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Hear that?
Say this.

Women running for office face pushback that men don’t. Because of age-old gender stereotypes, we can all fall into the trap of judging women candidates more harshly than men. Swipe through our bias comebacks to challenge biased reactions to women candidates—and to check your own snap judgments.

To learn more about how you can combat bias in the workplace, check out 50 Ways to Fight Bias.

What you hear

What you hear

What’s up with that outfit?

What you say

“Let’s focus on her ideas, not her clothes.”

When you hear a comment about a woman’s looks, shift the focus to her ideas and experience.

Why it matters

When women run for office, their appearance, dress, and personal style are subject to scrutiny.1 Whether these comments are critical or flattering, they take attention away from what really matters.

What you hear

Her voice drives me crazy.

What you say

“Let’s focus on what she’s saying, not how she’s saying it.”

When someone fixates on a woman’s speaking style, bring their attention back to what she’s saying.

Why it matters

This is a common criticism women receive. Research shows that women often get negative feedback on their speaking style, while men do not.2

What you hear

She’s always shouting.

What you say

“Is she really shouting, or just speaking with confidence?”

If you hear a negative reaction to a woman for speaking up, point out that we need our leaders to speak with confidence.

Why it matters

We expect men to speak with confidence, so it feels natural when they do. But when women do the same, they’re often criticized for speaking too loudly or too often.3 This is particularly tricky for women running for office, who need to speak up to get their ideas heard.

What you hear

She seems aggressive.

What you say

“Would you feel the same if a man did that?”

When people reflect on how they feel about a woman versus a man doing the same thing, it can highlight biased thinking.

Why it matters

We expect women to be kind and communal, so when they assert themselves—or express strong feelings—we sometimes like them less.13 In contrast, we expect men to be assertive, so they don’t face the same pushback.14 This “likeability penalty” is often evident in the words we use to describe women leaders—such as “aggressive” or “difficult.”15

What you hear

She’s so emotional.

What you say

“What makes you think that? She just seems passionate to me.”

When you ask for an explanation or surface another perspective, it can lead people to reconsider their point of view.

Why it matters

Women are often stereotyped as overly emotional, while men are viewed as rational—and therefore better suited to lead.16 About 1 in 8 Americans think men are “better suited emotionally” for politics than women.17

What you hear

She’s too ambitious.

What you say

“Don’t we want an ambitious leader?”

Highlight that ambition is a critical trait for anyone running for office.

Why it matters

Because we expect women to be selfless, they often face criticism for being “overly ambitious” or “out for themselves”—especially when they run for powerful positions in politics.19 This matters in the voting booth: people are less likely to vote for women they see as “power hungry.”20

What you hear

I just don’t like her.

What you say

“What don’t you like about her?”

When people are asked to explain their feelings toward a person, it can lead them to reconsider.

Why it matters

We expect women to be kind and communal, so when they speak up or take the lead, we tend to like them less.4 In contrast, we expect men to act like this, so they don’t face the same pushback.5 This “likeability penalty” matters for women in politics because when voters see candidates as less likeable, they think they're less electable.6

What you hear

She’s so self-promotional.

What you say

“She needs to be! That’s part of running for office.”

Point out that politicians are supposed to tell us why they’re qualified.

Why it matters

Women have to work harder than men to prove that they’re qualified.21 But if they're seen as too self-promotional, they face pushback that men don't.22 This creates a catch-22 for women running for office. If they don’t talk up their background, their accomplishments may be overlooked. If they do, voters may like them less.

What you hear

She doesn’t seem tough enough.

What you say

“Do the men seem tougher? How so?”

Direct comparisons between women and men candidates can help highlight unconscious bias.

Why it matters

Qualities like toughness, courage, and decisiveness are typically seen as masculine.23 By contrast, we often see women as caring and collaborative—traits not as strongly associated with leadership.24 These stereotypes make it harder for women candidates to prove they’ve got what it takes to handle the pressure of public office.

What you hear

She doesn’t have enough experience.

What you say

“What experience do you think she’s missing?”

When people question a candidate’s experience, probe for more information. This can help highlight the different standards we sometimes have for women and men.

Why it matters

Women are often hired based on what they’ve already accomplished, while men are often hired based on raw potential.18 This dynamic plays out in politics, too. We often question whether women candidates are experienced enough to run, but we give men the benefit of the doubt.

What you hear

She’s not presidential.

What you say

“Is that because we’ve never had a woman president?”

Encourage people to expand their preconceived notions of what a president looks like.

Why it matters

Since all our U.S. presidents have been men, it may be harder for voters to see a woman as presidential. This matters for women in politics because voters are more likely to say they’d vote for men candidates when they find them more presidential.7

What you hear

I just don’t think a woman can win.

What you say

“Why not? A woman can win if enough people vote for her.”

It’s always worth pointing out that a woman can win if enough people vote for her. So if a woman is your preferred candidate, why not say so?

Why it matters

One of the main reasons voters say it will be harder for a woman to win in 2020 is because they don’t think Americans are ready to elect a woman president.8 But our research shows that American is ready.9 This false belief may also influence how people vote: The less ready Democratic and Independent voters think other Americans are, the less likely they are to choose a woman as their top candidate.10

What you hear

I don’t think America is ready for a woman president.

What you say

“You might be surprised! Support for women candidates is often underestimated.”

Push back with data: A majority of voters are ready for a woman president.

Why it matters

Our research shows a majority of voters say they are “very ready” or “extremely ready” for a woman president.11 They just don’t realize that other voters share the same enthusiasm: Only 16% of voters believe most Americans are “very ready” or “extremely ready” for a woman president.12

#GetOutTheBias
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