Women Must Be Nice To Gain Influence At Work, Study Finds

For men, it's optional.

Girls are taught at a young age that it’s important to be nice ― sugar and spice and all that. And the pressure to please doesn’t let up for grown women with jobs, according to a study to be published in the Human Resource Management Journal.

For a woman to be considered confident and influential at work, she not only must be viewed as competent, she must also be liked, concludes the study, conducted by professors at three different European business schools.

For men, being liked ― defined in the study as exhibiting pro-social traits, like kindness and helpfulness ― did not matter.

Women are often criticized for not exhibiting confidence at work, but this research complicates that assessment. It also casts doubt on a theory that has gained traction ― that simply developing a “power pose,” a confident way of sitting, helps project confidence.

Men only need to do well at their jobs to be viewed as confident, according to the study. And when workers project confidence, they are more likely to elicit respect, appear trustworthy and gain credibility in their organization, the authors write.

The study also supports a wide body of research that’s shown women are in a double-bind at work. On one hand, women are expected to exhibit stereotypically feminine traits ― like kindness and empathy for others. Yet they also must meet gender-based expectations in the workplace, where typically male traits like assertiveness are valued.

“The penalty for being disliked is not proportionate for women.”

- One finding in a new study

“Unfortunately it didn’t surprise me. There’s a lot of literature that shows there is a double requirement for women,” one of the paper’s authors, Natalia Karelaia, an associate professor of decision sciences at Insead Business School in Fontainebleau, France, told HuffPost. “They have to be good performers and show some conformity to gender stereotypes to be successful at work.”

This means that women literally have to work harder ― and do more ― to get ahead, Karelaia said. It’s not enough to be good at their job, they must also work at helping colleagues and being kind on top of that.

No doubt those are great characteristics in a colleague. But for men, they’re optional, the research makes clear.

“The penalty for being disliked is not proportionate for women,” the study’s authors write.

One need only look at this year’s U.S. presidential election results to come to a similar conclusion: Both candidates were widely disliked, but arguably Hillary Clinton suffered the greater penalty as a result.

For the study, Karelaia and her coauthors from the European School of Management and Technology in Berlin and the IE Business School in Madrid surveyed 200 male and female engineers who work in teams at a global tech company. Supervisors were asked to rate employees on confidence, competence and influence.

In a separate self-assessment, the researchers measured the employees “pro-social” orientation ― i.e., were they nice? The authors also looked at workers performance ratings to see who was considered a success.

Employees were asked if they’re willing to help others at work and if it’s important to them to aid others in their work.

Only the women who exhibited pro-social characteristics were deemed self-confident and influential. For men, it didn’t matter. They only needed to be viewed as competent to be considered influential and confident, according to the study.

Next up: Karelaia would like to investigate how the need to be nice and helpful affects women’s time management. Women have to invest time to overcome this additional hurdle, she said, and she wants to examine how much that detracts from their work lives.

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