Running head: Gender and Social Influence Gender Effects on Social Influence

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Running head: Gender and Social Influence

Gender Effects on Social Influence

Linda L. Carli

Wellesley College

Linda Carli, Ph.D.

Department of Psychology

Wellesley College

Wellesley, MA 02481


telephone: 781-283-3351

The status of women has improved in recent years. The presence of women, such as National Security Advisor Condaleeza Rice, former attorney general Janet Reno, and



producer, and media mogul Oprah Winfrey, in highly visible positions of power is emblematic of this improved status. In fact, currently about 47% of workers in the United States are women, up from 40% in 1976 (U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2001). Whereas 25 years ago 25% of managers were women, now women possess nearly half of all managerial and administrative positions (U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2001). The salary differential between men and women has also shrunk. Today, on average, women earn about 74% of what men earn, whereas in 1976 they only earned 58% of men’s income (U. S. Bureau of the Census, 2000). Nevertheless, in spite of the advances that women have made and the presence of a small but highly visible number of women in positions of authority, women continue to be underrepresented in the upper echelons of power. In Fortune 500 organizations, women hold less than 1% of CEO and only 5% of the top executive positions (Catalyst, 2000). In the United States government, only 113% of Senators, 14% of Congressional Representatives, and 10% of state governors are women (Center for the American Woman and Politics, 2001). Women are likewise absent from the highest positions of power in the legal profession (Rhode, 2001), higher education (Chronicle of Higher Education, 1998), medicine (Reed & Buddeberg-Fischer, 2001), and broadcasting and telecommunications (Jamieson & Slass, 2001) and the U. S. military (U. S. Department of Defense, 1998). The persistence of women’s exclusion from the most powerful positions underscores the continued resistance to women’s influence and authority. Indeed, the literature on gender and social influence has typically reported that women are less influential than men.

In this chapter, I will review research showing gender differences in social influence and will argue that these differences occur as the result of gender stereotypes. In particular, I will show that women and girls exert less influence than men and boys because females more than males must establish themselves as competent and likable sources in order to be influential. Likable sources appeal to their audience because they are similar to them, are physically attractive, or possess other socially desirable characteristics. Competent sources appear knowledgeable, intelligent, and articulate, conveying competence and expertise. Influence agents who establish themselves as competent (Bradley, 1980; Driskell, Olmstead & Salas, 1993; Erickson, Lind, Johnson, & O’Barr, 1978; Holtgraves & Lasky, 1999; Son & Schmitt, 1983) and likable (Carli, 1989; Chaiken, 1980; Chaiken & Eagly, 1983; Wood & Kallgren, 1988) exert greater influence than those who do not. People trust competent likable influence agents and yield to their influence. The present analysis suggests that men exert greater influence than women because, according to gender stereotypes, males are more competent than females. Moreover, based on stereotypes, people expect females to be warmer, nicer and more likable than males and consequently are more likely to resist the influence of females than that of males for not being likable enough.

Gender Stereotypes and Social Influence

The Stereotype of the Competent Male

Research examining people’s gender stereotypes about the types of traits that men and women possess reveals that men are considered to possess more agentic qualities, which reflect greater competency and instrumentality, than women, who in turn are thought to possess more communal qualities than men. Specifically, men are considered more leader-like, intellectual, analytical, able to think abstractly, and able to solve problems, whereas women are considered kinder, warmer, more expressive, more supportive, and gentler (Broverman, Vogel, Broverman, Clarkson, & Rosenkrantz, 1972; Deaux & Kite, 1993; Eagly & Mladinic, 1989; Fiske & Ruscher, 1993; Ruble, 1983; Williams & Best, 1990). Similar stereotypes have been reported in work settings; managers consider male managers to be more competent than female managers (Heilman, Block & Martell, 1995) and management ability and competence is considered more characteristic of men than of women (Schein, in press).

