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Lead with your brains, not your looks

Lead with your brains, not your looks

more than body parts


Maybe she was just a bot looking to rack up a high follower count. That’s what I hope to be the case. Why? Because every picture on her social media account emphasized one of her body parts.

Her parts were lovely, but skin wrinkles. Boobs and bums sag.

So, this is what puzzles me. Why would a woman want to define herself by something that’s fleeting when so much of what makes a woman unique and wonderful is everlasting?

It breaks my heart to see a cover picture on social media of a woman’s dramatic cleavage or sumptuously curved booty instead of her face. Those body parts are amazing things to have (can only imagine), however, women are so much more than their body parts.

A woman’s whole self—her personality, intellect, abilities—can get separated from her appearance in unhealthy ways.

What we see in the media


Much of what we see in the media encourages gender stereotypes, unhealthy thinking about body image, or objectifies women. Consider:

  • 98 percent of the women portrayed in advertisements are ultra-thin with large breasts. Only 5 percent of women have that body type.
  • Women were on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine 30 percent of the time between 1967 and 2009. 83 percent of those images were sexualized. Only 15 percent of the images of men were sexualized.
  • The average woman is 5’ 3” tall and weighs 164 pounds; the average model is 5’ 11” tall and weighs 115 pounds.
  • 81 percent of 10-year old girls in the U.S. are afraid of being fat.
  • From 2006 to 2016, ads portrayed just one in four women as having a job (and to top it off women were 48 percent more likely to be shown in the kitchen).
  • Between 2006 and 2016 women were shown in sexually revealing clothing six times more than men. In 2017 that dropped from six times to five times, but the number of female characters shown in sexual revealing clothing overall remained the same (one in 10).
  • In some ads, a woman is a faceless object, reduced to features which are sexualized as objects of desire.
  • Women’s body parts are four times more likely to be included in advertisements than a man’s.

If women aren’t vigilant about monitoring these influences, they can begin to see themselves as a collection of body parts—only good for looking good. This inclination to reduce a woman to “piece parts” is borne out by the findings that women are more likely to be seen by other women and men as parts rather than as a whole person. Men are seen as a whole person.

What research says about a focus on body parts


This priming to focus on body parts and appearance negatively impacts women’s views of gender equality and social issues. Psychologist Rachel Calogero observes that “women who were primed to evaluate themselves based on their appearance and sexual desirability had a decreased motivation to challenge gender-based inequalities and injustices.” Ugh.

Are women and their worth doomed to being judged by their appearance and body parts?

Fortunately, no.

The body parts researchers modified their experiment to prime individuals to think of women as a whole, not a body part. The result? “The sexual body part recognition bias appeared to be alleviated. Women were more easily recognizable in the context of their whole bodies instead of their various sexual body parts.”

For a little while some years ago, I let myself get sucked into to the appearance-is-everything mindset and became the gal with killer shoes and size 8 clothes.

I wanted to be known for looking good and for being smart and powerful. The last two were getting lost in the shuffle because I was leading with appearance. I was miserable.

7 ways to get comfy in your own skin


I got comfy in own skin—meaning I liked myself no matter my dress size—only after learning seven life lessons:

  1. Appreciate that appearance is fleeting but that talents last a lifetime
  2. Understand that the best power comes from the inside out, not the outside in
  3. Surround ourselves with people who appreciate us for what we are, not how we look
  4. Believe that we are not just a collection of body part but rather the beautiful sum of our looks, brains, personality, and talents
  5. Accept that looking good, not air-brushed perfection, is enough
  6. Boot the fellas who are more interested in arm candy than a woman with brains and opinions
  7. Celebrate who and what we are, smiles lines, muffin tops, and less-than-perfect upper arms included.

What has helped you get comfy in your skin? What insights do you share with your daughter? Grand-daughter? Female friends self-conscious about their appearance?


Image credit before quote added: Pixabay



Good-bye, gender stereotypes

Good-bye, gender stereotypes

end gender stereotypes



At one point in my career, I was a vice president in a Fortune 500 company with $2 billion in annual revenues. I successfully managed a department of 150 people, consistently delivering projects ahead of schedule and under budget.

When asked by the CEO to describe me, can you guess what my boss said?

He said I was a “soft and round Aunt Polly.”

Wow, that stung.

Okay, I’m a woman. I’m blonde, and I’m overweight.

But why would my boss describe me by my appearance and sex instead of my accomplishments?

