In Silicon Valley’s bro-culture, women face gender stereotypes that prevent recognition of their actual abilities and gender biases that obstruct their career advancement. Nevertheless, without waiting for their companies’ cultures to change, women can utilize effective communication techniques to avoid or overcome these career-limiting biases.
The trick is to present themselves – using verbal and nonverbal behavior – so they are perceived as competent, confident, committed to their careers, and capable of leadership, without being perceived as pushy, bossy, abrasive, or unpleasant.
Managing the Goldilocks Dilemma
That is, they are often seen either as too soft (likable but not competent and confident) or too hard (competent but not likable), and rarely just right. This double bind results from the pervasive nature of traditional gender stereotypes: women are (and are expected to be) kind, caring, pleasant, modest, supportive, and sensitive; men are (and are expected to be) independent, competitive, decisive, aggressive, strong, action-oriented, and unemotional.
When a member of either sex deviates from these expected behavioral patterns there is backlash.
Pressure to conform
Because of the possibility of backlash, women (often unconsciously) tend to conform to these gender stereotypes.
They often speak and write about themselves tentatively and with diffidence; they often downplay their personal contributions; recount their successes hesitantly; and understate their career goals.
By conforming to these traditional gender stereotypes, a woman is viewed as pleasant and likable but without the drive, competence, and ambition of her male counterparts. But when a woman ignores this expected gendered-communication script and explicitly displays the characteristics of an effective, competent, confident leader, she is likely to be seen as unpleasant, abrasive, and unlikable.
Hence the Goldilocks Dilemma: conform to traditional gender stereotypes and be dismissed as lacking leadership potential; violate these traditional stereotypes and be socially isolated, professionally penalized, and viewed as unlikable.
Whether you work in Silicon Valley or another male-dominated field, attuned gender communication can help you overcome the Goldilocks Dilemma.
Once you understand the gender stereotypes and how they operate to hold you back, you are in a position to take control of your career—even in today’s gender-biased workplaces.
It’s a balancing act
By managing the impressions other people have of you, you can come across as confident and warm, competent and collaborative, tough-minded and likeable. Different communication techniques are needed for different situations; sometimes you will need to dial up your forcefulness, and sometimes you will need to dial it down. But in all situations, you should be able to communicate in an articulate, engaging, and confident manner without coming across as shrill, aggressive, or unpleasant.
It may take some practice, but by balancing the soft with the hard, you can avoid the Goldilocks Dilemma and get ahead in your career – even in Silicon Valley.
Today’s LeadBIG guest contributors are Andrea S. Kramer and Alton B. Harris, authors of Breaking Through Bias: Communication Techniques for Women to Succeed at Work, (Bibliomotion, Brookline, Mass. 2016). Join the conversation at www.AndieandAl.com.
Image credit before quote: Pixabay