Other research examining evaluation of men’s and women’s performance likewise reveals this same stereotype. For example, a small bias favoring male expertise was reported in a meta-analytic review of studies using the “Goldberg paradigm,” in which participants evaluate identical behaviors or products but are sometimes told that those behaviors or products were produced by men and sometimes that they were produced by women (Swim, Borgida, Maruyama, & Myers, 1989). The review revealed that male performance is rated more favorably when the stimulus materials are either gender neutral or in a stereotypically masculine domain, but men and women receive equal evaluations when the domain is stereotypically feminine. These effects, although small, indicate that men are presumed to be more competent than women unless the task favors female expertise, but even then women are not considered more competent than men.

Studies examining stereotypes usually provide subjects with little information about the target individuals whom they are evaluating and often simply ask participants to describe a typical man or a typical woman. Studies employing the Goldberg paradigm generally present brief descriptions of the target, such as a résumé, or something the target has written or created before evaluating him or her. Perhaps participants rely on stereotypes under these conditions because they have little objective information upon which to base their evaluations. If true, then the bias in evaluating male and female competence should disappear when participants are exposed to actual behaviors by men and women, where they could base their evaluations on their observations of male and female performance. Unfortunately, even in face-to-face interactions with men and women and no objective gender differences their performance, undergraduate subjects rate men to have performed more competently than women (Carli, 1991; Carli, 1997; Wood & Karten, 1986). Indeed, research has revealed a double standard in the evaluation of men and women. Women must display greater evidence of skill than men to be considered equally competent (Biernat & Kobrynowicz, 1997; Foschi, 1996). Moreover, in order for people to perceive a woman as more competent than a man, they must be given very clear and explicit evidence of the woman’s substantial superiority relative to the man’s (Shackelford, Wood, & Worchel, 1996; Wagner, Ford, & Ford, 1986; Wood & Karten, 1986). The double standard for competence has also been revealed in research with children. A study of fourth and fifth grade children playing a cooperative game revealed that girls were perceived to be less competent at it than boys were, even though objective analysis of the children’s actual performance did not reveal a gender difference (Lockheed, Harris, & Nemceff, 1983).

Status, Social Roles, and Gender

Why do people perceive men to be generally more competent and agentic? According to Alice Eagly’s (1987) social role theory, men and women are distributed differently into social roles. First, based on the traditional division of labor in the family, men have more often had the role of financial provider and women the role of homemaker. Second, paid occupations are highly gender-segregated, with men’s positions conferring higher levels of status and power than women’s. Typically, the higher status occupational roles to which men have been assigned require agentic behaviors, such as task competence, leadership, and dominance. Conversely, women’s domestic roles and lower status occupational roles more often require communal behaviors, such as nurturance, kindness, and selflessness. Eagly argues that people have deduced the gender stereotypes through observation of men and women in these highly segregated roles and, as a result, have come to expect men to behave in a more agentic manner than women.

The association of men with powerful high status roles has resulted in men generally possessing higher levels of status than women. According to expectation states theory (Berger, Fisek, Norman, & Zelditch, 1977), gender acts as a diffuse status characteristic, a general attribute that is associated with an individual's relative status in society. A variety of diffuse status characteristics have been identified, including gender, race, degree of physical attractiveness, and education. Characteristics that are valued or considered desirable, such as being male, white, physically attractive, and well educated, confer high status. Research indicates that a high status individual is assumed to be more competent than someone of low status, and as a result, people seek the opinions of the high status person and yield to his or her influence more than to someone of low status (Berger et al., 1977). This tendency to encourage high status people to contribute their ideas and act as task leaders creates a self-fulfilling prophesy: the more individuals make task contributions, the more they enhance their status, increase their influence, and emerge as leaders (Hawkins, 1995; Ridgeway, 1978; Stein & Heller, 1979; Wood & Karten, 1986). Therefore, high status individuals are not only expected to exhibit higher levels of competence and performance, but these expectations lead them to actually be more successful at influencing others.

