How Men Get Penalized for Straying from Masculine Norms


When women behave in ways that don’t fit their gender stereotype — for example, by being assertive — they are viewed as less likable and ultimately less hirable. Does that same hold true for men? Are they similarly penalized for straying from the strong masculine stereotype?

The short answer is yes. Research demonstrates that men too face backlash when they don’t adhere to masculine gender stereotypes — when they show vulnerability, act nicer, display empathy, express sadness, exhibit modesty, and proclaim to be feminists. This is troubling not least because it discourages men from behaving in ways known to benefit their teams and their own careers. Let’s look at each of these behaviors:

Showing vulnerability. Men are socialized to not ask for help or be vulnerable — and they can be penalized when they challenge this notion. An informative set of studies from 2015 finds that when male (but

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Research: When Boards Broaden Their Definition of Diversity, Women and People of Color Lose Out

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Over the last several years, competing notions of “diversity” have emerged. In many corners, the traditional definition, focused on demographic diversity, has been eclipsed by a new concept centered on experiential or cognitive differences. Deloitte, a provider of advisory services to firms around the globe, including 85% of the Fortune 500, encapsulates the trend, noting, “Up to now, diversity initiatives have focused primarily on fairness for legally protected populations. But organizations now have an opportunity to harness a more powerful and nuanced kind of diversity: diversity of thought.” Similarly, Korn Ferry, a global management consulting firm, urges firms to reorient their recruiting efforts to emphasize “diverse perspectives, experiences, and contributions.”

This conceptual shift has had real-world consequences extending to the very apex of firms — the board of directors. We have been studying corporate governance for nearly two decades. Through a combination of interviews with board

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Making Great Decisions

From the Women at Work podcast:

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There’s a lot that goes into making a good decision at work: figuring out priorities, coming up with options, analyzing those — and several steps later, planning for what to do if you’re wrong. If you’re a woman, you are also factoring in how your colleagues expect you to ask for their opinions so you can create consensus. And if you do, they’re still likely to see you as indecisive and lacking vision.

We talk with Therese Huston, author of the book How Women Decide, about our strengths as decision makers and how to work around double standards when we’re making decisions and communicating them to our team.


Therese Huston is the author of How

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Fixing the Gender Imbalance in Health Care Leadership

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Female physicians continue to face myriad challenges in medicine ranging from implicit bias to gaps in payment and promotion to sexual harassment. So it is not surprising (though it’s still appalling) that although equal numbers of men and women now graduate from medical school, only a small fraction of female physicians become medical leaders. Currently in the US, only 3% of healthcare CEOs are women, 6% are department chairs, 9% are division chiefs, and 3% are serving as chief medical officers. This is despite women comprising 80% of the healthcare workforce and evidence that having women in upper management and on corporate boards is associated with improved financial performance and enhanced accountability.

These numbers point to a clear need for better representation of female physicians in leadership. How exactly to achieve this given the many barriers they face is less clear. Yet bright spots have emerged, both

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How We Describe Male and Female Job Applicants Differently

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Words matter. And the words we use to describe men versus women differ in significant ways that can affect their careers.

This starts early on. Research finds that girls who are described as “bossy” are viewed negatively in ways that boys are not. This discrepancy continues into adulthood where the description of being “ambitious” is an insult for women but not for men.

Such words impact the identities that young girls and women form, pushing many of them to feel that they need to be “nice,” a pressure they carry into their careers. For instance, in a recent study of residents training to be physicians, almost half of the women described “apprehension in appearing ‘bossy’ when leading cardiopulmonary resuscitation drills,” whereas no male participants expressed this concern.

The impact words can have on career trajectories is accentuated in the workplace, where people are often

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Where Are the Male Allies in U.S. Politics?

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As the sexual assault allegations by Professor Christine Blasey Ford against Judge Brett Kavanaugh have played out, too few men — but especially male politicians — have publicly supported an open and respectful hearing of her assertions. This week, Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), her frustration boiling over at male congressmen who have questioned the integrity or mental status of Blasey Ford, or worse, remained conspicuously silent on the issue, spoke for many when she said, “I just want to say to the men in this country: Just shut up and step up. Do the right thing, for a change.”

The problem of the silent — and therefore tacitly complicit — man festers at the root of America’s ubiquitous workplace sexual harassment and gender exclusion. Reasons for male silence are legion, but most often relate to lack of awareness about the experiences of women at work, ignorance concerning the

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Research: Women and Men Are Equally Bad at Multitasking

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According to popular stereotypes, women are better multitaskers. In fact, a quick Google search leads to many press articles claiming a female advantage. For example, women came out as better multitaskers when researchers used fMRI scans to measure brain activity, computer tests to measure response times, and an exercise in which people walking on a treadmill had to simultaneously complete a cognitive task.

