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Sara Thomas

Research Findings

Authority and Caring: A Zero-Sum Game for Women Leaders?

May 14, 2019

The last few years have brought renewed attention to the unique challenges facing women leaders. Feminist celebrities like Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham, and  Ava DuVernay decry sexist double standards that hold women back professionally, and intense public commentary has focused on the possibility of a likability penalty for women in politics. The conversation touches on an either/or bind described by sociologists of gender: either women can “do gender” by displaying warmth and caring, or they can “do professionalism” by showing strong leadership and authority. But they can’t do both.

But is this tension reflected in the work experiences of all women leaders? In a recent study, we found that overlapping cultural stereotypes of what it means to be “white” and a “woman” give rise to a particular expectation for “feminine behavior” that may not exist for women of color whose race and gender elicit more masculinized stereotypes.

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