We may not like to admit it, but our society is still very much divided by gender lines. Girls are still expected to play with dolls and favor the arts, while boys are encouraged to play sports and go into science or technology. And statistically, women are still paid less than our male counterparts.
In male-dominated corporate America, we often find ourselves combating preconceived expectations of how we should act and communicate.
Business News Daily lists this as one of the top social problems faced by women entrepreneurs today, noting, “[W]omen may feel as though they need to adopt a stereotypically ‘male’ attitude toward business: competitive, aggressive and sometimes overly harsh. But successful female CEOs believe that remaining true to yourself and finding your own voice are the keys to rising above preconceived expectations.”
There’s also a flip side, however. I know that I sometimes worry about coming off as too strong or aggressive. But I think the aforementioned advice still rings true. No one (woman or not) should let their gender – or any related fears – dictate their actions. I feel that we all have a much better chance of succeeding in life if we remain true to our convictions.
Interestingly enough, women are actually promoted into high-profile leadership positions during times of crisis – but it’s not for the reason you might think. Fast Company cites a 2010 study, noting, “women are tapped not because female characteristics are valued, but because the stereotypical male traits, such as being competitive and uncompromising, aren’t perceived as being helpful during a turnaround.”
So, women are chosen for these positions simply because we are not men? Maybe I’m being naïve, but I can’t help but think: Shouldn’t we be chosen based on merit? Again, here women are being judged not by the content of our character or our qualifications, but by our gender.
Now, I still think it’s fantastic that women are climbing the ranks in Fortune 500 companies, no matter the reason. What better way for us to prove that we are just as competent (if not more so) than male leaders? What better way for us to defy expectations and challenge social mores head on?
But are we being set up to fail? As Fast Company states, “Studies have found that those who’ve gotten through glass ceilings are teetering on a ‘glass cliff’ or more likely to be pushed out of their jobs.”
I think we can buck this trend. First, we must simply focus on our strengths rather than worrying about meeting expectations. Next, we cannot be afraid to ask for help. I’m a big proponent of women who mentor, as you’ve read in my previous blogs. I also recommend surrounding yourself with people (ideally other women) who have the expertise you may lack (tap into a professional network).
Finally, we must have confidence in our aptitude and leadership style. I’ve written a lot about leadership for women, and that’s because I think we all have natural leadership abilities. It’s how we tap into and nurture these abilities that makes the difference between simply being a leader and being a great one – or in this case, falling off the glass cliff or conquering it!
What social problems have you faced in the business world?