Idiocracy, Take Two

Anne Hunt
2 min readJul 15, 2018

Humans are allergic to change. — Grace Hopper

Today I read about a horrifying study showing that violating gender norms makes you less successful in your career.

For women simply being smart is enough to violate gender norms. And that leads to women not getting promoted.

“For women in science, technology, engineering and math fields, good grades were particularly harmful to post-collegiate career success.” (research)

What’s so interesting about this new research is its particularity: turns out that if you are a woman, being good at technical stuff makes you less likely to get promoted. And being mediocre at tech, but likable, has the opposite effect. So as a technical woman, the smarter I am, the better at my job, the less likely I am to get promoted.

All along I’ve been thinking that as a woman you have to be even better at your job to get noticed. Turns out you need to be worse.

Let’s look at this from a purely business perspective. Suppose you own shares in a technical company. You should know that it is likely the leaders in that company are not promoting the women who are the best in the field. When they do promote women, these are the women who are “most likable,” not the ones who are most technically proficient.

So what can we do about it? As leaders in tech, we can make sure that we promote and support women on the basis of their expertise rather than their likability. For example I recently reacted strongly against a recruiter complaining that a female job candidate was too “demanding”, and I discounted that feedback in my decision. Secondly, we can attempt to use objective decision criteria at work — so that we promote or hire based on accomplishments, and evaluate our team-mates ideas without regard to the perceived likability of the person.

And for the women reading this — take into account what successful women in STEM have in common: projecting confidence, claiming credit for our ideas, networking & supporting others, and authenticity.



Anne Hunt

Product leader, artist, and early developer of intelligent systems. Contact me if you want to talk about art, good software, or cool product ideas.