Likeability v. Competence: The Impossible Choice Faced by Female Politicians, Attenuated by Lawyers


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 women are either seen as likeable, but incompetent, or as competent, but unlikeable. 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.

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    ABSTRACT: The purpose of our study was to examine college environment, defined as whether law students entered law school from a historically Black college or university or a traditionally White institution, as a moderator of the relationship between gender discrimination and assertiveness. Using a national sample of 402 incoming Black women law students and multiple-group confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) with covariates, the authors also tested whether college environment moderated the relationship between racial discrimination and assertiveness. CFA models with covariates were used to further investigate whether racial discrimination and gender discrimination interact to influence assertiveness. Results indicated that college environment did not moderate the relationship between gender discrimination and assertiveness. College environment also did not moderate the relationship between racial discrimination and assertiveness. Additional results revealed a significant interaction between racial and gender discrimination, whereby racial discrimination was positively related to assertiveness among students who experienced gender discrimination. Findings suggest that irrespective of college environment, racism and sexism intersect to enhance assertiveness and may increase students’ academic success. However, law school administrators should ultimately seek to reduce incidents of racism and sexism because students’ assertive responses could make them vulnerable to mental health risks and to further acts of discrimination.
    Psychology of Women Quarterly 03/2012; 36(1):54-65. · 2.12 Impact Factor

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May 31, 2014