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How to Pick a President without Being Sexist Can stereotypes stop Hillary Clinton from becoming president? Many people think so. As linguist Deborah Tannen argued in a recent Washington Post op-ed, our definitions of a “good leader” and a “good woman” can sometimes come into conflict: “While the qualities expected of a good leader (be forceful, confident, and, at times, angry) are similar to those we expect of a good man, they are the opposite of what we expect of a good woman (be gentle, self-deprecating, and emotional, but not angry).” Corporations and government agencies already go to great lengths to try to purge their hiring process of bias, because they want to make sure they’re simply getting the best person for the job, regardless of his or her gender. Does it make sense to aim for the same goal in the presidential election? After all, the race is just another hiring process, albeit an immensely complicated and expensive one with 319 million stakeholders in the USA alone. As the American people interview candidates for the job of president, how can they make sure gender bias doesn’t get in the way of hiring the right one? The first step, suggests the research, is to be conscious of our biases—biases that aren’t always as clear-cut as the ones Tannen describes. The next is to block bias before it interferes with decision making. Changing expectations, tricky decisions Many surveys and laboratory experiments support the notion that we’ve entered a confusing time for women in power. In 2008, a Pew Research Center survey found 69 percent of respondents felt men and women make equally good leaders. By 2015, that number had increased to 75 percent. But this straightforward improvement conceals some interesting nuances. For one thing, the Pew surveys show that both men and women overwhelmingly think women are better at many skills and traits prized in leaders, especially honesty. So why aren’t more women in leadership? In part, claim many female respondents, because women are held to higher standards—or simply different standards. Recent studies reveal just how complex our expectations have become. For example, one 2014 study in the British Journal of Social Psychology found that “assertive” female leaders are just as likable and influential as assertive men—but that female leaders who appear tentative or self-deprecating about their roles are less effective than their assertive counterparts. The same wasn’t true for men. In fact, men who are less imposing are sometimes seen as more effective. The bad news is that tentative women might face more discrimination—a finding backed up by other studies. But it gets worse: According to UC Berkeley business professor Laura Kray, other studies show that female managers consistently underrate their own performance, when compared to how their own supervisors rate them. This low self-appraisal may help explain why there are relatively few Hillary Clintons—and why Clinton herself seems like such an outlier to some. (In contrast, men tend to overrate their own effectiveness as leaders.) Thus women might face a new double-bind: It’s not ambition that scares people off from female leaders, as in the past, but rather less ambition and a more deferential manner. In this respect, contrary to some conventional wisdom, it might be smart of Clinton to not minimize the forceful qualities that conflict with some people’s lingering image of a “good woman.” She might face even more backlash if she were more tentative and self-effacing. The same penalty might not apply to male politicians, who could benefit from cultivating a more laid-back persona. Certainly, Bernie Sanders has projected the image of an accidental politician, called by a movement to seek a position he doesn’t really want. At the same time, however, leaders who strike the pose of alpha male don’t seem penalized, as we see in the case of current Republican frontrunner Donald Trump. Indeed, the Pew survey also finds that men and women alike stereotype men as being better able to grapple with national security issues, which means it might be hard to elect a woman in wartime. It also suggests that Clinton might feel pressure to be more hawkish when it comes to questions of violence and security, as we might have seen in her support for the invasion of Iraq. In other words, men can potentially have it both ways, while women need to pick and choose their image carefully for fear of running afoul of subconscious biases—damned if they do, damned if they don’t. How to block gender stereotypes in making decisions Of course, that need to be careful puts a huge burden on female candidates, one not shared by male counterparts. What about those of us who vote for them? Don’t we have a responsibility to confront our own bias—and perhaps help lift the burdens that hold women back from gaining more political power? As Executive Director of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, Lori Nishiura Mackenzie has worked with researchers to develop toolkits to help businesses “block bias” in their hiring decisions. “We know that the more we rely on ‘gut,’ the more prone we are to utilize stereotypes as a short cut in decision making,” she says. The first step is to simply be mindful of