Why Men Often Unintentionally Undermine Women They’re Trying to Support

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Professor David Mayer, writing in Harvard Business Review, shows why benevolent sexism can harm women at work despite good intentions.

Sometimes the best intentions have the opposite effect.

Michigan Ross Professor David Mayer says that happens sometimes when men advocate for women at work. Writing in Harvard Business Review, he says benevolent sexism can undermine female co-workers despite good intentions.

Comments that suggest women are weak and need protection or feed into gender stereotypes do more than just hurt feelings. Research shows they have a detrimental effect on a woman’s ability to get promoted, be assigned challenging projects, and receive honest feedback.

Research also shows this kind of paternalism is all too common in the workplace. Mayer says last week’s seemingly positive comments from new White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci about press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders were examples of this phenomenon.

“Many men want to support women at work. So let’s stop using methods that backfire and instead use compliments that acknowledge, and don’t undermine, the competence, legitimacy, and status of our female colleagues,” Mayer writers.

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