I learned yesterday that the likeability bias is a gendered expectation that women and men are expected to be assertive and kind, leading to a negative perception of women who assert themselves and a negative perception of men who don’t assert themselves.
Both women and men are hurt by this bias. First, it should be obvious that women have a double bind or impossible-to-win scenario at work. If they are likable, they aren’t perceived as competent. If they are competent, they aren’t perceived as likable. I have seen first hand very few women were in leadership positions, and those that were didn’t have any real power.
Now how this hurts men is if you are soft-spoken and kind, thoughtful and not aggressive you aren’t perceived as someone who should be a leader. This leads to the common situation where bosses are jerks or worse, only because they are aggressive. I have worked in many companies where I did a management job but didn’t get the role because I wasn’t perceived to be aggressive enough.
Clearly, bias is hurtful, but we don’t know this unless someone explains it to us or unless our “culture” is truly committed to diversity and inclusion. This isn’t just forming some clubs for minority groups but actively educating the workforce about bias and other problems that minorites face. It is supporting minorities in the unique ways they need to be helped. It means listening and creating a psychologically safe space where employees can share their concerns without feeling fearful. Almost no places I have worked at were “psychologically safe”.
One of the most surprising things about companies is how they don’t learn from their employees. If people are jerks, they ruin the workplace. There are studies that show that negative emotions spread at work. Any company that doesn’t care about mental well-being is doomed to fail, it is just a matter of time.