Last year, I read some fascinating research about women entrepreneurs in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) conducted by researchers Dana Kanze, Mark Conley, and E. Tory Higgins from Columbia and Laura Huang of Harvard. Together they discovered that women business owners are frequently subjected to far different scrutiny than their male counterparts.
For example, while a man might be asked questions with a promotion orientation – questions focused on hopes, achievements, advancement, and ideals, women are instead asked questions with a prevention orientation – those concerned with safety, responsibility, security, and vigilance. This forces women to constantly defend their ideas and their capabilities and feel like they never measure up to other’s expectations.
This research rang true to me so I started teaching the concepts in my workshops and making sure my clients were prepared for how they might overcome this obvious bias by always answering prevention-oriented questions with promotion-oriented answers. I also counseled those conducting job interviews to be conscious of how they might be unconsciously framing their questions following this same pattern.
Interestingly, I have now begun to notice this same phenomenon appearing outside of the funding and job interview process. In the last week, I noticed two unexpected instances that made it clear that this limiting orientation about women is actually all around us – and that women and men are susceptible to its limited thinking.