Navigating the double-standard for women in leadership

We have a bias to see men as leaders and women as nurturers, but the truth is both genders can be both.

It’s tricky to be a woman in a position of leadership (or a woman seeking a position of leadership). There’s a double standard — when men demonstrate leadership they’re seen as being confident and assertive, while women demonstrating leadership are often seen as being bossy or pushy.

How do we navigate this double standard for male and female leadership at work?

The real solution is systemic change — changes to the way we socialize boys and girls and changes to corporate culture and to the distribution of domestic labor. But we are not going to solve that today! Instead let’s talk about how we as women can navigate the existing double standard: As women, we have to speak up and assert ourselves more at work.

Speak up in meetings
Women are interrupted more in meetings. Interestingly, not just by men, but by other women too. What that means is as a society we believe it’s more okay to interrupt a woman. Not okay! Don’t interrupt other women while they’re speaking. Don’t let yourself be steamrolled when someone else tries to interrupt you.

Speak up about what you want
As they say, you don’t ask you don’t get. This applies to things like projects, and promotions and pay. The differences between what men and women are willing to ask for are staggering. Only 7% of new female graduates negotiate their salary, but 57% of men do. Men tend to apply for jobs when they meet just 60% of the hiring criteria. Women tend to apply for jobs when they meet 100% of the criteria. You’ll most likely be overlooked and overtaken by someone gutsy enough to ask before you do.

Speak up about inequity
People often don’t even realize they’re perpetuating a culture of inequality. Including us, as women. So this isn’t necessarily a men vs. women thing. Whether you’re a man or woman it’s okay to point out opportunities for more equity at work:
— “I’d love to see some more female leadership on the board of directors. Can I suggest a few candidates who I think would be great?”
— “I prefer to speak at events where the there is equal representation from both women and people of color. Are you building that into your speaker roster?”
Speaking up and asserting yourself more in a culture with a double standard for leadership may not make you popular. But we have to get over it. It’s less important that we’re liked, and more important that we’re respected.

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What do you think?


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Sadly, we’re often labelled as ‘pushy’ or ‘fragile’ when we speak up.

October 24, 2017 at 9:25 am

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