By jessie kornberg • December 13, 2010•Sexism, Sexual Harassment, and Other Forms of Discrimination
Once before on this site I asked, "Do I have to be serious to be taken seriously?" The answer is a definitive yes. Last month, the Clayman Institute and the OpEd Project began the eight-week long Silicon Valley Thought Leadership Greenhouse with a lecture from Professor Deborah Gruenfeld of Stanford's business school.
Among other things, Gruenfeld talked about the ways gender norms about body language put women in a double-bind. On the one hand there is demonstration after demonstration of unintentional bias adversely impacting women's opportunities to assume authority.
Gruenfeld noted a recent study in which business school students were given two versions of a case study about a venture capitalist. The case studies were identical in every way, except in one version the venture capitalist was a woman, and in the other, a man. The students were then asked to evaluate the VC. Students found the male and female versions to be equally competent and effective. However, when the students thought the venture capitalist was a woman they found her to be less genuine, humble, and kind and more power-hungry, self-promoting, and disingenuous. And the more assertive a student found the female venture capitalist to be, the more they rejected her.
In addition, feminine body language further undermines the perception of women's authority.
Gruenfeld noted that research consistently shows differences in the non-verbal behaviors between those at the top and bottom of social hierarchies. Those with higher status take up more space through expansive postures like sitting with legs and arms spread apart, smile less and stare directly into another person’s eyes. Those with lower status take up less space through constrictive postures like crossing one’s legs, smile more, and glance away.
“Women give away power all the time,” Gruenfeld said, “by smiling or looking away when they are saying something authoritative.”
So what's a girl to do? Literally spread her legs? I don't think so. But smile less. I guess that's something to try.