Women receive a lot of advice about how to succeed in the workplace. In fact, this blog was started as a way to give women tips and tricks to navigate some of the landmines in our work lives. But, most of the advice out there essentially tells women that the onus is on them to do things differently. They need to be more assertive, more outspoken, take more risks. In short – they need to act like men.
The trouble, of course, is that when women take on the masculine qualities we praise in men, they are penalized for doing so. We are caught in the double bind of wanting to be liked, while also being perceived as competent. For women, competence and likability rarely go hand in hand and the perceptions are often mutually exclusive. Women must walk such a thin tightrope, that the end result is often forced, disingenuous, and downright exhausting.
I don’t disagree that sometimes as women, we stand in our own way. We don’t ask for the raises we know we deserve. We don’t apply for the promotions or seek out the stretch assignments. Those are things we should ALL be doing if we want to develop and advance. But, instead of asking women to become more like men, I think it’s incumbent upon organizations (and society) to change the notion of what it means to be a leader. Because the truth is, the qualities we celebrate in women – collaboration, empathy, support, among others- are all qualities that any good leader should possess.
If we stop prioritizing stereotypically masculine qualities, and develop a more expansive definition of leadership and competence, we will go a long way toward rewarding – and not punishing – women for the unique assets they bring to the table. Companies can help create this culture by having more leaders- particularly their male leaders – openly talk about these issues and regularly display the behaviors they want to see. If they’re really serious, they could also tie ideal behaviors (both masculine and feminine) to compensation, bonuses, and promotion opportunities.
What are your thoughts on acting like a man to get ahead?