Posted by: caitlindavis12 | January 21, 2015

Will Women Ever Be Competent?

As the class has progressed through the weeks, I keep seeing in readings that women are not considered to be competent when it comes to being in a leadership role. They are looked down on as not being able to figure out how to complete a task as well as a man. This has started to bother me and I have been wondering where this stereotype is coming from and how women escape this view.

According to Merriam- Webster, competent means: “having the necessary ability or skills: able to do something well or well enough to meet a standard: having the capacity to function or develop in a particular way.”

I believe this is where there is some evidence to why women are seen as incompetent. The definition uses the words ability and skill when talking about trying to reach a standard. Eagly and Carli state in Chapter 7 of Through the Labyrinth that “women are held to a higher standard of leadership competence than men.” The chapter also states how women’s competence will be questioned and doubted more than a man’s competence in a leadership role. If a woman is in a predominately masculine leadership role, then having a high competence in that position can lead to doubts about her competence as a whole (Eagly and Carli, 2007). This becomes one of the most confusing subjects to try to understand and it seems to give women a standard that is unattainable.

I found this article about the competency of women in the Fashion and Style section of The New York Times. One may wonder what this has to do with leadership, but researchers analyzed the use of make-up on the perceived competence of a woman in a leadership role. It was found that people thought when the woman was wearing more make-up that she was more competent. Some of the participants also stated that if a woman had on too much make-up then she may seem competent, but then may not be as highly trusted. Not only are women judged on their competency from how they look, but people are also referencing their trustworthiness when analyzing their appearance.

From this study and the readings that we have done for class, I am beginning to see that there are so many traits and stereotypes attributed to a woman by the way she dresses, does her hair, wears her make-up, or by the way she speaks or walks. What combination of these things does a woman leader need to have to be considered competent? Will women ever be able to reach competency on merit alone?


  1. This goes back to what we were talking about in class on today. Because women are experiencing “gender spillover” it can generally be difficult for people to comprehend how women can function in both the role of a leader, as well as in the role of woman at the same time. It is interesting that this does not apply to men, but it can also result in then women being held to higher competence standards. Further than this, it results in the bitch versus ditz stereotypes that we discussed from the other reading, personified by Clinton and Palin.
    Because competence is being defined as having the skills to be able to do something well enough to function in a particular way, competence is being defined by societal standards. Because societal standards are perpetuated by gender roles and a dichotomous view of agentic v. communal behavior, women might then be seen as incompetent in the roles that society deems belong to men.

  2. In this respect, women may never be able to be deemed competent based on merit alone. They may always be plagued by gender roles and the connection of those roles to societal standards and self-regulation. However, this goes with the changing nature and definitions of leadership and where women’s places are in society. I believe that time will tell, and it will be interesting to see how these things develop as people continue to talk about womens leadership and continue to analyze it.

  3. While I agree that women, or all people for that matter, should not be judged on competency by their outer appearance, the fact of the matter is that that is how the business and political world work. This does not only apply to women but applies to men as well. We are all expected to look presentable in the work environment, although men do not wear makeup, they are still expected to be well-groomed and dressed appropriately. I think that women will be considered competent the more that women are involved in business and politics and prove that we do not all fit the “ditz” stereotype. In the article, Dr. Vickery, an author of the study, said that cosmetics “can significantly change how people see you, how smart people think you are on first impression, or how warm and approachable, and that look is completely within a woman’s control, when there are so many things you cannot control” (Louis, 2011, p. E3). I am not sure how I feel about this quote, but I do think Vickery makes a valid point. If the rest of the world is using outer appearance to their advantage, why shouldn’t women as well? If we want to be more aggressive and makeup enhances our ability to be so, maybe we should use it to our advantage.

  4. I find the physical appearance part of leadership to be very interesting. There is a level of attention to physical appearance that is needed for all people, regardless of gender. In leadership positions where the leader is public, such as in business or politics, men and women must groom themselves properly and dress with proper business attire. Despite this, I do not think that makeup or the level of style or femininity in appearance should be considered when defining if a leader’s competence or successful. This reminded me of the reading “The Bitch and the Ditz” in which the author seemed to criticize Sarah Palin for her femininity, claiming that it is part of what gave her the reputation of the “ditz.” Personally, I choose to act femininely and dress femininely in many ways, and I find it wrong to judge a woman’s leadership capabilities or competence by her choices in physical appearance. Although I wear make up, dress femininely, and often overdress, those choices should not positively or negatively affect the perception of me in leadership or competency. Our outer appearance should reflect our personality and choices, and a woman who chooses not to wear make up or to dress more masculine should not be considered any less competent.

  5. After reading this post I didn’t know where to start my thought process. I am confused when trying to understand the tangled web of competency, merit, and results. On top of all of that, appearance, body language, and so many more standards are in the way of women in leadership. So where do women begin? As an almost young professional woman, how will I show my future coworkers, managers, and bosses I am competent? I then begin to think myself into a hole. My hope is that classes like this and conversations like the ones we are having are needed to begin to end these standards. Yes a human that is in power should be clean, appropriately dressed, and competent, but things like hair should not be the test for competency. Women are competent- we see it in the Sharpe reading: “Overall, female executives were judged more effective than their male counterparts. Women are scoring higher on almost everything we look at.” We know women are competent, I think with time the confusing tangle of competency will begin to unwind as women are seen in more leadership positions in the US and globally.

  6. This is not a woman specific issue but is instead a broad leadership issue in general. Leaders of both genders are expected to be presentable if they are going to be in the public eye at all. Look at presidents following the beginning of the television era. All of them have been extremely presentable. Men are also expected to be clean shaven, and well groomed otherwise they will be perceived as lazy and incompetent.

  7. It is quite fascinating how that works. The very things that define us as feminine subsequently allow others to judge us on our competence. After last class I was also thinking about what it meant to be a strong woman leader in today’s society. Even in “The Bitch and The Ditz” article Clinton and Palin were judged based on what they wore more so than what they had to say. I realized that if I am going to be a successful woman leader in the business world I too am going to have to succumb to conforming to what society expects of me. In some ways I think this almost gives us an advantage but in other ways as you mentioned it is significantly hindering as well.

  8. I have to wonder if men are not judged on the same things, though. Yes, there is a standard of beauty for women, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist for men as well. These men are subject to the same standard and even don’t have as many ways to “fix” themselves, like women do with makeup. While this article is super interesting about women, I think it’s also important to examine the other side of things and really consider how men feel about this issue of how they look being compared to their competency levels as well.

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