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men’s successes are attributed to skill.21 Conversely, the attribution bias means that women’s mistakes are seen as having permanent, internal causes, whereas men’s mistakes are accidental. Thus, the literature shows that women are required to prove themselves not once, but repeatedly.22

The attribution bias also means that the qualifications of a man are weighted more heavily than those of a woman. Research shows that when the qualifications of two people were compared, if the male candidate had more education than experience, study subjects cited education as the more important factor, and when the male candidate had more experience than education, study subjects cited experience as the more important factor.23 Finally, Williams discussed how the attribution bias means that women are judged on their achievement while men are judged on their potential. Women must provide relatively more evidence of accomplishment to be seen as equally competent.24

Recall and leniency biases. Williams discussed how, under the “recall bias,” women’s mistakes are taken more seriously and remembered longer than the mistakes made by men, and under the leniency bias, objective rules are applied rigorously to women and leniently to men.25

Polarized evaluations. Exceptionally high achieving women receive higher evaluations than exceptionally high achieving men, while women whose performance is described as “excellent” receive much lower evaluations than men performing similarly.26

Williams discussed how these biases affect different women differently, drawing on preliminary (but as yet unpublished) results from her focus groups.27 She discussed how African-American women are the recipients of two sets of negative competency assumptions simultaneously.28 Therefore, their mistakes tend to be judged more harshly than those of white women or of African-American men. Another example of what Williams described as the “prove it again” bias regards success and failure. African-American women are expected to fail; but when they do not fail, the reason assumed is charity rather than their own merit. Her preliminary research also seems to show that Latinas are subject to assumptions of even lower competence than African American women and, in addition, are subject to the “immigration shadow,” which carries the assumption that a person is a new immigrant together, with the accompanying negative class and competence biases. Asian-American women, in contrast, appear to experience a more complex stereotype. If an Asian-American woman is seen as a “model minority,” her


21 Swim, J., and L. Sana. 1996. He’s skilled, she’s lucky: A meta-analysis of observer’s attributions for women’s and men’s successes and failures. Personality And Social Psychology Bulletin, 22(5):507-519.

22 Foschi, M. 2000. Double standards for competence: Theory and research. Annual Review of Sociology 26:21-42.

23 Norton, M., J. Vandello and J. Darley. 2004. Casuistry and social category bias. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 87(6):817-831.

24 Biernat, M., and D. Kobrynowicz. 1997. Gender- and race-based standards of competence: Lower minimum standards but higher ability standards for devalued groups. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 72(3):544-557.

25 Brewer, M. B. 1996. In Group Favoritism: The Subtle Side of Intergroup Discrimination. In D.M. Messick & A.E. Tenbrunsel (Eds.), Codes of Conduct: Behavioral Research Into Business Ethics (pp. 160-170). New York: Sage Foundation.

26 Linville, P. and E. Jones. 1980. Polarized appraisals of out-group members, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 38(5):689-703.

27 Results will be published in J.C. Williams, and R. Dempsey. 2014 What Works for Women at Work: Four Patterns Every Working Woman Needs to Know (forthcoming NYU Press, 2014).

28 Biernat, M. and D. Kobrynowicz. 1997. Gender- and race-based standards of competence: Lower minimum standards but higher ability standards for devalued Groups. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 72(3): 544-557.

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