Heidi Rozen was a successful venture capitalist. Frank Flynn, a professor at Columbia Business School, used her resume in a now-famous experimental study to see what types of bias evaluators would exhibit based solely on the sex of the applicant being reviewed. Half of his students were given Heidi’s resume with her real name. The other half were given the identical resume but with the name Howard substituted. Their findings are the basis of the Heidi-Howard Principle.

[S]tudents felt Heidi was significantly less likable and worthy of being hired than Howard and perceived her as more “selfish” than Howard. Deborah Gruenfeld, of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, cited the same study, adding that “the more assertive a student found the female venture capitalist to be, the more they rejected her.” The essence is that research has demonstrated a negative correlation for women between power and success. For men, the relationship is positive, i.e., successful men are perceived as more powerful and are revered. A fundamental challenge to women’s leadership arises from the mismatch between the qualities traditionally associated with leaders and those traditionally associated with women.” The assertive, authoritative, and dominant behaviors that people link with leadership tend not to be viewed as attractive in women.

Sheryl Sandberg coined the term “Ambition Gap” to explain the side effects of women being discouraged from positions of power and success, leadership roles.  Despina Tsagari, a successful woman who has served many leadership positions – her last assignment was Country Manager for Beiersdorf pointed out ways in which women have an advantage in leadership roles:

“Women usually act more than male leaders based on their innate strengths (e.g. creativity and collaboration) in their everyday approach to work.
They tend to lead from a more interactive, cooperative style which often results in strengthening the team spirit approach, inspiring a higher degree of commitment to strive to achieve the business’ goals. They bring a different perspective based on a different set of life experiences. But the most important contribution for me, is that a female leader would rely more on her emotional intelligence (EI) i.e. self-awareness, managing our emotions, empathy, and social skill. Women tend to have an edge over men when it comes to these basic skills.”

Kathryn Stanley, professor of Organizational and Leadership studies discussed the biases that hold women back and create a double bind for ambitious women:

“The main challenge for women in leadership positions is managing the fundamental attribution errors made about them due to gender biases in society. For example, when women leaders are as assertive as men; they are seen as less likable. The fundamental attribution error is that when women lead with a confident direct style, they are self-serving. Conversely, when men lead in this same manner they are well intended strong leaders. Therefore women must work harder to be seen as well intended, likable leaders. To do this they must spend more time building relationships, especially with other female peers and subordinates. Because they have to spend more time chatting to build relationships they are sometimes judged by male supervisors as wasting time at the water cooler or passive leaders afraid to command. This double-bind forces them to walk a tight rope.

She adds the solution to the problem, but it depends on the good-will and awareness of those currently in power:

as with any underprivileged group, women leaders have learned to influence without authority. Doing this requires competency in negotiation, stakeholder analysis, dialog, entrepreneurialism and strategic thinking. All of these qualities serve their organizations very well. The economy of the world and the evolution of our global community will benefit from not only including more women but also people of color and anyone who does not fit the Type A, tall white male stereotype of a leader. True inclusion will only occur when women and minorities are no longer seen as being the ones who have to change (the identified patients). The responsibility for accessing diverse talent lies with leaders who hold the power now. They need to open the door and be more expansive in deciding who sits at the table.”

What makes the key difference is that people who have actually had female managers think highly of them. Although a study showed that of the 46% who said they preferred one sex or the other as a manager, 72% favored a male boss, among those who had previously had a female boss, they did not rate women lower than men as managers. In other words, what made the difference was experience and familiarity, exposure to women as leaders.

That Was Then, This Is Now

Anderson Cooper ran an updated version of the Heidi/Howard Study ten years later.


He found that “this time around, students rated the female entrepreneur as more likable and desirable as a boss than the male.” The woman (Catherine) was rated as 8.0 on a likeability scale, and the man (Martin) was rated as 7.6. Close, but she had the edge. 83% said they would like to work for Catherine and only 65% wanted to work for Martin.