From analyzing decades of studies of men and women in other cognitive skills, we know that men’s and women’s performance is usually quite similar. Yet there are a few tasks in which men and women consistently outperform each other — on average: For example, it is well-established that men typically fare better when imagining what complex 3-dimensional figures would look like if they were rotated. In turn, women reliably outperform men in certain verbal abilities such as remembering a list of words or other verbal

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Managing Parental Leave (Yours or Someone Else’s)

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Having a baby is exciting — and exhausting. Figuring out how to take parental leave, or manage someone who’s doing it, can add an extra wrinkle.

No matter how long you’ll be away from work, there’s preparation to be done: talking to your boss, making sure colleagues can cover your projects, handling unexpected needs and feelings.

With the help of our guest expert, Daisy Wademan Dowling, we talk about how to effectively plan for your parental leave or the leave of someone you manage. And through the story of a lucky woman whose organization offers 12 months of paid leave, we explore what our lives might be like if we had access to more generous leaves.


Daisy Wademan Dowling

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Let’s Do Less Dead-End Work

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Women are expected and asked to do thankless tasks — order lunch, handle less-valued clients — more than men, and research shows that doing those tasks slows down our career advancement and makes us unhappy at work. We talk about why we wind up with so much office drudgery and how to get some of it off our plates. Guests: Lise Vesterlund and Ruchika Tulshyan.

Could you take notes? Would you mind ordering lunch? We need someone to organize the off-site event — can you do that? Whether you’ve just started your career or are the CEO of the company, if you’re a woman, people expect you to do routine, time-consuming tasks that no one else wants to do.


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Do Longer Maternity Leaves Hurt Women’s Careers?

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Career or child care? It’s an unfortunate dilemma faced by every working woman with a baby on the way. Should she take a lengthy maternity leave, knowing that more time at home can improve the well-being of both mother and child? After all, research shows maternity leaves are related to lower infant mortality and reduced maternal stress. Or should she forego that long maternity leave, knowing that getting back to work quickly will improve her career opportunities?

Around the world, we are seeing a trend towards legislating longer, paid parental leaves for both mothers and fathers. Earlier this year, for example, Canada expanded its paid parental leave program from 35 weeks to 61 weeks; several Scandinavian countries have already made similar moves. These changes are motivated by a progressive concern to improve the work-life balance for working parents and encourage greater parent/child contact in those crucial first months

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How Companies Can Ensure Maternity Leave Doesn’t Hurt Women’s Careers

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Imagine that a temporary absence from your workplace could lead to 10 years of sustained high performance being forgotten. Imagine that your relationship with senior partners at your firm, with whom you had previously worked closely, significantly worsened. This was Diane’s (not her real name) experience following her early return to work from parental leave. “Before I went,” she told us, “I was promised, ‘You will get all your clients back,’ so that was part of the reason I came back. I thought the sooner I came back and got my clients back, the better. But when I came back, that didn’t happen — I didn’t get any of them back.” On her return, she found that not only did she fail to get her clients back, but the colleague who took them over didn’t even know that she had previously managed them.

Diane’s experience represents the

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Don’t Underestimate the Power of Women Supporting Each Other at Work

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Don’t underestimate the power of women connecting and supporting each other at work. As my experiences from being a rookie accountant to a managing director at an investment bank have taught me, conversations between women have massive benefits for the individual and the organization. When I graduated college in the 1970s, I believed that women would quickly achieve parity at all levels of professional life now that we had “arrived” — I viewed the lack of women at the top as more of a “pipeline” problem, not a cultural one. But the support I expected to find from female colleagues — the feeling of sisterhood in this mission — rarely survived first contact within the workplace.

When I was a first-year accountant at a Big Eight firm (now the Big Four), I kept asking the only woman senior to me to go to lunch, until finally she

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How Women of Color Get to Senior Management

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Women of color are a force in the U.S. economy. They are projected to make up the majority of all women by 2060, which means they’ll also likely become the majority of the U.S. workforce. They also generate $1 trillion as consumers and $361 billion in revenue as entrepreneurs, launching companies at 4x the rate of all woman-owned businesses.

Developing a diverse leadership pipeline can benefit companies in all sectors. Firms with the most ethnically diverse executive teams were 33% more likely to outperform their peers on profitability, and those with executive-level gender diversity worldwide had a 21% likelihood of outperforming their industry competitors. A recent study of VC firms found that more-diverse teams had higher financial returns than their homogenous counterparts.

