What Is likeability bias?

Likeability bias is rooted in age-old expectations. We expect men to be assertive, so when they lead, it feels natural. We expect women to be kind and communal, so when they assert themselves, we like them less.

Recent studies reveal that it will take us 95 years to reach global gender equality: a sobering thought.

According to wellbeing experts, findings from over 200,000 participants conclude that women make better leaders than men in the workplace, due to having more personality traits associated with workplace wellbeing. Leading wellbeing experts advise against promoting people by default with great technical skills, because technical skills are very different from leadership skills. This particular study came to the conclusion that women aged 55 to 64 ranked as the best bosses.

LeanIn.Org—an organization that helps women achieve their ambitions and create a more equal world shared:

Likeability bias is a social outcome when women assert themselves in the workplace. Stereotypes and dated outlooks paint men as the natural leader and women as kind and caring, so when women assert themselves, we tend to dislike it.

  • When women assert themselves it is proven to makes them ‘less likeable’
  • 75% of women in a study described the fine line between appearing too agreeable (reinforcing stereotypes) and too assertive (perceived as bossy)

When words like ‘bossy’ and ‘intimidating’ surface in the workplace, this can create an unpleasant environment for everyone, including the individual being referred to as bossy.

What you can do

If a colleague says they don’t like how a woman bragged about her strengths or accomplishments in an interview, ask them to explore their thinking: “That’s interesting. Do you think you’d have that reaction if a man did the same thing?” You can also reframe what happened: “I noticed that too, but I don’t see it as bragging. I just thought she was talking confidently about her talents.” It’s also worth pointing out that a job interview is exactly the place to talk about your strengths.

Mai Nguyen