The Female Leadership Bias Trap Can Be Flipped into a Powerful Positive Bias with Smart Humor.

I am a male feminist. That means I am committed to doing everything I can to reduce and eliminate sexism towards women wherever I find it.

As a man, there is no sexism hindering my success. No ‘gender bias’ limiting my opportunities or causing people to be concerned about my competency.

At work, being likable and having a sense of humor adds to people’s view of my professional reputation and competency. It might cause some to see me as leadership material.

But at work, women are often not seen the same way as men.

Robin Hauser, in her TED Talk, ‘The Likability Dilemma for Women Leaders spoke with compelling insight on the challenge of female leadership bias at work.

In her talk, she says:

“I did a little research and I came across something called The Competence – Likability Dilemma, where women, unlike men, are rarely perceived to be both competent and likable. The dilemma for women is that the qualities that we value in leadership, such as assertiveness and decisiveness, go against societal norms of what it is to be a ‘likable’ woman. Clearly, leadership and likability should not be mutually exclusive for women or for men. So how do we solve for this dilemma?”

She raises important questions. Sadly bias judgments drive so much of our perceptions of each other.

For example, if you walked into a presentation and heard what some audience members were thinking as the speaker stood up to speak you might hear something jarring yet not surprising like this:

“There is no way this gangly woman from accounting is going to be worth my time.”

“There is no way this height-challenged, crewcut engineer is going to be worth my time.”

“There is no way this aging, bespectacled, retiring executive is going to be worth my time.”

As humans, we are quick to judge. We have an instant negative bias towards one another over gender, looks, race, accent, age, height, weight, hairstyle, hairline, clothing, ethnicity, power, and wealth, or the lack of it. You get the picture. We can be unkind, cold-hearted, and brutally judgemental. Like dogs at their worst.

No wonder people have a fear of public speaking. Who wants to get in front of a room knowing all this is going on.

Now for the good news. Whether you’re a woman leader who wants to enjoy the same likability and competency lens that male executives enjoy, or someone who has felt the sting of a negative bias, there is a remedy to this cold-hearted reptilian brain bug.

It’s called ‘charming, feel-good, high-performance humor’ (as compared to crass everyday consumer-grade courtesy laugh humor.)

In a minute I will tell you exactly where you can find this effective laugh-inducing professional-grade humor, but first, we’re going to take a quick ninety-second ‘humor break’ to refresh your attention with a comedy video.

Why a comedy video?

Because it’s phenomenal.

And because I want you to notice the emotional state you’re in right now before seeing it, and then notice your emotional state after seeing it.

Did this comedy clip feel great and improve your mood?

I’m going to bet it did. I’m also going to bet it increased your interest and desire to read more of what I have to share with you.

And if somehow during the reading of this article you have developed a negative bias towards me for whatever reason (“What humor credentials does this guy have anyway?”) I’ll bet your negative bias towards me for not having a Ph.D. in the humor sciences has been replaced with a positive bias towards me for making you feel so good by sharing this wonderful comedy clip.

It is my assertion that women dealing with the Competence-Likability Dilemma (or anyone confronted by bias) can transform a negative bias situation into an admiring, reputation enhancing positive bias when you are able to skillfully communicate and season your message with smart, warm, likable humor.

The following three statements present the scientifically validated and empirically recognized case for the effective use of humor in business presentations today:

Colleagues who make others laugh are seen as more self-confident, competent and higher in status, according to a series of experiments by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Harvard Business School.”

Wall Street Journal

A sense of humor is viewed as an outward expression

of inner competencies.

Adrian Gostick

The Levity Effect: Why it Pays to Lighten Up

Laughter short circuits the natural human instinct to judge.

Patrick Schwerdtfeger

Keynote Mastery: The Personal Journey of a Professional Speaker

What all three of these perspectives have in common is humor’s fast-acting power to transform any bias or judgment someone may hold against us into a new perspective of admiration for our intelligence, competency, and likability.

But does this really work for women or is it just men who get the competence, confidence, and likability boost with humor?

Let’s review.

The Competence – Likability Dilemma says that if a female executive is likable she’s likely to lose credibility as one who can be taken seriously as a competent leader. Women executives who are perceived as tough and competent lose the reputational advantage of being a likable leader. Such leaders get labeled unflatteringly.

Men don’t have to make or weigh this reputational tradeoff. They can enjoy a reputation as a tough, competent leader while taking the edge off their all work and no play leadership style with a warm, self-effacing, likable personality. This combination are the seeds of CEO material.

Women have to walk a finer line as rising executives that men don’t.

Or do they?

Maybe by having access to the highest grade humor available women executives can develop a new level of image and communication effectiveness to enhance their message and perceived likability and competency in their favor.

“When you laugh with someone, you both feel you’re on the same side. It’s a fantastic tool for building a connection. Indeed, for many great speakers humor has become a superweapon.”

Chris Anderson, TED, CEO

“Nothing positions people for persuasion as well as a sense of humor.”

Roger Dawson

“The point isn’t to say something funny.

The point is to remove the tension in the room.

This makes it easier for people to talk with each other.”

Dick Costolo, Former CEO of Twitter

Why should any female executive forgo these three leadership advantages that the competent use of high-quality humor offers?

She shouldn’t.

Especially when recognizing these two undeniable truths.

“I know as a presenter until I make you laugh you will still be deciding whether or not you like me.”

“The most remarkable thing about sharing great humor is the speed at which it alters people’s feelings about us for the better.”

I wrote this article to put an end to the ridiculous high wire act women must walk on as they aspire to rise in an organization. I believe with the skillful intelligent use of smart, warm, likable, humor women can enjoy the irrefutable benefits of being a leader who is admired for their competence and equally beloved for their warmth and likability.

For women leaders to settle for anything less is everyone’s loss.

I believe the competent, fun, and enjoyable use of excellent humor is to everyone’s benefit. Leaders become more beloved and motivating to work for while inspiring greater passion and productivity from those they lead.

“Levity is a funny thing at work.

If they’re busting a gut, they’ll bust their butts.”

Organizations with positive leaders that are able to use humor to contribute to an enjoyable work culture help their companies earn higher rankings on sites like Glassdoor as a great place to work. And higher rankings increase a company’s opportunities to attract the best talent. And better talent makes for better companies.

Laughter need not be cut out of anything since it improves everything.

James Thurber

It is time to introduce you to the first high-performance humor toolbox for professionals called, HumorPoint. The humor tools the site offers will let you enjoy humor’s magic for increased relatability and likability while being seen by others as more competent, confident, and higher in status through your skillful use of humor.

I’m not saying if you’re a woman great humor will eliminate The Competence – Likability Dilemma, but by going on offense and complementing your leadership communication skills with the competent use of smart, quality humor I believe you can move the Likability Dilemma in your favor. This opportunity I believe makes it worth giving the value of humor a serious look (the irony).

Here are 8 cartoons to put a smile on anyone’s face.

Just click on the image and you will be taken to the world’s first cartoon search engine where you can hover your mouse over the cartoons to enlarge them and then feel free to click on any cartoon to be taken to its original source.

When you have state of the art humor tools to peruse the best humor available, using humor becomes as simple as choosing an item of a dinner menu you love. So serve up some humor and deliver a smile and become a more likable leader. Now with you new professional humor tools it has never been easier. Or more fun. You’re going to like the way people respond to you.

There is now.

People never forget how you make them feel.

For help with your humor strategy contact us at:

HumorPoint Services


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