Because I’ve hit the trifecta of stereotypes—a blonde, fat woman.

It’s 2019, and gender stereotypes still exist that make it challenging for business women to be seen as both a good leader and a good woman.

That really troubles me.

What about you?

Is that the kind of workplace culture we want for our children and grandchildren?

For the women and men who want their kids and grandkids to have a different experience, now’s the time to partner up for change. Provided both sexes are willing to modify a few workplace practices, together women and men can change how leadership is defined and practiced.

Together, women and men can end stereotypes that limit the potential and passion of too many.

9 ways to say good-bye to gender stereotypes


Practicing these nine actions will bring equity and gender-balanced inclusiveness to your leadership practices.

1.  Be mindful of gender stereotypes that influence your thinking about which sex is better suited for certain kinds of work.

Social conditioning nudges people to think about leadership in terms of masculine traits, a practice that puts women and feminine attributes at a disadvantage.

If you find yourself thinking that men make the better bosses because they’re good at taking charge and women the better assistants because they’re the best at taking care, stop. If you always ask the women in your meetings to take the notes or plan parties, stop. If you question the leadership potential of a kind-hearted man, stop. If you describe assertive women as shrill, stop.

Stereotypes push us to apply a specified set of expectations to a whole group of people, whether they apply or not. When we do that, we ignore individual attributes and deny people their potential.

2. Check for inconsistencies in how you select a man or a woman for a job or evaluate their promotion readiness.

Research tells us that women are judged on their past performance, men on their future potential. Why not evaluate all candidates on both their past performance and future potential?

3. Assure that all voices are heard equally in the meetings you conduct.

If the men keep interrupting the women, call them out. If the women remain silent, call them into the discussion. If anyone co-opts an idea that someone presented earlier, assure that proper attribution is given.

4. Monitor how you pay your people.

If you supervise others, look for—and correct—any wage disparities that exists between sexes, ethnicities, etc., holding the same positions.

5. Sponsor both women and men and be proactive about it.

For anyone who has the audacity to insinuate that an inappropriate relationship exists in a mixed sex sponsorship, call out their boorish and stereotypical thinking.

6. Let go of the incorrect myth that power always corrupts.

There are those who use the power of their position for personal gain, but don’t confuse power with the selfish person using it. Power reveals what a person already was.

7. Avoid the “parent” trap.

When a man becomes a parent, it’s assumed he’ll be more dedicated to his work because he has a family to support. When a woman becomes a parent, it’s assumed she’ll be less dedicated to her work because she has a family. Be on the lookout for these incorrect assumptions. Along the same lines, don’t penalize either moms or dads for using family leave time.

8. Don’t confuse physical presence with true inclusion.

Just because there’s a woman or a minority on a team doesn’t mean there’s an inclusive, participative environment with meaningful engagement. Ask yourself some tough questions about whether your leadership practices are reflective of real participation or just window dressing presence.

9. Be willing to be vulnerable so your biases can be detected and managed.

While we all work hard to not be biased, we still are. Create mechanisms so that the presence of biases, gender and otherwise, can be safely and nonjudgmentally identified and eliminated.

Seeing someone else’s biases is much easier than seeing our own. That means using tact, grit, kindness, persistence, and grace are essential for achieving progress, openness, and inclusion.

Psychologists once believed that only bigoted people used stereotypes. Now the study of unconscious bias is revealing the unsettling truth: We all use stereotypes, all the time, without knowing it. We have met the enemy of equality, and the enemy is us. ~Annie Murphy Paul, journalist and author

As you head out to work tomorrow, remember the shining eyes and hopeful faces of your children. Build the kind of place where you would want them to work.


Image credit before quote: Pixabay





Breaking through the bro-culture in Silicon Valley

Breaking through the bro-culture in Silicon Valley


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

We call this sort of impression management, attuned gender communication. In seeking advancement, women face 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


Image credit before quote added:  Pixabay




Don’t let stereotype threat hold you back

Don’t let stereotype threat hold you back

stereotype threat

The belief that certain activities are “appropriate” for women and certain careers are not is the result of stereotype threat, pure and simple.

If a woman believes women are good at psychology but not computer science, she is more likely to major in psychology than computer science. If she believes women are good at personal relationships but not finance, she is more likely to take a job in human resources than the treasury department. And if she believes women are not good at negotiating but are good at administrative organization, she is more unlikely to volunteer for a major merger or acquisition and more likely to offer to organize a new filing system.

