point or ask yourself how you would take this feedback if it came from a man, instead of writing her off as bitchy to your co-workers.
2. Use Framing
Another finding that came out of this study was how the use of framing can mitigate internal gender bias. When the second group of study participants used phrases like, “I know it’s a risk for a woman to speak this assertively, but I’m going to express my opinion very directly” before they spoke, they found that the sexist double-standard women received was negated by as much as 27 percent. So the next time you want to speak up at work but are afraid of facing this bias, try to use a framing phrase like this that sets the tone of sexism being recognized and not tolerated.