Stanford Professional Women of Los Angeles

Recap: SPWLA Day

SPWLA Day 10.10.2015 - 6SPWLA Day 10.10.2015 - 5

Industry Panelists from left to right: Audrey Diehl ’00, Vice President of Animation Development at Nickelodeon, Lori Nishiura Mackenzie, Executive Director at Clayman Institute for Gender Research, Leslie Wickman ’83 Ph.D ’94, Program Director of Engineering & Director of the Center for Research in Science at Azusa Pacific University, Ping Ho ’76, MA, MPH, Founding Director of UCLArts & Healing 


On October 10, SPWLA members gathered for a day of workshops with the Clayman Institute of Gender Research. In particular, the Language of Leadership workshop was a transformational and empowering experience for participants.

Lori Mackenzie, the Executive Director of the Clayman Institute spoke about the research behind the role of gender biases and stereotypes in the workplace and offered solutions for creating inclusive and effective organizations.

The reality is that women are underrepresented in leadership positions in business, university and government. Mackenzie said that it starts with our unconscious biases. Our unconscious biases affect how we interact with people. She said that biases come from the stereotypes that we have. These are “cognitive shortcuts” that help us process quickly the world that we live in.

Participants were presented with the Language of Leadership toolkit, which is created by the Clayman Institute, to change the way we communicate in our personal and professional lives. The toolkit showed two ways of describing people and explained that women are more likely to be described with communal language because of gender stereotypes:

  • Communal language: e.g. helpful, supportive, team player, warm, compassionate, agreeable, collaborative
  • Agentic language: e.g. confident, ambitious, direct, daring, assertive, go-getter

Mackenzie then identified the “double bind,” which refers to the dilemma that women in leadership often face. When women act in ways that do not fit with gender stereotypes, they are seen as too tough. For example, researchers found that competent female leaders in a stereotypically male job are perceived as less likeable. Yet, the “likeability penalty” did not apply to men. Furthermore, according to Fortune magazine, women’s performance reviews were more likely to include negative feedback that criticized personality. For instance, “you can come across as abrasive sometimes. I know you don’t mean to, but you need to pay attention to your tone.” Women face the predicament of being held to higher or different standards than men.

Mackenzie asserted that it is possible for women to appear likeable and competent. Strategies for changing the way we present ourselves as women and interacting with others include:

  • Writing an introduction statement for ourselves by using both communal and agentic language
  • Advocating and promoting the strength of other women by using a balance of communal and agentic language.
  • Separating personality from accomplishment

For more tips on how to foster gender equality in the workplace, visit the Voice & Influence series produced by the Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research at