Ever have one of those days at work when you feel like you just can’t win?
Like you left the job interview last week feeling proud that you’d finally done a good job at presenting your accomplishments. Today you learn you didn’t get the job because you’re “too aggressive.”
Like you counter-offered a higher starting salary—only to see the job offer be rescinded because that’s “not how team players work.”
Like you stepped up as you’ve been advised and took credit for your good work. You made your case and asked to be paid fairly. And got shot down.
What’s going on???
Those on the receiving end of your interactions tapped into their gender bias and concluded you were acting too masculine. Men, not women, talk about their accomplishments and expect to be paid at or above market.
Because of gender norms and bias, we expect leaders to be assertive, forceful, competitive, demanding, task-oriented, and self-assured—all actions society associates with masculinity.
Women, on the other hand, are expected to be modest, friendly, warm, supportive, and unselfish.
So, when a woman speaks confidently about her abilities or negotiates for more money for herself, she’s messing with people’s minds. Men are the ones who take charge, not women. Women take care.
Alice Eagly, a professor of psychology and management at Northwestern, says that leadership paradigms make it hard for a woman to be both a good leader and a good woman. So true and so awful.
Leadership practices need to change so that both men and women take care and take care.
That day is still in the future, which means we have to deal with gender biases today.
Dealing with the disconnect means women need to continue self-promoting and negotiating—keeping one foot in femininity and the other is masculinity.
3 ways good women leaders bridge the gender gap
Here’s how that works:
- Start a conversation with your boss by asking how things are going for them (feminine) and then segue into about one of your recent work accomplishments (masculine). As you share your achievement, include a few details about how the team, company, department, the boss, etc., benefited by what you did. Demonstrating the advantages to others offsets your self-assurance with the cultural expectation of modesty.
- Thoughtfully flex when using your pronouns. Especially “I” and “we.” Don’t shy away from using “I” when outlining your actions in successfully managing a sales project to positive results (masculine). Sprinkle the conversation with a few “we” remarks as you describe how the team contributed (feminine). Using both pronouns balances competitiveness externally with unselfishness.
- Tactfully saying “no” or disagreeing (masculine), and gracefully offer an alternate solution or position (feminine). Offering help shows friendliness alongside assertive confidence.
Feeling a little annoyed about having to take the added step?
That’s OK, but try to look at from the perspective of laying the groundwork to level the leadership playing field as worth the extra effort. Women are the strangers in a strange land that unconsciously (sometimes consciously, too) favors the masculine.
This means—until the day arrives when a woman can be assertive and a man compassionate without raising eyebrows—that we need to be “double agent” while working behind the scenes to change the rules of the game.
Being too masculine stops us in our tracks: he’s assertive, she’s pushy. Relying only on the feminine derails us, too: she doesn’t have what it takes.
Women get caught up in negative stereotypes about women, too. We can be quick to point a finger. Who does she think she is?! What a pushy broad!
Ingrained biases die hard, however, we have to police ourselves so we can advance the cause.
That means valuing masculine attributes the same as the feminine ones.
When that happens, a woman who self-promotes and negotiates for herself isn’t doing something unusual, she’s simply doing business as usual.
Image credit before quote added: Pixabay