Likeability v. Competence: The Impossible Choice Faced by Female Politicians, Attenuated by Lawyers

23 Pages Posted: 14 Oct 2010 Last revised: 27 Mar 2012

Andrea Kupfer Schneider

Marquette University - Law School

Catherine H. Tinsley

Georgetown University - Department of Management

Sandra I. Cheldelin

School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution

Emily T. Amanatullah

Georgetown University Women's Leadership Institute

Date Written: October 13, 2010

Abstract

The 2008 election highlighted a dilemma often faced by women in the professional world - a double bind between being perceived as competent or as likeable. Both qualities are imperative for success but the incongruity of normative female roles (warm, nurturing) with characteristics perceived necessary for professional success (independence, assertiveness) means that women are either seen as likeable, but incompetent, or as competent, but unlikeable. Wherever you fell along the political spectrum, it is clear that Hillary Clinton’s historic candidacy for the Presidency of the United States followed by Sarah Palin’s candidacy for Vice-President provided a unique lens for considering how gender is viewed in our culture. Of course, Clinton’s loss in the Democratic primary and Palin’s (and McCain’s) loss in the election was determined by multiple factors specific to their personalities and their campaigns. Yet, the election coverage demonstrated what workplace and social science research have shown for years: women face unique constraints when trying to be successful in traditionally masculine domains.

Interestingly, lawyers do not seem plagued by this same double bind. After reviewing election coverage and social science research, this Article focuses on research about lawyers demonstrating that, in style and in effectiveness, there is no difference between how female and male lawyers are perceived. In a study of lawyers rating other lawyers in their most recent negotiation, female lawyers were described in terms that were similar to their male colleagues (ethical, confident, and personable) and both were equally likely to be judged as effective in general. In fact, women lawyers were rated more highly in assertiveness than their male counterparts, and yet did not seem to suffer negative consequences for violating feminine proscriptions. This Article examines why lawyers appear to escape the backlash effect and argues that unique features of legal work reduce the perceived incongruity between assertiveness and proscribed feminine behavior thereby attenuating the likelihood of backlash. Finally, the Article concludes by suggesting further advice for how lawyers can deal with the backlash effect in contexts where incongruity is still salient.

Keywords: gender, women, negotiation, politics, law, double bind, backlash

Suggested Citation

Schneider, Andrea Kupfer and Tinsley, Catherine H. and Cheldelin, Sandra I. and Amanatullah, Emily T., Likeability v. Competence: The Impossible Choice Faced by Female Politicians, Attenuated by Lawyers (October 13, 2010). Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy, Vol. 17, No. 2, 2010; Marquette Law School Legal Studies Paper No. 10-42. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1691736

Andrea Kupfer Schneider (Contact Author)

Marquette University - Law School ( email )

Eckstein Hall
P.O. Box 1881
Milwaukee, WI 53201
United States

Catherine H. Tinsley

Georgetown University - Department of Management ( email )

Rafik B Hariri Building
McDonough School of Business
Washington, DC 20057
United States
202-687-2524 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://explore.georgetown.edu/people/tinsleyc/

Sandra I. Cheldelin

School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution ( email )

3401 Fairfax Drive MS4D3
Arlington, VA 22201
United States
703.993.3652 (Phone)

Emily T. Amanatullah

Georgetown University Women's Leadership Institute ( email )

Austin, TX 78712
United States

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