Shifting Standards


Albert Einstein, we would say, is a genius. Yet we might say the same for a puppy that can open a cabinet to get her snacks. Sometimes it makes sense to shift our standards based on context. But are we raising and lowering the bar when we shouldn’t?

Dive deeper

“‘I get undue adulation all of the time for simply being out with my kid,’ said Adam Mansbach, author of the bestselling book Go the F**k to Sleep. ‘Just because my kid isn’t freezing to death, I’m a great father.’” Read Alexis Coe’s article in The Atlantic for more about ways we shift our standards in everyday life.

This analysis of performance evaluations of male and female junior attorneys on Wall Street (Biernat, Tocci, & Williams, 2011) suggests the nuanced ways we can unintentionally shift our standards in the workplace. For more of Dr. Biernat’s work, visit her research lab website.


Biernat, M. R., Manis, M. & Nelson, T. R. (1991). Stereotypes and standards of judgment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60(4), 485.

Biernat, M. R., & Vescio, T. K. (2002). She swings, she hits, she’s great, she’s benched: Implications of gender-based shifting standards for judgment and behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28(1), 66-77.

Nelson, T. E., Biernat, M. R., & Manis, M. (1990). Everyday base rates (sex stereotypes): Potent and resilient. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59(4), 664.


“Shifting Standards” was created and developed by Mahzarin Banaji and Olivia Kang with funding from PwC and Harvard University.

Narration by Olivia Kang, featuring Professor Monica Biernat

Sound editing and mixing by Evan Younger

Music by Miracles of Modern Science

Artwork by Olivia Kang