In the same way that high status individuals are given opportunities to exert influence, low status individuals are denied these opportunities. Individuals’ diffuse status not only affects their perceived competence and expectations about their future performance, but also affects expectations about what constitutes appropriate behavior in the group. People perceive low status individuals, because of their presumed lower competence, to lack legitimacy as authorities, and, as a result, are more likely to resist the influence of low status than high status individuals (Meeker & Weitzel-O’Neill, 1985; Ridgeway & Berger, 1986). Instead, when low status individuals behave in a status asserting manner, overtly attempting to influence others or taking on leadership roles, they are ignored or penalized and rejected, which drops their status further (Meeker & Weitzel-O’Neill, 1985).

This analysis suggests that because men generally possess higher status than women, men, more than women, would be given opportunities to make task contributions in groups and would be more likely than women to enhance their status, influence others, and emerge as leaders when doing so. In fact, a recent meta-analytic review of gender differences in group interactions revealed that men do make a higher proportion of task contributions than women do (Carli & Olm-Shipman, 2000). In addition, although men’s task contributions in mixed-sex groups predict their ability to influence other group members, women’s task contributions are unrelated to influence (Walker, Ilardi, McMahon, & Fennell, 1996) and women’s task-related behavior is more likely to evoke negative reactions from others than is men’s task related behavior (Butler & Geis, 1990). Further support for this analysis can be found in Eagly and Karau’s (1991) meta-analytic review of gender differences in leader emergence which revealed that in initially leaderless groups, men emerge more often as leaders than women do.

In summary, the presumption of greater male competence is based on the different distribution of men and women into social roles and the relatively higher status of the roles held by men than those held by women. Because competent individuals exert greater influence than less competent individuals, women and girls should exert less influence than men and boys. The male advantage should occur except in contexts that favor female expertise and competence, either because a particular female has demonstrated clear superiority over her male counterpart or because the domain of the interaction is stereotypically female, such as in discussions of childcare.

The Stereotype of the Communal Female

At the same time that men are perceived to be more competent than women, women are perceived to be nicer and more communal than men (Broverman, et. al., 1972; Deaux & Kite, 1993; Eagly & Mladinic, 1989; Fiske & Ruscher, 1993; Ruble, 1983; Williams & Best, 1990). Research indicates that people highly value communal traits, enough so that attitudes towards women tend to be more favorable overall than attitudes towards men, a finding that has been labeled the “women are wonderful” effect (Eagly & Mladinic, 1989, 1994; Eagly, Mladinic, & Otto, 1991). Yet, even though women are held in esteem for possessing desirable communal traits, this esteem does not provide women with increased influence in task-oriented groups. On the contrary, people view communal traits as important in stereotypical feminine contexts, so that communal individuals are seen as best suited for domestic roles and traditionally female-dominated professions (Eagly & Steffen, 1984; Cejka & Eagly, 1999). Consequently, women’s greater communality should enhance their influence in stereotypical female contexts, but should provide no particular advantage to them in gender-neutral or masculine domains.

Although the “women are wonderful” effect may be viewed as generally beneficial, this stereotype is not merely descriptive, but is also highly prescriptive. Descriptive gender stereotypes reflect beliefs about the way men and women are perceived to be whereas prescriptive gender stereotypes delineate how men and women ought to be, the behaviors considered appropriate for each gender. In the case of the stereotype about female communality, people not only believe that women are nicer than men, they require women to be so (Eagly, 1987; Burgess & Borgida, 1999). This prescription demands that women be warm, nurturant, and selfless or be perceived as violating gender role norms. This suggests that observers may dislike and penalize a woman whom they consider lacking in communality, and resist her influence as a result.

Notably, the prescription for women includes avoiding behavior that is too status asserting, threatening, or directive. In essence, people do not consider it appropriate for women to overtly seek leadership or status or to too directly or forcefully attempt to influence others (Carli, 1999). This is based on the lower diffuse status of women relative to men, and on the domestic and lower status occupational roles that women more often hold, which involve a greater amount of selflessness and other-directedness than men’s roles do. Certainly, status theorists have argued that low status individuals must show warmth and communality more than high status individuals in order to be influential because those of low status lack legitimacy; they do not have the right to take charge, direct others, or act as leaders. Instead, low status individuals must communicate that they have little desire to take charge or lead others, but that they are merely motivated by a desire to help other members of their group (Meeker & Weitzel-O’Neill, 1985). As a result, people would be generally more open to a man’s than a woman’s influence, regardless of his influence style, but would give greater scrutiny to the style of influence of a woman and penalize her for behavior that is too status-asserting or insufficiently communal. Indeed, research with children (Connor, Serbin, & Ender, 1978) and adults (Carli, LaFleur, & Loeber, 1995) confirms that people prefer females who are indirect, agreeable, and communal to those who are direct, threatening, and status asserting, but like males equally well regardless of communality or status-assertion. Clearly, in most situations, compared with men, women’s ability to influence others would be more dependent on the use of an influence style that corresponds prescriptively to the stereotypical female role. Displays of warmth and communality should, therefore, enhance the influence of women and girls, whereas dominant or assertive behaviors should reduce their influence.

One of the unfortunate effects of gender stereotypes is that highly competent behavior in women may be viewed as too status asserting and incompatible with the traditional female gender role. Therefore, unlike men, women experience a double bind. On one hand, their competence is more likely to be questioned than the competence of a man and, on the other hand, behavior that clearly conveys competence may be considered inappropriate in women. Competent women are often not liked as much as competent men or less competent women (Carli, 1991; Falbo, Hazen, Linimon, 1982). Status theorists have argued that the problem of low status individuals appearing too status asserting is most pronounced in interactions with high status individuals (Ridgeway & Berger, 1986). That is, women’s lower status relative to men is particularly highlighted in interactions between men and women. As a result, men, more than women, should disapprove of high levels of competence and authority in women and, therefore men, more than women should resist women’s influence. Indeed, research indicates that men show greater resistance to women’s leadership than women do (Eagly, Makhijani, & Klonsky, 1992; Schein, in press) and men are more likely than women to endorse traditional gender roles (Twenge, 1997).

In summary, the presumption of greater female communality is based on the different distribution of men and women into social roles, with women more often in domestic roles and lower status occupational roles. In addition, women, like others of low status, have less legitimacy as leaders and consequently are penalized for status-asserting behavior. Because female communality has become prescriptive, women who do not behave in a warm communal manner are likewise penalized. As a result, women’s influence should be more conditional than men’s, with women exerting greater influence while displaying communal behavior and less influence for status asserting behavior. Furthermore, it is men, more than women who should resist the influence of competent females.

Gender Differences in Influence

As one would expect, given the greater perceived competence and legitimacy of male influence agents, research confirms that men exert greater influence than women do. Lockheed (1985) conducted a meta-analytic review of 29 studies examining gender differences in task-oriented mixed-gender groups. She reported that men exert greater influence and exhibit more leadership behaviors than women do. Moreover, research reveals that the gender difference in social influence is not merely due to higher quality performances by men. For example, Propp (1995) reported that in group interactions members were more likely to attend to ideas contributed by men and to use them in solving group problems than the identical ideas contributed by women. Similarly, research has shown that men remain more influential than women even when the persuasive messages of the male and female agents are manipulated to be identical (Altemeyer & Jones, 1974; DiBerardinis, Ramage, & Levitt, 1984) or the performance of the male and female agents are manipulated to be equally good (Schneider & Cook, 1995, Wagner, Ford & Ford, 1986). The same pattern of results has been reported in research on children. In interactions with peers, boys are more influential than girls (Jacklin & Maccoby, 1978).