the existence of knee-jerk bias—which in this case has involved a nationwide discussion triggered by Clinton’s candidacy. Beyond that, the Clayman toolkit suggests a series of steps that can easily be adapted by individuals who are trying to avoid bias in voting for president: Establish criteria in advance of reviews: What policies are most important to you? Support for abortion—or opposition? Do you believe we should do more to stop and deport undocumented immigrants—or should we give them pathways to citizenship? Don’t rush, suggests the Clayman Institute: “First determine which criteria are most important. Then prioritize the most important criteria.” Equalize the bar used in evaluation (notice a higher bar or leniency): In the workplace, this means not requiring “extra proof or additional evidence of ‘good,’ and do not simply give a ‘pass’ to employees you know better or with whom you are more culturally comfortable.” Sociologist Barbara Risman suggests that it’s helpful to ask yourself when a stereotype is positive for men and negative for women—and vice versa. For example, is it right to ask Hillary to lower her voice when Sanders’ raised voice is seen as evidence of passion? Discard unnecessary criteria that may have inherent bias: As the Clayman Institute puts it, “Do you require participation in forums or engagements where men are more likely to be invited or welcome?” For example, is it fair to take Hillary to task for lack of military experience when so few women of her generation served? Block undue criticism of women’s (and men’s) personalities: On social media, Clinton is criticized for her choice of clothes and her mannerisms. Sanders has also been criticized (for wagging his finger when he gets excited, for example), but it seems probable that Clinton could never be as careless with her hair as Sanders is. “Instead of commenting on personalities (good or bad), focus on skills and accomplishments,” suggests the Clayman Institute. Review all evaluations for consistency: When it’s time to vote, take a final look. Have you given all candidates your full attention and judged them by the same criteria? Is your evaluation of their work and campaign balanced and fair? Share the knowledge: As Americans selecting a president, this might entail making sure you’ve entertained all points of view about the candidate and sought out alternative sources of information, beyond your usual ones. For example, men might make a special effort to listen to the women in their lives about what they think of Clinton, before making their own decision. You may go through this process and still conclude that Bernie Sanders—or one of the current Republican candidates—would make a better president of the United States. One thing is for sure: We’ll never be able to choose the best candidate until we free ourselves from bias.
Women, Power, and Hillary Clinton There are many ways to measure the power difference between men and women. In social science, power is the ability to influence another person’s behavior. Exercising power can be brutal, as when men target women for sexual harassment and violence—which has had the cumulative effect of influencing what women wear, how they walk, who they talk to, or where they feel safe. Power differences can also arise from psychological biases that affect women and men in similar ways—for example, how they both see men as more suited to breadwinning or leadership roles. For many, Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president highlights these power differences—and promises to help reduce them. Clinton has endured countless crude sexual comments on social media, akin to street harassment, but the biggest obstacle to her election may be traditional womanly ideals that often discourage women from seeking and exercising power. For evidence, look no further than Congress: 20 percent of the members of both the House and the Senate are women—one of the lowest levels of political representation in the world. Does that constitute an argument in favor of Hillary Clinton’s campaign? For some, it does. But whatever your political leanings, the campaign has something to teach all of us about the science of men, women, and power. Here are three points to keep in mind. 1. Women tend to be more empathic, collaborative leaders Janet Napolitano is known as a tough leader. As chief of Homeland Security, Napolitano oversaw a record number of deportations of undocumented immigrants. When she became president of the University of California, she quickly gained a reputation as a hard-as-nails negotiator—one who often goes head-to-head with other female leaders in the system. Kathryn Lybarger is one of those leaders. She’s president of both the California Labor Federation and AFSCME Local 3299, which represents more than 20,000 workers at UC. The two women are often at odds with each other on issues like pay and benefits, but Lybarger also claims that Napolitano has a vastly more collaborative style than her predecessor, Mark Yudof—albeit one that doesn’t always lead to agreement at the negotiating table. Unlike Yudof, Napolitano meets regularly with labor leaders and, by all accounts, does at least make a show of listening to their concerns. “Working with Napolitano is different,” Lybarger says. “Is there