We recognize that the entire subject of gender-appropriate activities is a highly sensitive one.

Pointing out the gender segregation in college majors—85 percent of health service majors are women but only 19 percent of engineering majors are—and occupations—80 percent of social workers are women but only 15 percent of computer programmers are—can quickly be interpreted as a form of “blaming the victim.”

Pointing out gender segregation in careers can be taken as an attempt to hold women responsible for having lower status and lower-paying jobs than do men.

We want to make clear that we don’t think some college majors are better than others, that some occupations are better than others, or that some career roles are better than others. There are multiple factors affecting women’s decisions with respect to all of these areas, and we have no interest in making judgments about anyone’s actual choices.

What we do have an interest in, however, is making you aware of the segregation by gender that pervades America’s college majors, occupations, and career responsibilities.

We believe that if you are sensitive to this segregation, you will be less likely to place limitations and restraints on your own work-related attitudes, choices, and behavior simply because you are a woman. We don’t want women to be more like men, but we do want women to believe and behave as though they can do anything in their careers that men can do—and do it just as well, if not better.

Forty percent of college-educated women and men would need to change their occupations to achieve gender parity across all United States occupations. This occupational gender segregation is most often attributed to “demand-side” influences, that is, employers’ decisions about who they will hire and who they will make feel welcome.

There is some evidence that “supply-side” factors also play a role. This means that women’s and men’s personal decisions about where (and at what) they want to work contribute to this segregation. Researchers from McGill University and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania looked at the jobs comparably qualified woman and men applied for after having attended an elite, one-year international MBA program.

Their study focused on three factors influencing a person’s choice of a job: how the applicant values the specific rewards offered by the job, whether the applicant identifies with the job, and whether the applicant expects an application for that job will result in a job offer. The study examined how each of these factors affected women’s and men’s applications to work in the fields of finance, consulting, and general management.

The researchers found no differences in the monetary and other values women and men assigned to these jobs. Nevertheless, women were far less likely to apply for jobs in finance and consulting and far more likely to apply for general management positions than were men.

The researchers found this gender disparity in applications was due almost entirely to women not “identifying” with finance jobs because of the strong masculine stereotypes associated with them or with consulting jobs because of anticipated difficulties with “work–life balance.”

The researchers concluded that the low number of women in the fields of finance and consulting is largely the result of women’s “gender role socialization,” that is, the stereotypes they held about themselves and particular careers. They also concluded, however, that when a woman can overcome exceptionally high barriers to female participation early in her career, this may actually reduce her “gendered behavior” in subsequent stages of her career.

Gendered behavior is behavior that is shaped or caused by internalized gender stereotypes.

Take one well-documented phenomenon: men typically apply for jobs when they meet 60 percent of the job criteria, but women typically don’t apply until they feel they meet 100 percent of the criteria.

This is gendered behavior, pure and simple, and it is due in all likelihood to stereotype threat: women’s belief that they are just not as good at particular tasks as men and, therefore, their fear that if they are not fully qualified for the jobs for which they are applying, they are likely to fail.

This same fear too frequently causes some women to choose assignments and positions that involve less risk, lower visibility, fewer challenges, less responsibility and less external pressure than those chosen by their male colleagues.

If you are in a traditionally male work environment, there are lots of people and situations at work that will hold you back simply because you are a woman.

You are as talented, prepared, and capable as the men, so be your own best fan and avoid thinking negatively about yourself or what you are capable of.


This article is adapted with permission from Breaking Through Bias: Communication Techniques for Women to Succeed at Work by Andrea S. Kramer and Alton B. Harris


Image source before quote added:  Pixabay



Join in and change a stereotype, OK?

Join in and change a stereotype, OK?

end stereotype


I was raised to be kind.

Kindness is a value I cherish and thank my parents for instilling in me. It’s heart-warming to see someone blossom when they’re treated with kindness.

I love it when people are kind to me and work to return the kindness. My orientation to reciprocatey was challenged during my time in corporate America. (more…)

Ready to start changing stereotypes?

Ready to start changing stereotypes?

changing stereotypesIn spring 2014, New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy took three days of paternity leave when his first child was born.

Sounds like a perfectly reasonable thing for a new dad to do, yet many sports announcers and fans soundly criticized his decision. Why? Because it resulted in him not playing in two baseball games. 

Why would such a simple decision create such an uproar? (more…)