Glick lecture focuses on workplace sexism

Nora G. Hertel

Psychology professor Peter Glick presented his experiences as an expert witness in court cases to a full and attentive audience Wed., April 11.
Organized jointly by the Psychology Student Association and Downer Feminist Council, Glick described the link between the academic realm of his research on sexism and its applicability to legal disputes.
The lecture, titled, “Why the Glass Ceiling Hasn’t Shattered: Tales from the Lab and the Courts from a Researcher Turned Expert Witness,” included discussion on how his research and expertise contributed to various trials, and how some trials inspired additional research.
In his greeting, Glick mentioned his presentation was partially motivated by the fact that “people’s eyes light up” when he describes his experiences beyond academia and into the drama of the courts.
The angle of expert witness certainly piqued the interest of the Lawrence community, and the topic brought in a crowd that filled all the chairs in Science Hall 102, some of the steps along the wall, and standing room in the back.
Glick explained the process of being a witness, including the need to boil his knowledge down into concise statements that would be catchy and easily accessible to juries and judges.
These narrow summaries were “really different than academic discourse,” Glick said, as they lacked its density and verbosity.
The initial research, while time-consuming and sometimes boring, led Glick to insights on intra-office dynamics and gender inequalities in management hierarchies.
The “glass ceiling” is a metaphor for the barrier that keeps many women from reaching the same level of corporate success as their male counterparts, Glick explained.
While various factors influence these inequalities, it is direct workplace discrimination that leads to the litigation that requires expertise on sexism. In response, corporations and organizations encourage equal gender promotions by “feminizing” job descriptions.
In these workplaces, women and men are evaluated based on competence, stereotypically considered a masculine strength, and sociability, which is considered a feminine strength.
Through his experience in the courts and his subsequent research, Glick uncovered an irony in this feminizing of job descriptions.
One plaintiff complained of discrimination when she was demoted for supposedly lacking sufficient social skill, though she was competent in her responsibilities.
As measuring social skills can be somewhat arbitrary, this case made Glick wonder if women were being held to the same standard of “niceness” as men.
After a study that measured perceived competence and sociability in scripted interviews, Glick and his colleagues found that even when men and women sang their own praises in the same words and in the same way, competent women were perceived as less nice than competent men.
These findings demonstrate the catch-22 women face against feminized job descriptions. If a woman is too nice and modest she is perceived as less assured and competent as a male co-worker. On the other hand, if a woman is considered ambitious and competent, she may be penalized for lacking the proper social skills expected in women.
The case that inspired this research demonstrated that the plaintiff’s male colleagues were indeed not punished for identical demonstrations of poor sociability.
This court case and the conclusions from Glick’s study have exposed a new issue to be considered in the workplace.
Glick’s lecture included details from his academic discipline, which offered insight on subtle stereotypes and sexism manifested in the workplace and insight on the applicability of such knowledge to real-world situations.