Heidi vs. Howard

written by Katja Kolmetz. founder of Human Deluxe, @katja.kolmetz

Have you heard of the Heidi/Howard experiment? Heidi Roizen is a successful Silicon Valley venture capitalist who became the subject of a study at Columbia Business School.

Professor Frank Flynn presented half of his class with an original case study about Heidi Roizen. The second half of his class received an altered case study in which Heidi’s name was changed to “Howard”.

The students rated Howard and Heidi as equally competent, but they found Howard more likeable than Heidi. Specifically, the students who received Howard’s case study found him to be a smart and like-able leader, while the ones who received Heidi’s case study considered her to be too aggressive.

What did Heidi do differently?

Nothing. The answer is clear, because both case studies were exactly the same. The only variable was the protagonists’ names which led the students to interpret Heidi’s and Howard’s actions differently.

Research confirms this observation, showing that the same behavior is interpreted differently when observed in a man or a woman - resulting from gender stereotypes. Our stereotype of men holds that they are providers, decisive, and driven. Our stereotype of women holds that they are caregivers, sensitive, and communal.

Women who don’t meet this stereotype are seen as less likable than men portraying the exact same behavior. So people liked Howard, and disliked Heidi.

The success-likability-dilemma for women

The experiment confirms what research has already clearly shown: success and likeability is positively correlated for men, and negatively correlated for women.

By focusing on her career and taking a calculated approach to increasing her power, Heidi violated our stereotypical expectations of women. If a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. If a woman is successful, both genders like her less.

Consequently, women are facing a huge dilemma in the workplace. In order to be successful, it is necessary to demonstrate behaviors that are typically associated with men, such as assertiveness, and rigour, and self-promotion.

As women apply the exact same techniques to demonstrate their competence, their behavior is often misinterpreted as “selfish”, “aggressive” or “difficult to work with”.

It’s important to raise awareness about this topic with both men and women. This way, we can challenge our very own bias and critically assess how gender stereotypes that have been manifested in our work environment.

written by Katja Kolmetz. founder of Human Deluxe, @katja.kolmetz