Strangely, where fictional Catherine took a hit was “trust.” The powerful woman got 6.4 whereas the identical man was rated 7.2. Students were hard pressed to explain why they viewed a successful women as less trustworthy. Men seem “more genuine” while women are seen as having “an ulterior motive.” Women are seen as “trying too hard.” Women are seen as having more responsibilities in other aspects of their lives, unlike the men (who apparently have the luxury of walking through life sans entanglements). One man decried attractive women (“hot chicks”) having an advantage in the workplace that was unfair; presumably, an unattractive woman was allowed to be more qualified than he was, but an attractive one made him suspicious of unfair hiring practices.

Hillary vs. Howard

A recent post in Daily Kos talked about the sexism inherent in claims that Hillary is dishonest. The author starts by talking about the Hillary Haters in general:

To conservatives she is a radical left-wing insurgent who has on multiple occasions been compared to Mikhail Suslov, the Soviet Kremlin’s long-time Chief of Ideology. To many progressives (you know who you are), she is a Republican fox in Democratic sheep’s clothing, a shill for Wall Street who doesn’t give a damn about the working class. The fact that these views could not possibly apply to the same person does not seem to give either side pause. Hillary haters on the right and the left seem perfectly happy to maintain their mutually incompatible delusions about why she is awful. The only thing both teams seem to share is the insistence that Hillary is a Machiavellian conspirator and implacable liar, unworthy of society’s trust.

And this claim of unabated mendacity is particularly interesting, because while it is not the oldest defamation aimed at Hillary, it is the one that most effortlessly glides across partisan lines. Indeed, for a surprisingly large percentage of the electorate, the claim that Hillary is innately dishonest is simply accepted as a given. It is an accusation and conviction so ingrained in the conversation about her that any attempt to even question it is often met with shock. And yet here’s the thing: it’s not actually true.

The author goes on to cite several supporting examples. Rather than replaying them here, I encourage you to read the article.  Politfact, the fact checking group, has found that Hillary’s statements have been more accurate than any other candidate in the 2016 election season, and she is more honest than most (but not all) politicians it has ever checked throughout the years.

Jill Abramson of The Guardian, Wall Street Journal and formerly the New York Times gave Hillary this back-handed compliment:

“As an editor I’ve launched investigations into her business dealings, her fundraising, her foundation and her marriage. As a reporter my stories stretch back to Whitewater. I’m not a favorite in Hillaryland. That makes what I want to say next surprising. Hillary Clinton is fundamentally honest and trustworthy.”

The author concludes:

My current conviction is that the main fuel that powers the anti-Hillary crowd is sexism. And yes I’m serious. So go ahead and roll your eyes. Get it over with. But I think the evidence supports my view, and I’ve seen no other plausible explanation. And just to be clear, I don’t think it’s ONLY sexism. But I do think that this is the primary force that has generated and maintained most of the negative narratives about Hillary.

The author put together the following graph showing that whenever Hillary has run for higher office, she takes a hit for it in approval ratings; she is punished for her ambition. She is held to a different standard than her male counterparts.

The author concludes with a similar prediction to the Heidi/Howard follow up.

Hillary is nobody’s idea of perfect. Fine. But in my view if a man with her qualifications were running in the Democratic primary, Bernie would have been done before he even started. And if a man with her qualifications had been running for the Republicans, they’d be anointing him the next Reagan while trying to sneak his face onto Mount Rushmore.

Most of the people who hate Hillary when she’s running for office end up liking her just fine once she’s won. And I have every confidence that history will repeat itself again this November. As for myself, I have been watching Presidential elections since Nixon. And never in my life has there been an easier or more obvious choice than now. Trump is not merely a bad choice, he is (as many leading Republicans have already admitted) a catastrophic choice, unfit in every possible way for the office of the Presidency.

Given the wealth of strong women who have led other nations, I for one can’t wait to see what happens when our nation has experienced a woman’s leadership at the highest level. Will Republicans give her her due? Perhaps we are too partisan for that, but at least we will see that merely being a woman is no reason to bar someone from leadership.