Competence, Gender and Social Influence

Further research specifically links gender differences in perceived competence to gender differences in social influence. In one study, women and men attempted to influence others by speaking in either a competent manner by supporting their arguments with evidence or a less competent manner with no supporting arguments (Bradley, 1981). Consistent with the double standard for competence, results revealed that men were perceived to be equally competent and were equally influential regardless of their communication style, whereas women were perceived to be more competent and exerted greater influence when using a competent style than when using the less competent style. Other research reveals that women exert less influence than men in stereotypically masculine and gender-neutral domains, where men are expected to show higher competence than women, but that women are more influential than men in stereotypically feminine domains and in contexts where women are expected to be more competent. For example, men exert greater influence over the opinions of others for masculine topics, such as sports, gun control, and military topics, whereas women exert greater influence for feminine topics, such as women’s fear of crime and child care (Gerrard, Breda, & Gibbons, 1990; Falbo, Hazen, & Linimon, 1982; Feldman-Summers, Montano, Kasprzyk, & Wagner, 1980; Javornisky, 1979). Moreover, evidence of clear female superiority at a task increases women’s influence and decreases men’s (Pugh & Wahrman, 1983; Shackelford, Wood, & Worchel, 1996).

As already noted, although competence generally facilitates influence, this is not always the case for women, whose competent behavior may sometimes be perceived as too status asserting. A number of studies have revealed that women can be disadvantaged by competent displays. For example, in one study, male and female influence agents attempted to persuade others using either a direct competent style or a more indirect style of communication. Results showed that men were equally persuasive, regardless of their communication style whereas women exerted greater influence when communicating in a more indirect manner (Burgoon, Jones & Stewart, 1975). In another study, corporate executives were asked to evaluate the competence of a male or female job applicant and indicate whether they would hire him or her after reading the applicant’s résumé and a transcript of his or her job interview (Buttner & McEnally, 1996). Results revealed that the executives were most persuaded by and preferred to hire men who communicated in a highly competent manner, showing directness and initiative, rather than men using a less competent style. The reverse was found for women applicants; the executives reported being least persuaded by and likely to hire a woman using the highly competent style compared with women using other less competent styles.

Research shows that men are especially inclined to resist women’s influence more than men’s (Ridgeway, 1981). Moreover, men also particularly resist the influence of competent women. A study examining the effectiveness of assertive versus tentative speech revealed that women who used tentative speech, which involved using verbal qualifiers such as disclaimers (e.g. “I may be wrong” or “I’m no expert”) and hedges (e.g., “sort of,” “kind of””), were perceived to be less competent than those using assertive speech, which did not contain such verbal qualifiers (Carli 1991). In that study, males were perceived to be equally competent, regardless of their speech style and, not surprisingly, were equally influential in both speech conditions, as a result. Of particular interest was the effect of perceived competence on women’s influence. When speaking competently, women exerted greater influence over a female audience but less influence over a male audience than when speaking tentatively. In essence, men were more influenced by a woman they perceived to be lacking in competence than one who appeared highly competent, rating the competent women as less trustworthy and less likeable than her less competent counterpart.

Other research confirms the finding that men resist the influence of competent women. In one study, women were equally influenced by competent male and female influence agents and liked them equally well, whereas men were more influenced by a competent man than a competent woman (Carli, LaFleur & Loeber, 1995). In that study, men reported that they felt more threatened by a competent woman and liked her less than a competent man. Similarly, a recent study revealed that a woman who presented herself as a feminine woman, who preferred traditional gender roles, was perceived to be less competent than a woman who presented herself as less traditionally feminine (Matschiner and Murnen, 1999). As expected, the traditional woman exerted more influence over men and less influence over women than the less traditional woman did. Again, men, but not women, judged the more competent nontraditional woman to be less likeable and were more resistant to her influence than a woman with greater competence. In a similar study, participants listened to an audiotape of a male or female expert who presented a speech advocating nontraditional gender-roles; results revealed that women were equally persuaded by male and female speakers, but men were less persuaded by a woman than by a man (Rhoades, 1979). Male resistance to female competence has also been found cross culturally. In this study, the researcher examined the responses of male and female officials working in Israeli bureaucratic organizations to the requests of male and female confederates (Weimann, 1985). In general, confederates were not particularly effective when their requests conveyed helplessness and dependence on the official, with one exception. Female confederates exerted greater influence over male officials when using this relatively incompetent style of communication than when using other less helpless and more competent appeals.

