Saturday Morning Rounds October 3rd, 2020 - Can nice women get ahead at work?

Posted by BossB, MD on October 3, 2020
BossB, MD

Saturday Morning Rounds

A weekly round-up of career & negotiation content for women physicians

What got our attention

Can nice women get ahead at work? by Sarah Todd

This article tackles a complex topic with the care and nuance that it deserves. The author starts off by describing a problem that our readership is all too familiar with - namely "that women who act friendly and warm in the workplace are often viewed as less competent, regardless of their actual abilities" -  and then transitions into explaining that it's specifically comparative contexts in which this becomes more of a problem:

"And so the warmth-competence effect serves as a kind of psychological sorting mechanism when we’re trying to weigh people against one another and decide who deserves an award, or a raise, or a job, or our votes."

"Warmth-competence effect" is a great way to describe the tightrope that most women, and especially most professional women, have to walk. It's not all bad though! The author goes on to point out that

"On the bright side, there is reason to believe that the general tendency to regard women as inherently less competent than men is changing. A recent meta-analysis of 16 polls of Americans, published in the journal American Psychologist, found that women are, at long last, generally perceived as being just as competent as men. According to the American Psychological Association, in 1946, just 35% of Americans thought men and women were equally intelligent. But by 2018, '86% believed men and women were equally intelligent, 9% believed women were more intelligent and only 5% believed men were more intelligent.'"

Her suggestions on how to fix the problem focus on changing the system. She cites an emotional intelligence training of mostly men at oil & gas company Shell that decreased workplace accidents by 84% because it fostered better communication and a willingness to admit to mistakes. We have some more ideas on how to confront this issue regardless of what the system does in our "tip of the week" section.

Who we're following

Dr. Michelle Kittleson, MD PhD (@MKittlesonMD) is probably our favorite #MedEd contributor on Twitter. She posts tips that are PURE GOLD, especially for students and trainees, under the hashtags #KittlesonRules and #TipsForNewDocs. Not only is her feed full of valuable insights, it's also charming & funny. We're all lucky that she's representing physicians so well on social media by adding substance to the conversation, and we recommend you give her a follow!

BBMD tip of the week

We'll be the first to admit that the problems addressed in this week's article are systemic in nature and that the burden to fix them lies squarely with the system itself (and those individuals who have power within the system).

That being said, waiting for them hasn't turned out so well to date, and we here at BBMD exist to help you take that power into your own hands. While constantly having to perform "gender judo" is undoubtedly exhausting (and unfair), what if there was a way to do so more effectively, AND spend less energy in the process?

Well there is, and in our curriculum we call that exercise "Meeting Your Captain" (adapted from CTI's coaching training). While the full exercise would be too time-consuming to do here, you can skip ahead to the good stuff pretty quickly.

Essentially, your "Captain" (or "guide," or "model," or whatever term works for you) is a wise, calm, confident individual who has unconditional positive regard toward you. Most importantly, they're a model for how to behave in a situation where you'd need to balance your image to be perceived as both warm and competent at the same time. 

So think of someone who always seems to respond gracefully but can't be pushed around either. And then use them as a shortcut for how to behave - in essence, channel their energy and their response patterns instead of having to come up with your own from scratch.

This can be a great way to respond adaptively in the moment without having to second-guess yourself and spend a bunch of energy thinking of how you should say or do something. The most common captain that our clients come up with by far is, no surprise:


And here's why we think that is. Imagine Michelle Obama after a speaking event taking questions. Imagine that she gets a heckler or someone deciding that this is the time to ask an inappropriate or rude question.

How do you think she'd respond?

Regardless of your politics, it's hard to fathom her responding in an uncontrolled, emotionally reactive, or defensive manner, but it's almost equally difficult to imagine her backing down from the situation as well. She'd likely say something both graceful and firm, then direct everyone to move on. And by thinking of how she or someone else who embodies both grace and strength might respond adaptively to such a situation, so can you.

Quote we're contemplating

"Don't you take my kindness for weakness

Because I'm gentle doesn't mean I'm not strong"

- Soul Children

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PPS - As always, please let us know your requests and suggestions by replying to this email (we read 'em all) or getting at us via Twitter. Which section above is your favorite? What do you want more or less of? Just send a tweet to @BossB_MD and put #SaturdayMorningRounds in there so we can find it.

Have a wonderful weekend, y'all!