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How “Personal Warmth” Warps the Perception of Women’s Work Performance

Women Warmth

People tend to judge others on two broad dimensions: competence and warmth. These judgments can give a person an aura of confidence. People who rate highly for warmth, competence, and confidence are seen as influential and are more likely to be promoted to leadership positions in organizations.

But a study by Margarita Mayo and published in Harvard Business Review finds that “women’s professional performance is not evaluated independently from their personal warmth.”

The study analyzed the judgments of colleagues regarding the competence, confidence, and influence of engineers at a large software company over two years.

It found that:

  • Men are seen as confident if they are seen as competent.
  • But women are seen as confident only if they come across as both competent and warm.
  • Women must be seen as warm in order to capitalize on their competence and be seen as confident and influential at work.
  • Competent men are seen as confident and influential whether they are warm or not.
  • But for women, there was virtually no relationship between ratings for competence and confidence ratings.
  • Competent but less-warm female engineers were seen as less confident in their professional roles.

To the author of the study, it suggested “if women are to succeed in a biased world, encouraging them to be more confident is not enough.” To get credit for having confidence and competence, and to have influence in their organizations, “women must go out of their way to be seen as warm.”

This may tie into a finding of another study that women tend to more accurately rate their abilities, while men are more likely to be overconfident about theirs.

Read it all on HBR.

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