The tendency of males to resist female influence has been found not only in research on adults, but also in research on children, including toddlers and preschoolers. Jacklin and Maccoby (1978) examined the influence patterns among mixed- and same-sex pairs of 33-month-old toddlers. They found that boys and girls were equally likely to issue verbal prohibitions (e.g., “no” or “don’t”) when another child attempted to take their toys, girls issuing prohibitions exerted less influence over their male playmates than female playmates, and less influence than boys exerted over either males or females. Indeed, the boys’ behavior was completely unaffected by girls’ prohibitions, which the boys simply ignored. Similar findings have been reported with a slightly older sample of children. In that study, researchers studying the influence of preschoolers when issuing direct requests reported that girls exerted less influence over boys than girls, but boys were equally influential with both male and female classmates (Serbin, Sprafkin, Elman, & Doyle, 1982). In a study of middle school children, boys and girls attempted to persuade their peers to eat bitter-tasting crackers (Dion & Stein, 1978). Although the authors reported that attractive children were generally more influential with the opposite sex than unattractive children, overall, boys were more inclined to eat the crackers after being persuaded by a male than female peer, whereas girls were equally influenced by both genders. Finally, research reveals that boys resist the influence of adult females, as well. A study assessing the effectiveness of parents’ imperatives and requests to their 2- to 6-year-old children revealed that girls were equally likely to comply with their mothers and fathers, but boys complied less with their mothers’ influence attempts than to their fathers’ (Power, McGrath, Hughes, & Manire, 1994).

Communality, Gender and Social Influence

Women’s influence depends not only on their apparent competence, but also on the extent to which they display communal behavior, conveying a concern for others and a lack of interest in asserting their status. Men’s influence does not. Instead, research indicates that men are often equally influential, regardless of how communally they behave. In one study, male and female confederates communicated in either a communal style, by agreeing with others, or in a dominant, status-asserting style, by overtly disagreeing with others. Results revealed that women exerted greater influence when communal than when dominant, but men were equally influential in both conditions (Carli, 1998). Moreover, in this study, people disliked the dominant woman and responded to her dominance with anger, irritation, and hostility whereas they did not express hostility towards men who were equally dominant. Other research confirms that women using a self-asserting, dominant, or threatening style exert less influence than men using the same style (Burgoon, Dillard, & Doran, 1983; Perse, Nathanson, & McLeod, 1996) and less influence than women using a group-oriented communal style (Burgoon, Birk, & Hall, 1991; Shackelford, Wood, & Worchel, 1996). Likewise, research reveals that asserting one’s status through self-promotion is perceived more favorably in men than in women. For example, women who describe their achievements in a self-promoting manner are perceived as less deserving of recognition or support than less self-promoting women, whereas men are not penalized for self-promotion (Giacalone & Riordan, 1990; Wosinska, Dabul, Whetstone-Dion, & Cialdini; 1996). Research also reveals that women who self-promote generally exert less influence than more modest women and are less well liked, even though self-promoting women are considered more competent than their more modest counterparts (Rudman, 1998). In effect, women who appear to be too status asserting, directive, or aggressive in their communications are penalized for their gender role violations. People dislike such women and resist their influence.

Even nonverbal self-assertion has costs for women. For example, visual dominance, which involves maintaining a relatively higher amount of eye gaze while speaking than while listening and which is associated with possessing status and authority, is more acceptable in men than in women. Women who show high amounts of visual dominance are less well liked and less influential than less visually dominant women (Copeland, Driskell, & Salas, 1995; Mehta, Dovidio, Gibbs, Miller, Huray, Ellyson, & Brown, 1989, cited in Ellyson, Dovidio, & Brown, 1992), although high amounts of visual dominance are acceptable in men and do not reduce men’s influence (Mehta, et al., 1989, cited in Ellyson, Dovidio, & Brown, 1992).

