Many women have been taught since childhood the virtues of being humble, nice, accommodating and respectful. The problem is that "niceness" is a double-edged sword for women; if they are perceived as too nice, they may not be taken seriously in a professional context.
Research shows us that it's important for people to like us. In fact, when people first meet us they judge us based on two important criteria:
1. Can I trust this person? They assess warmth.
2. Can I respect this person? They asses competence.
Liking and trusting are extremely important ingredients for making good first impressions and building relationships (any good salesperson will tell you this). Yet, in professional settings, liking is not enough. Being too nice and accommodating, as well as humble about your achievements, can reinforce the assumptions that you don't have them. And it can destroy your credibility.
This is especially dangerous for women, since they already deal with unconcious biases against them. Facebook's corporate Managing Unconscious Bias training highlights research about several common biases that women (and racial minorities) face at work. Here are just two of them:
1. Performance Bias: Men’s performance tends to be overestimated in comparison to that of their female counterparts. This is especially acute for women of color. Men are judged on potential whereas women are judged on past results. In traditionally male-dominated industries, such as technology, the bias may be even more evident.
2. Performance Attribution Bias: Men’s success is often attributed to them being “naturally talented,” whereas women are presumed to have “gotten lucky.” Women are less likely to receive credit for their ideas and are interrupted more often during team interactions. Those who are subject to performance attribution bias are likely to suffer from lower self confidence, feel like a fraud or experience imposter syndrome.
One of the topics I cover in the Master Influencer Boot Camp is establishing oneself as an expert, even if you're facing bias. Bias is not going away anytime soon but being aware of existing biases can help us tackle work situations and establish credibility more strategically. There are several courses of action, and here are two of them:
1. Stay away from biased people. This one is virtually impossible. Most people (including yours truly) are biased during first impressions because they are using their limited past information to make sense of the world around them.
2. Prepare to address bias heads on. To counteract biases in first interactions, you need to be more deliberate in terms of highlighting the strengths that people won’t expect of you. Here's how:
- Be more explicit about your credentials and past achievements to address their potential concerns.
- Share your passions and work-related interests.
- Ask strategic questions to show the other party that you mean business.
When people get to know you and your opinions, personality and capacities, the biases will most likely disappearbecause they will be able to substitute their uninformed assumptions with real impressions.
Miriam Grobman Consulting works with organizations that want to advance more talented women into leadership roles by breaking cultural barriers and giving them the right skills to be successful. Their approach is data-driven, global and collaborative. Contact them if you'd like to discuss the right strategy for your organization. You can follow their Facebook page, Leadership and Women, for inspiring stories about women leaders and practical career advice, and sign up for their newsletter.