Rosemary Joyce Ph.D.

What Makes Us Human

Would you hire this woman?

How positive comments and gender stereotypes can block women's careers

Posted Nov 10, 2010

"Professor X is a supportive colleague."

"Professor Y is ambitious and aggressive."

Which one would you hire?

According to a new study by Michelle Hebl and Randi Martin, both professors of psychology at Rice University, and Juan Madera, assistant professor at the University of Houston, Professor Y will get the nod.

In research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, discussed in Inside Higher Ed, the authors found that applicants for jobs praised for the "communal" qualities were ranked lower than those described with "agentive" words, even when the candidates had similar publications and honors.

And the people described with those communal words were for the most part women, while those described using agentive terms were men.

As Hebl sums it up:

women in academe face a dilemma. Hiring committees appear to devalue women who are identified as people who would be nice or supportive colleagues. But women who aren't seen as nice and supportive "get called bitches," she said. So the solution for women is "to have both sets of qualities" -- the communal and the agentive. But when it comes to getting letters of recommendation, she said, women need to be sure their letter writers focus on the agentive qualities.

It isn't a good thing when people praise you for being nice. And this bias is shared by both men and women reviewing applicants.

So much for collegiality, and hello double bind.

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