Similar findings have been reported in research on children. Killen and Naigles (1995) examined the effectiveness of dominant and communal influence attempts by boys and girls who were interacting with peers. They found that girls exerted greater influence when using communal behaviors, such as agreeing, collaborating, and compromising, than when using dominant behaviors, such as commanding others, issuing orders, or disagreeing. Two very recent studies examined 3 to 5 year old preschoolers’ reactions to male and female puppets exhibiting competent, and communal behaviors (Carli, Olm-Shipman, & Kishore, 2001). The first study revealed that boys disliked girl puppets that displayed leader-like and competent behavior more than boy puppets displaying the same behaviors, but girls liked competent boy and girl puppets equally well and both boys and girls had equally favorable reactions to communal boy and girl puppets. The second study revealed that boys, but not girls, considered direct influence attempts by girl puppets to be less influential than indirect attempts when the girl puppet was attempting to influence a male puppet, whereas both boys and girls considered boys puppets to be equally influential when direct as when indirect, regardless of whom the puppet was influencing. In general, then, the research on children reveals that, just as with research on adults, males’ influence is unaffected by whether they use communal or dominant behaviors. Moreover, these findings, along with those discussed earlier comparing the effectiveness of communal versus dominant communications by females suggests that boys in particular resist the influence of dominant or competent females.

Finally, a study examining adult reactions to the communications of year-old infants revealed that adults were three to four times more likely to respond to girls who talked, babbled or gestured than girls who demanded attention, cried or screamed (Fagot, Hagan, Leinbach, & Kronsberg, 1985). This same study revealed that adults responded to boys about the same amount, regardless of the infants’ behavior. Clearly, even in childhood, girls’ ability to influence depends on their use of a communal style of interaction and avoidance of a dominant or self-asserting style, whereas boys’ ability to influence is relatively unaffected by their style of communication.

The research reviewed so far indicates that the prescriptive gender stereotype requiring communal behavior in women and girls is endorsed by both males and females. Because being warm and likeable is prescriptive for women, but not for men, likeableness is associated with social influence for women more than it is for men (Carli, 1989). That is, people are more influential when they are likeable, but the link between being likeable and influence is stronger for women than for men. However, there is evidence that men, in particular, prescribe communality for women. Men respond unfavorably to women who communicate self-interest rather than friendliness, warmth and other communal characteristics (Ridgeway, 1982) and like communal women more than women who are not communal (Carli, LaFleur, & Loeber, 1995). Similarly, a meta-analysis of research on evaluation of leaders indicates that women leaders are denigrated for using an autocratic rather than democratic leadership style, especially by men, but male leaders are perceived to be equally effective regardless of how they lead (Eagly, Makhijani, & Klonsky, 1992). As this research on women leaders suggests, men’s resistance to the influence of competent women can be overcome when the women display communality as well as competence. One study specifically testing this revealed that men were less influenced by women who spoke in a highly competent manner, using rapid clear speech, than men who spoke in the same manner (Carli, LaFleur, & Loeber, 1995). In this same study, with a male audience, women exerted as much influence as men when they combined competent speech with warmth, by smiling and nodding, and more influence than women who were merely competent. Warm and competent women were perceived as more likable and less threatening to men than women who were competent but not warm. These results clearly demonstrate that women who adhere to the prescription for female communality and combine competence with warmth reduce male resistance to their influence. Essentially, communal behavior reduces the threat of female competence.