a gender difference that is responsible for that? I don’t know.” She adds: “I do know that if you want to get something done, involve women. They’re more likely to pick up on body language. They hear emotions in voices.” Lybarger’s experience doesn’t surprise Laura Kray, a professor at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and an expert in women’s executive leadership. She says that empirical studies show that women do tend to be more empathic and collaborative leaders. “Women are more relationally oriented,” says Kray, “and thus more likely to use power in a socially responsible manner.” Men with power will also tend to treat men and women differently. Powerful men, says Kray, are even more likely to lie to women than to other men. They are also more likely to try to manipulate women than men, which can create a Machiavellian psychological environment that can be especially difficult for women to navigate. 2. But having power can reduce empathy and cooperation This doesn’t mean that women are incorruptible. In fact, women are still subject to the same psychological forces that lead men to abuse their power. According to UC Berkeley psychologist and Greater Good Science Center Director Dacher Keltner, the experience of having power has the same negative effects on both men and women, reducing their empathy, gratitude, and other “pro-social” skills. This means that, though women start at a higher baseline than men, their ability to take another’s perspective often falls when they get into positions of power. As Keltner writes in his Greater Good essay, “The Power Paradox”: When researchers give people power in scientific experiments, those people are more likely to physically touch others in potentially inappropriate ways, to flirt in more direct fashion, to make risky choices and gambles, to make first offers in negotiations, to speak their mind, and to eat cookies like the Cookie Monster, with crumbs all over their chins and chests…. My own research has found that people with power tend to behave like patients who have damaged their brain’s orbitofrontal lobes (the region of the frontal lobes right behind the eye sockets), a condition that seems to cause overly impulsive and insensitive behavior. Keltner’s research indicates that women are not immune from this paradox, which says that the very qualities that help us seek power—like charm, empathy, or humility—are the ones that having power can damage. If we see fewer abuses by woman leaders, that might simply be because there are fewer women in power.  Indeed, Napolitano herself provides examples of the power paradox: When students protested the prospect of tuition hikes in March, she referred to the protests as “crap.” That, says Keltner, “is a classic abuse of power—to use rude language to describe low-power people.” 3. Women can bring more women to power—but not all do There are good reasons to be skeptical of the notion that a win for Clinton will usher in a feminist utopia—or even just greater political power for women. When President Obama was elected in 2008, there were 41 African Americans serving in the House and one in the Senate. Almost eight years later, those numbers have increased by five and one, respectively—progress, perhaps, but certainly not a revolution. In addition, many of Obama’s supporters have been disappointed by similarities between his foreign policy and that of George W. Bush. Thus it shouldn’t surprise us that Janet Napolitano’s leadership has not triggered a more fundamental transformation in the University of California. That doesn’t mean nothing is different. Keltner claims that her mere presence in the top spot has caused the psychology department to ask itself how to hire and promote more women. “We’re in this interesting historical moment,” says Keltner, whose book The Power Paradox comes out in May of this year. “What will happen 30 years from now, when there are even more women in leadership?” Many studies suggest that female leaders do encourage other women to pursue those roles—but only when certain conditions are met. For example, a 2015 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that women leaders who have weak gender identification show more favoritism for men than for women. In some cases, they’ll even be more hostile toward other women. This effect doesn’t hold in an environment where women are fairly represented, perhaps because women in unequal workplaces worry about being seen as favoring women, so they overcompensate. In short, equality creates the conditions for even more equality, but in the meantime, it helps for women in leadership to be consciously aware of their ability to change things for all women. It’s important to note that social science deals in averages: What describes women as a group might not describe individuals like Napolitano or Clinton at all. While stereotypes can be positive, those aren’t any more useful in evaluating individuals than are negative ones. An argument for women in leadership is not necessarily an argument for one specific woman. The bottom line? The science of power suggests that Clinton’s election could increase women’s political influence—but they will face the same pitfalls as their male counterparts.
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