Joan Williams, distinguished professor of law and director of the center for Work-Life Law at the College of the Law, University of California, Hastings, discussed her work to bring together the academic literature on gender bias, including unconscious bias, and make it widely accessible. She outlined her research groups’ efforts to expand the literature to include the experiences of people affected by gender and racial biases simultaneously—the double jeopardy. Her aim has been to elucidate organizational and interpersonal patterns and to give individuals the tools to change these patterns and create more equitable and productive workplaces for women overall and for women of color specifically. Williams described the four main types of gender bias and discussed how they apply to different groups of women of color, noting the many areas where research is lacking. In the breakout session, points from which are also summarized here, she expanded on the known, effective tools available to organizations to diminish or eliminate gender- and race-based bias.
Williams described how the literature on gender bias has traditionally divided the world into two segments—women and men. This dichotomy has resulted in analyses not of women overall but of white women. In response, Williams has turned her work toward investigating how gender bias differs by race. Some research indicates that the bias experienced by people who belong to more than one “subordinated” group is additive while other research indicates that it is multiplicative. Research also indicates that the question of which bias becomes salient (race or gender) is very situation-specific.
Williams’ current work examines how gender bias differs by race, with the goal of creating a literature that supports true coalitions around gender. She noted that it means something very different for white women and black women to identify by gender and that when black women identify by gender, it is politically fraught. Her work on multiple marginalities is still underway, and her remarks at the conference pertaining to “double jeopardy” reflected preliminary findings or her hypotheses. For publications based on this work, and additional information and tools, she directed conference participants to online resources of the Center for Work-Life Law (see Chapter 7).
GLASS CEILING: PROVE IT AGAIN
Attribution bias. The “attribution bias” is a discrepancy in explanations for why a person achieves success according to whether the person is female or male. Studies show that women’s successes tended to be attributed to transient or external causes (e.g., luck), whereas
20 This session was moderated by Florence Bonner, senior vice president for research and compliance at Howard University, and cochair, Committee on Advancing Institutional Transformation for Minority Women in Academia.
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.
competence may be seen as greater than that of a white woman, although the assumption may be that she is suited only for technical work and lacks leadership skills. Alternatively, an Asian-American woman may be seen as a “lotus blossom” (a highly biased term denoting a person who is passive and sexualized). Williams hypothesized that a woman in this situation would be faced with proving her competence considerably more than a white woman would.
GLASS CEILING: THE TIGHTROPE
Williams discussed the “tightrope bias,” which pertains to women’s behaviors that bring respect, bring rejection, or bring invisibility, and the contradictions underlying how women’s actual behaviors intersect with assumptions about their behavior. One aspect of the tightrope can be seen in a situation in which a behavior is interpreted differently depending on whether a woman or a man exhibited it. Common examples are behaviors that when displayed by a woman are interpreted as aggressive and when displayed by a man are interpreted as assertive.
Too feminine. Williams discussed the common expectation that women will behave in traditionally feminine ways—being nice, modest, and attuned to others’ needs. Expectations of femininity often emanate not only from other faculty but also from students, who expect women faculty to be warmer, more understanding, and more lenient than men faculty.29 However, if women do exhibit these so-called feminine behaviors this often causes them not to mesh well with the academic climate, where the expectation is of behaviors more traditionally masculine. When women do not behave in traditionally feminine ways, they may be “policed” into femininity.30
Too masculine. Williams continued on this theme and discussed how academic culture generally expects and rewards traits considered to be masculine—people who are aggressive, outspoken, competitive, and unemotional—and how women experience contradicting pressures in this respect as well. In a culture where aggressiveness in men is expected, women are easily seen as either too aggressive (and are ostracized) or not aggressive enough (in which case they wind up doing a larger proportion of the collective work). When anger is expressed by a man, it increases his perceived status, and when it is expressed by a woman, it decreases hers. Women are thus commonly faced with the choice to be respected but not liked, or liked (i.e., showing traditionally feminine traits) but not respected.31
Williams noted that research has shown that competent, assertive women are often seen as angry or bitter, and effective female managers are seen as lacking in social skills.32 Women expressing the assumed-masculine traits of negotiation and self-promotion experience backlash, often more so from other women than from men.
Multiple marginalities. Williams discussed how there has been little to no research done on how the tightrope bias plays out for women of color. Her institute has research underway to explore these dynamics, and she discussed her hypotheses for what the research may show.
29 Bettis B.J. and N. Adams. 2011. Nice Work in the Academy. Unpublished manuscript, Washington State University College of Education; University of Alabama, Department of Educational Leadership, Policy, and Technology Studies.
30 Fiske, S.T., A.J.C. Cuddy, P. Glick, and J. Xu. 1999. (Dis)respecting versus (dis)liking: Status and interdependence predict ambivalent stereotypes of competence and warmth. Journal of Social Issues 82(6):878-902.