The different distribution of men and women into social roles, with women more often in domestic and lower status occupational roles, and the general lower status of women than men, have resulted in descriptive gender stereotypes that women are less competent and less legitimate as authorities and leaders than men are. In addition, prescriptive stereotypes require that females exhibit greater communality than males. These descriptive and prescriptive stereotypes create an unfortunate double bind for women, who must both demonstrate exceptional competence to be seen as equal in ability to men, but must also avoid threatening others with their competent behavior. As this review has shown, although people who are perceived as competent and likable exert greater influence than those who do not, achieving this balance of competence and likability is more of a challenge for women. Behavior that increases a man’s perceived competence might enhance, or at least not reduce, his likableness because competence is consistent with stereotypes about men. In contrast, competent behavior can enhance a woman’s influence by increasing her perceived competence, which may be in doubt as the result of gender stereotypes, but at the same time, can also reduce a woman’s influence by lowering her likableness, because behavior that appears competent often also appears status asserting and lacking in the communal qualities prescribed by stereotypes about women. Certainly, women who appear to be direct, competent, and assertive may be seen as illegitimately seeking status, leadership or influence, and may be penalized as a result. Instead, in order to exert influence, women must somehow combine competence with behavior that conveys a lack of desire for self-gain. Communal behavior serves this purpose. Women who combine competence with communality can overcome resistance to their influence while still adhering to traditional gender role expectations.

For women, influence is more dependent on being likable than it is for men (Carli, LaFleur, & Loeber, 1995). The greater importance of likability to women’s than men’s influence is underscored by research on gender differences in power. Compared with men, women typically possess lower levels of expert power, which is based on perceived competence, and legitimate power, which is based on status and legitimate authority; women do, however, possess relatively high levels of referent power, which is based on women’s perceived warmth and communality (Carli, 1999). Clearly, women have relatively less access to sources of power that are more available to men. As a result, women must rely on their referent power, or likability, more than men do in order to be influential. Indeed, this may account in part for the greater communal behavior shown by women than men, including the higher amounts of positive social behavior (Carli & Olm-Shipman, 2000) and nonverbal warmth displayed by women, (Hall, 1984) and the higher levels of democratic leadership shown by female than male leaders (Eagly & Johnson, 1990).

Being likable is especially important when women interact with men. Resistance to female influence is particularly pronounced in men and boys, who are more likely to dislike and negatively sanction females who are seen as too competent and direct. It is primarily in interactions with men that women lack authority and legitimacy and so it is not surprising that men respond less favorably than women do to status asserting behavior in women.

Given the resistance to women’s influence, particularly by men, how should women behave in order to be influential? First, women can increase their influence by communicating in a warm and other-directed manner and avoiding displays of highly dominant or self-asserting behavior. In addition, in order to overcome the double standard in evaluation, women can enhance their influence by combining a warm communication style with outstanding levels of competence. Clearly, the need to exhibit competence combined with warmth places an additional burden on women not shared by men.

In contrast to women, the manner in which men and boys communicate has little apparent effect on their likability or influence. Studies show that men are given the benefit of the doubt and are presumed to be competent, even for behavior that might be seen as incompetent when exhibited by women. Similarly, men who lack communality, who self-promote or behave in an overtly directive or dominant manner, are perceived more favorably than their female counterparts. Indeed, much of the research in this review reveals that male influence is relatively unaffected by how much competence or communality they display. Males seem to have great behavioral latitude than females do as influence agents. Because of the stereotypes that females lack competence and should be warm and communal, the behavior of female influence agents receives greater scrutiny than that of males and their influence depends much more on their displaying a careful balance of competence and warmth. Unfortunately, as a result, the path to influence is less easily navigated for women than it is for men.


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Linda Carli is an associate professor of psychology at Wellesley College. She received her Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Her published research includes articles and chapters examining the effects of gender on group interaction, communication and influence, as well as papers on reactions to adversity and victimization. Currently, she is involved in research examining children’s use of gender as a status characteristic. In addition to her teaching and research, she has developed and conducted negotiation and conflict resolution workshops for women leaders and has lectured to business organizations on sex discrimination and the challenges faced by professional women.
Author notes

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed Linda Carli, Department of Psychology, Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA 02481. Electronic mail may be sent to
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