The following blog is part of HRPA’s International Women’s Day (IWD) feature. This year’s IWD theme is Inspiring Inclusion. We asked HR experts to explore a few ways HR professionals and employers can create workplaces that include and empower women. Explore with HR expert, Julie Mahfouz Rezvani, the likeability bias and how it can impact the inclusion of women in the workplace. Read more about 5 Ways to Inspire [Women’s] Inclusion here.

By: Julie Mahfouz Rezvani, Managing Director, The Orion Group

Have you ever found yourself grappling with the pressure of being too assertive or outspoken at work? If that rings a bell, chances are you’ve brushed shoulders with likability bias – a complex issue deeply entrenched in the workplace landscape. This bias stems from outdated norms that praise assertiveness in men but cast it under scrutiny for women, often resulting in labels like “bossy” or “too assertive.”

Reflecting on my climb up the professional ladder, I’ve personally faced these challenges. As an extrovert, my assertiveness earned me labels such as “intimidating” or “too direct”- qualities applauded in men but questioned in women. The enduring reverberations of initial feedback have influenced my meeting demeanor, fostering a measured approach aimed at circumventing any perception of excessive assertiveness.

Assertiveness isn’t a flaw; it’s an art – a nuanced and intricate dance requiring a delicate balance of timing, a profound understanding of the audience, and thoughtful expression. It’s about gauging the right moment to assert oneself, tailoring communication styles to resonate with diverse perspectives, and articulating ideas in a manner that promotes collaboration rather than confrontation.

Unraveling likability bias presents a real challenge. It subtly rears its head in the post-meeting huddles where perceptions are shaped, or through the knowing glances exchanged among colleagues. It’s in these seemingly inconspicuous moments that biases often manifest, underscoring the importance of not only recognizing but actively addressing and dismantling them for a more inclusive and equitable workplace.

So, what’s the strategic move? Women should boldly embrace their authentic selves, seamlessly blending assertiveness with their other qualities that are more traditionally viewed as female traits such as being nurturing and empathetic. It’s not just acceptable; it’s commendable. Tackling likability bias is crucial, and forging alliances across genders becomes a powerful catalyst in diminishing bias and fostering genuine leadership growth.

In the dynamic realm of the workforce, rise authentically without sacrificing your essence. Reject the notion that likability bias should dictate your narrative. Raise your voice, be genuine, and together, let’s shape a workplace where authenticity prevails, and likability bias is ushered out the door.