In the fourth season of the Netflix series “House of Cards,” first lady Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) seems never to remove her four-inch heels. Whether in the kitchen grabbing a midnight snack, at a presidential nominating convention or near her dying mother’s bedside, she strides with confidence in her stilettos.
As the flash of the red sole tells us (below), Robin Wright as Claire Underwood is in her Louboutins:
Where are we going? To power shoes and other dominance signals.
How Women Can Convey Strong Leadership
For women, assertive behavior can be a problem. Asking for a raise or giving a direct order, women can create a backlash because their behavior contradicts female stereotypes. When bosses, business associates and co-workers expect women to be warm and nurturing, they react negatively to behavior that contradicts the norm. As a result, women tend to be penalized for requesting a promotion while men are not.
Or, as Larissa Tiedens (Stanford) and Melissa Williams (Emory) explain in a new paper, to avoid a backlash, women need to express power differently from men. Because directly assertive behavior can be counterproductive, women can convey leadership through implicit modes of dominance. Like animals that puff themselves up to display power, a woman can occupy more space when seated by placing an arm on the back of a chair or by leaning back and folding her arms behind her head. Communicating power in a less assertive, non-conscious manner, she can speak louder, look at people directly and literally, lean-in.
In a WSJ column, Dr. Williams lets us know that she is not pleased that women have to use different methods from men. She tells us, “It’s also hardly fair to suggest that the burden of changing the system in which leaders are evaluated should lie solely with women…But while waiting for the world to change, aspiring women leaders will have at least a few tools available.”
Our Bottom Line: Social Norms
We could say that a social norm is an unspoken rule of a group.
Happily, the social norms that influence our attitudes and behaviors about female dominance do seem to be gradually changing. You can see below that the female boss preference and no difference numbers have increased:
Women’s Dominance Signals
But until we expect the same dominance signals from men and women, Claire Underwood will need to convey her power through her stride and the height of her shoes.