The problem is that, to date, companies have not been great at promoting women of color to senior roles. And this isn’t for lack

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How Discrimination Against Female Doctors Hurts Patients

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In August 2018 officials from Tokyo Medical University admitted to systematically altering medical school admission test scores to disadvantage female applicants. Since 2006 the university had been subtracting points from all exam scores, then adding up to 20 points to those of male applicants, with the explicit goal of reducing the percentage of women entering medical school. (The percentage of enrollees who were women had reached 40% in 2010, and now stands at approximately 30%.)

This systematic discrimination against female medical school applicants is not only sexist and scandalous in its own right — not to mention devastating for the women denied access to the profession they desired — but it constitutes a potential threat to patient safety and public health.

Accumulating evidence shows that women deliver superior care. For example, one study of over 1.5 million Medicare patients found that those who were treated by a

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Why Women Stay Out of the Spotlight at Work

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To get ahead in the workplace, you have to be seen. Being visible at work allows employees to demonstrate their skills, land prominent assignments, and build strategic relationships.

For women, however, the importance of visibility creates a conundrum.

On the one hand, women’s contributions are systematically overlooked at work. This limits their professional advancement and helps to explain why the senior levels of organizations remain overwhelmingly male. Yet when women try to make themselves more visible, they can face backlash for violating expectations about how women should behave, and risk losing their hard-won career gains.

How do women navigate this no-win situation?

In 2013 we embedded ourselves in a women’s professional development program at a large nonprofit organization in the U.S. to find out. Working with the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, we conducted 86 in-depth interviews with women in the program, observed 36

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How HR and Judges Made It Almost Impossible for Victims of Sexual Harassment to Win in Court

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Last December, Time magazine gave its award for person of the year to the “the silence breakers,” commemorating a broad societal awakening about the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in the workplace. As the #MeToo movement geared up, and as prominent men resigned or were fired, organizations rushed to create or update anti-harassment policies, complaint procedures, and training programs.

This approach may be misguided. Programs, policies, and training alone do not stop sexual harassment and abuse. My book Working Law — based on surveys of organizations, interviews with HR professionals, and content analyses of both human resources journals and federal court opinions — shows that sexual harassment policies and procedures can comfortably coexist in organizational cultures where women are regularly subjected to demeaning commentary, unwanted physical contact, and even threats or sexual assault. In other words, someone can be sexually harassed without recourse in an organization with

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How Women Can Get What They Want in a Negotiation

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Tara, an MD/PhD who works for a large public university, contacted one of us (Suzanne) a few weeks after participating in a negotiation workshop she ran, wanting to share some positive news about successfully negotiating an 11% pay increase. A faculty member for six years, she had come to learn that she was not only underpaid but also had a higher teaching and clinic load than others in her group. She, like many women, accepted her job offer without negotiating.

How common is Tara’s situation? Research suggests that 20% of women never negotiate at all. A woman who opts not to negotiate her starting salary upon graduation will forgo an average of $7,000 the first year, and will lose between $650,000 and $1 million over the course of a 45-year career. Why would women leave money on the table? There are several factors. When selecting metaphors for

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Whether a Husband Identifies as a Breadwinner Depends on Whether He Respects His Wife’s Career — Not on How Much She Earns

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Professional careers are notorious for demanding that people be single-mindedly devoted to work. It’s a demand that is often especially acute for men, who face rigid expectations that being a successful man requires having a successful career, and that “success” means power and money.

Men have traditionally satisfied these expectations by taking on the role of a work-devoted breadwinner, supported by a wife who does not work or who places his career first. But many heterosexual men today are married to women who pursue demanding careers of their own; moreover, many women expect that their husbands will support their careers and be more engaged in family life than previous generations of men have been.

The contradiction between the traditional image of the successful man and the reality of men’s lives creates a conundrum: How do men make sense of who they are in relation to their work,

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“Lean In” Messages and the Illusion of Control

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In a world in which men dominate leadership roles, should we focus on changing the systems and structures that favor men at women’s expense? Or should we emphasize the tactics individual women can use to get ahead?

Our research explored this question. The first message, that it’s processes and organizations that need to change, has been gaining traction in more recent years. But the latter message has been inspiring and motivating to many people; it’s solutions-oriented and individualistic, appealing especially to Americans who tend to appreciate DIY solutions to societal problems. Plus, it has the benefit of seeming to help women now, rather than waiting decades — or even centuries — for societal change.

We suspected that by arguing that women can solve the problem themselves, advocates of the “DIY” approach may imply that women should be the ones to solve it — that it is their responsibility to do so.

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