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The Goldilocks Dilemma: Why Career Advancement Is So Much Harder for Women Than Men and What Women Can Do to Change That

Andrea S. Kramer, Alton B. Harris

May 04, 2016

"America's workplaces, even in our best-intentioned organizations, are riddled with bias against women leaders. As a result, women seeking to advance in careers—particularly careers in traditionally male fields—face both negative and agentic biases. Negative bias is the result of the traditional feminine stereotype that a woman is or should be 'communal,' that is, warm, caring, and gentle. A woman who conforms to the communal stereotype at work is likely to be seen as pleasant, but not suited for jobs calling for competence, competitiveness, and authority. She is also likely to be seen as less talented, less suited for challenging assignments, and less worthwhile to mentor than a man. On the other side of the 'women are not as good as men' coin, a woman who violates traditional female stereotypes and behaves with authority, competence, and independence is likely to be seen as aggressive, abrasive, and bossy. This perception is what we call agentic bias ... The intersection of negative and agentic biases creates a double bind we call the 'Goldilocks Dilemma.'"

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