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Sex discrimination and the “competence penalty” against women

Even when women employees have established credentials, they face the challenge of managing being liked and being competent.  The competence penalty stems from negative stereotypes about strong women.  A male executive wants to be seen as “hard-driving.”  A female employee might be asked to balance her assertiveness with some people’s perception that women managers should be reassuring.  A male employee is seen knowing his value, while the female manager is deemed a self-promoter.

If an employee notices this penalty, she should consider what it means for her long term growth. If the female manager is bypassed for a male with less experience but who fits the personality mold, that’s the company’s problem.  Women are not required to re-invent themselves in order to pass the stereotype test.  Comments about physical appearance or “charm” deficits are implicitly discriminatory.

Pamela A. Smith
Law Office of Pamela A. Smith
233 Needham Street, Suite 540
Newton, MA 02464


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