How to Deal With Double Standards

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Double standards aren't just infuriating; they can also dent your performance by distracting your attention. So how can you deal with them constructively? HBR has ideas. By Jessica Stillman (Editor, Women 2.0)

Double standards aren't just infuriating; they also can dent your performance through stereotype threat. That's the psychological term for the anxiety that individual performance will be generalized to the whole group – or, to give a day-to-day example, it's the problem faced by the girl who does less well on her math test because she's worried that if she fails everyone will think girls are lousy at math.

That's an example from school, but double standards and the anxiety they produce unfortunately aren't confined to classrooms. As we highlighted here on Women 2.0, an article in The Verge recently traced how they play out in the startup world. The article delves into the delicate balance female founders must walk proving to investors that they're tough enough to run a business but avoiding running up against biases against female assertiveness (other posts confirm the conundrum as well).

All of which is fascinating (if a little dispiriting) but also raises the practical question, what should you do when faced with double standards? The Harvard Business Review blog network recently offered some advice.

"When people are focused on how they are coming across to others — managing their image — they divert their attention away from their larger leadership purpose, are less clear about their goals and less open to learning," writes post author and  Insead professor Herminia Ibarra. "Subtle (and not so subtle) cultural biases can easily turn women's attention inward as they try to reconcile conflicting messages about how to behave as leaders," she goes on to say before suggesting three tips for how to react to these worries about bias:

  • Understand how you are perceived and what role gender stereotypes play in those perceptions. Get informed about the research; don't be naive.
  • Have clarity of purpose. Know why you are doing what you are doing, and how it will advance the collective good.
  • Be yourself. "Dare the difference," as [IMF head Christine] Lagarde advises. But do so skillfully. Don't just let it all hang out; and never confuse "being authentic" with "fatal flaws" such as treating people poorly.

More details and stories of how uber-successful women like Hillary Clinton and Lagarge handle the issue are available in the complete post.

Women 2.0 readers: How do you respond to double standards?

Image courtesy Flickr user Adam Tinworth. About the writer: Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She writes a daily column for Inc.com and has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist, among others. Follow her on Twitter at @entrylevelrebel.