31 Fiske, S.T., A.J.C. Cuddy, P. Glick, and J. Xu. 1999. (Dis)respecting versus (dis)liking: Status and interdependence predict ambivalent stereotypes of competence and warmth. Journal of Social Issues 82(6):878-902.
32 Heilman, M. et al (1995). Sex Stereotypes and Their Effects in the Workplace: What We Know and What We Don’t Know. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality10(6), 3-26.
Given the complex stereotype for Asian-American women, Williams hypothesizes that either the “too feminine” or “too masculine” bias may play out in any given situation according to parameters yet to be identified. Regarding the application of the “too feminine” stereotype to African-American women and Latinas, Williams had no firm hypothesis and has research underway. Regarding the application of the “too masculine” stereotype, Williams noted that African Americans are seen as more masculine in general than whites,33 and that dominant African-American women may thus be more likely to be liked and hired than dominant white women.
THE MATERNAL WALL
The “maternal wall” is gender bias that is triggered by motherhood, and Williams explained that it is an order of magnitude stronger than any other form of bias. Motherhood provokes very strong negative assumptions about an individual’s competence and commitment. In a matched resume study, people applying for management consulting jobs submitted resumes that were identical except for four words—“membership in the PTA.” The results showed that people who were mothers were 79 percent less likely to be hired, offered $11,000 less in salary, significantly less promotable and held to higher standards of performance and punctuality.34
Williams discussed how mothers are seen as an even poorer fit with the “go-getter” ideal worker standard—triggering the prove-it-again bias. In research on situations in which the tightrope bias was combined with the maternal wall, mothers were instructed that they should be home rather than at work, and pregnant managers were expected to be non-authoritarian, easy to negotiate with, gentle, and nice. Conversely, highly successful women with children who did not talk about their children at work were seen as unpromotable and having personality problems.35
Multiple marginalities. There has also been little data collection regarding the maternal wall as it affects women of different races and ethnicities, and Williams’ research group is in the process of gathering and analyzing such data. She sees a divide emerging between “responsible” reproduction (by white women) and “irresponsible” reproduction (by women of color). Williams has preliminary evidence that women of color experience push-back for taking the same family leave that is taken by white women without outsider comment. Williams cited two studies pertaining to African-American women and the maternal wall bias. One study found that African Americans and white women were similarly affected by this bias.36 The second study asked study subjects how much they would spend on a Mother’s Day gift for African American and white women who did or did not stay home with their children. More money was reported to be spent on gifts for white women who did stay home and African American women who did not.37
33 Eberhardt, J. L., Dasgupta, N., & Banaszynski, T. (2003). Believing is Seeing: The Effects of Racial Labels and Implicit Beliefs on Face Perception, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29(3), 360-370.
34 Correll, S.J., S. Benard, and I. Paik. 2007. Getting a job: Is there a motherhood penalty? American Journal of Sociology 112(5):1297–1338.
35 Benard, S., I. Paik and S.J. Correll, 2008. Cognitive bias and the motherhood penalty. Hastings Law Journal 59(6):1359-1387.
36 Benard, S., I. Paik and S.J. Correll, 2008. Cognitive bias and the motherhood penalty. Hastings Law Journal 59(6):1359-1387.
37 Cuddy, A.J.C. 2013. Prescriptions and punishments for working moms: How race and work status affect judgments of mothers. Unpublished paper presented at the Harvard Business School Gender and Work Conference.
THE GENDER WARS AND CONFLICT AMONG WOMEN
When gender bias is active in an organizational environment, it can result—perhaps paradoxically—in conflict among women. Williams discussed how if women receive the message that there is room at the top of an organizational structure for only one or a few women, this can cause conflict between them. Anecdotal information suggests that women in science sometimes disassociate from the disadvantaged group (gender or ethnicity): “I’m not a woman, I’m a scientist.”
Williams addressed the shape that the “mommy wars” can take in academia. Academia includes women who 1) chose not to have children and gave priority to their academic career; 2) chose to have children but did not take family leave or otherwise perceptibly disrupt their academic careers; and 3) chose to have children and take family leave or request part-time appointments. Because of the different choices and assumptions made by those in the three groups, tension often erupts among the groups.
TRAINING TO SYSTEMATICALLY CHANGE UNCONSCIOUS BIAS
In the breakout session on multiple marginalities, Williams discussed in greater detail how biases can be changed systematically. She urged that scholars and institutions committed to making university culture hospitable to all women and men bring in experts on organizational change, given that universities are complex and can be difficult to change given their relative lack of hierarchy. University faculty have a relatively high degree of autonomy in contrast to employees in many other sectors, including industry, where corporations often have more rigid reporting requirements.
The organization that Williams directs, the Center for Work-Life Law (http://worklifelaw.org), has developed several sets of best practices for monitoring and modifying practices that may carry implicit bias against women and people of color, including:
• work-load negotiations
• start-up agreements
• performance reviews
• the design of policies for maternity leave, paternity leave, spousal assisted hiring, and childcare
The Center for Work-Life Law is also funding studies to evaluate specific factors that contribute to successful motherhood-work balance.