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How a broken xerox machine can explain the stereotype content model

Do you know the stereotype content model? It explains why women in their careers have to be super-duper-nice to everyone.

I recently came across this model again when preparing for a keynote. I encountered it years ago when listening to another keynote from Prof. Dr. Spörrle, who brilliantly spoke about unconscious bias and decision making. So, kudos to him for the inspiration.

In this study from 2002 people had been asked to rate a list of labels that society uses to describe different types of men and women. The dimensions used to rate were “warmth”, meaning the likeability, and “competence”, how competent do I believe this person is.

Out of that rating, two main labels per (binary) gender were highlighted: Typical man and career man, respectively typical woman and career woman.

As you can see, the results for the male are quite close to each other: the typical man is semi-nice but competent, the career man is ice-cold but very competent.

Now, in contrast, the female types have a greater distance to each other. While the career woman is similarly rated as the career man, ice-cold but very competent, the typical woman is perceived to be very likeable but also very stupid.

So far so good, but what does that mean, exactly?

Imagine there is an employee by the Xerox machine, trouble-shooting, frustrated because the machine is not working. A manager passes by, sees the employee (and the employee sees that the manager sees them!) but the manager does not help and walks by without comment.

Insight number 1: The employee will hold this act of deliberately not helping more against the manager if they are a woman compared to if they are a man. The expectation is that a man anyway is only semi-nice and thus you have to be lucky to get him to help you. And the woman should be at least nice enough to ask whether she can help – even though she is probably to incompetent to repair the xerox machine anyway… 🙄


Insight number 2: Surprisingly, this goes independently of the gender of the employee: Men and women equally condemn the female manager harder than the male manager.

When we talk about (unconscious) biases against women, we also have to educate ourselves that also we as women have this bias against other women. Being aware of it allows us to identify such behavior or thinking an creates room for change.

Happy presenting!

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