“Talking about a woman’s appearance in a professional setting, especially when you are trying to trumpet her job-relevant attributes, can be damaging to her.”

August 02, 20171 minute read

— An article in Harvard Business Review explaining how “benevolent sexism” can unintentionally undermine a female colleague.

The article, “How Not to Advocate for a Woman at Work,” written by David M. Mayer, distinguishes between benevolent sexism –- “a chivalrous attitude that suggests women are weak and need men’s protection” and “hostile sexism — an antagonistic attitude toward women and a desire to control or dominate them.”

Far from being innocent, “benevolent sexism can make it less likely that women will get candid feedback and challenging assignments, and more likely that they’ll get confidence-eroding offers of unsolicited assistance.” All of this undercuts women’s perceived competence and makes it harder for them to advance.

The author suggests that people use this mantra when advocating for women: “I will focus on competence, not warmth. I will describe her as self-reliant, not needing my protection. I will focus on her brain, not on her physical appearance. I will enhance her status with titles, not use informal language that diminishes her standing.”