“I think she would do better if she were less angry and demonized less.”
That’s Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, on Senator Elizabeth Warren and her campaign to regulate Wall Street.
During his interview Monday on CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” Buffett went on to comment on today’s political climate, noting that doing something is better than doing nothing, and that being too hard on people who disagree with you might not be the best way to get something done. “I believe in ‘hate the sin and love the sinner,'” he said.
Now, let’s set aside that his comments implicitly dismiss Senator Warren’s substantive criticisms of Wall Street. And that anger is arguably an appropriate response to much of the shenanigans leading up to the 2008 financial crisis.
Let’s even acknowledge that Buffett makes a fair point: Compromise is good.
But the reason Buffett’s statement induced cringes across the internet has less to do with his plea for political compromise and everything to do with the language he used to describe Senator Warren’s political approach. For women in the workplace and in the public sphere, passion and persistence are too often dismissed as anger and pushiness. And this tendency has a real impact on their careers.
A recent analysis of performance reviews in the tech industry found that 58.9% of the reviews received by men contained critical feedback, while a much higher 87.9% of the reviews received by women did. Women are also more likely to receive personality feedback along with comments on their professional performance. And that feedback was often found to include words like bossy and abrasive when commenting on leadership skills, and emotional or irrational when discussing any objections they make.
Gender bias in language is not new or mind-blowing information. But it does represent a deeply entrenched idea of how women should express opinions or dissatisfaction, lead a team, or even teach a class. Ben Schmidt, an assistant professor of history at Northeastern University, created an interactive tool that analyzes 14 million teacher reviews on the professor ranking site RateMyProfessors.com. Users can type in a one or two-word phrase and see how the term is split between gender and academic discipline. Go ahead and type “bossy,” “annoying” or “pushy” into the box, and watch what happens to the female-designated orange dots. (Hint: They aren’t randomly distributed.)
Sure, Buffett’s remarks were off the cuff, but these are slips that women in the workplace hear too often. And we can’t help but wonder: If Senator Warren were a man, would her approach be characterized as assertive rather than angry, and persistent rather than pushy?
It’s worth noting that Buffett is supporting the presidential ambitions of Hillary Clinton, who’s been on the receiving end of many of these same loaded adjectives. His recent $25,000 donation to “Ready for Hillary” is the first time he’s aligned himself with an independent political group. Which is not to suggest that the Oracle of Omaha is a flagrant chauvinist, or opposed to women gaining positions of power.
Still, inadvertent sexism is, at the end of the day, still sexism. Just ask Twitter: