Cuddy’s first finding was that “people tend to see warmth and competence as inversely related. If there’s a surplus of one trait, they infer a deficit of the other.” This finding has negative repercussions for women. In Joan Williams’ book “Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do About It,” she points out that in eighteenth century Europe and nineteenth century America, a rearrangement of gender identities and stereotypes occurred. Whereas before, character traits associated with competition and cooperation were distributed evenly between the sexes, during this era men came to be assigned all the character traits associated with competition: ambition, authority, power, vigor, calculation, instrumentalism, logic, and single-mindedness. Women, by contrast, were assigned all the traits associated with cooperation: gentleness, sensitivity, expressivism, altruism, empathy, personalism, and tenderness.
Psychological studies suggest that men prefer "taking risks" while women prefer "working problems out completely"; whether these preferences are nature- or nurture-based is hotly contested. What is clear, however, is that the notion that "on average, women are more cooperative, nurturing, cautious and emotionally responsive" while "men tend to be more competitive assertive, reckless, and emotionally flat" persists to this day.
Considering Cuddy’s research in light of Williams’ book, this would seem to suggest that society encourages women to express “a surplus of warmth,” while simultaneously perceiving this warmth as an indicator of their lack of competence.
On the male end of things, men may be socially discouraged from "seeming warm," even to their own detriment. As Deborah Rhode notes in her article "The 'No-Problem' Problem: Feminist Challenges and Cultural Change," "whatever our progress in encouraging women to pursue traditional male roles, we have been less effective in encouraging men to assume traditional female ones." Cuddy's article states that when individuals assess strangers, they place significant weight on whether or not that stranger seems personally warm, so coming across as extremely cold/competent is not ultimately beneficial.
Interestingly, Cuddy notes that it is not the warm/incompetent woman who is most likely to experience sexual harassment. Rather, cold/competent women tend to be sexual harassment’s targets. Cuddy theorizes that this is a sort of “active harm” that men direct at a group that is threatening (successful women) – a way of “’putting [women] in their place,’ or even expelling them from the environment.”
It is consistent with domesticity’s allocation of character traits for competition to men and for cooperation to women that men consider cold/competent women the greatest threat to their “superior” status. A modern, feminist man or woman could use Cuddy’s research to break away from negative aspects of the status quo in two ways: first, by being aware of and challenging his or her own assumptions about the correlation between warmth and competence, and second, by attempting to manifest traits inconsistent with his or her gender’s historical “assignment.” That is, men can consciously pursue cooperative tactics in the workplace, while women can develop their competitive sides. Individual men and women all would surely benefit by finding a workplace approach that is sometimes competitive, sometimes cooperative.
Cuddy’s second finding was that nonverbal cues such as postures drive perceptions of competence. Postures that are expansive, open, and take up more space are associated with high power and dominance, while postures that are contractive and take up minimal space are associated with low power or being at the bottom of a social hierarchy.
Men are far more likely to assume expansive postures, while women are much more likely to cross their legs and arms, or to lean in – low-power positions. As with the warmth/competence spectrum, these subconscious but socially-learned patterns impact how individuals perceive women. When women sit in submissive postures, they are (perhaps unsurprisingly) perceived as submissive. Cuddy states that if female M.B.A.s (or lawyers) wish to be perceived as men’s equals, they should raise their chairs, and assume expansive postures during job interviews.
While this suggestion does impose a male norm upon women, it also seems good practical advice for getting past initial and deeply socially-rooted assumptions about sex and status. Men, too, can expand their posture repertoires by assuming more or less aggressive postures as is socially appropriate.