The Howard vs. Heidi Study

I heard about the Howard vs. Heidi study while listening to one of Sheryl Sandberg’s books (Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead).  Basically, Professor Frank Flynn, presented half his class with the case study with Heidi’s name on it and gave half the class the same case study with her name changed to “Howard”. The students rated “Howard” and Heidi, equally competent, but they liked Howard, but not Heidi. (

In her book, Ms. Sandberg neglects to differentiate between theory and practice.  An article in The Atlantic makes the point that “though many people preferred male managers in theory, in practice those gender biases did not play out.”

We all know that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million despite Donald Trump taking the Electoral College.  “Whitelash” toward President Obama can account for only some of this.  I think so many women (and others) either didn’t vote or voted against their own best interests because of this very difference between theory and experience of women in power.  Experience, not theory, breaks down the stereotypes.  While indirect exposure to women in leadership positions pushes cultural roles, this conscious effect fades and the unconscious biases remain.  Success and likeability are negatively correlated for women and positively correlated for men.  The reality bias remains and individual women incorporate it into their own self-image, specifically to avoid being disliked or penalized.  Woman experience a double-blind. Most people want to be liked and the behaviors that make women successful make them less likeable.  (Note:  The pay gap remains and women are expected to do more while receiving less recognition.)

As noted in the book’s 2013 promotional blurb:

The statistics, although an improvement on previous decades, are certainly not in women’s favour – of 197 heads of state, only twenty-two are women. Women hold just 20 percent of seats in parliaments globally, and in the world of big business, a meagre eighteen of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women.