Women need to figure out innovative ways to tackle gender bias at work, while society needs to work on recognizing that assertive doesn’t equate bossy!
My grandmother used to handle domestic help beautifully. She was kind, generous and authoritative all at the same time. She just expected to be obeyed, and gave her orders gracefully but firmly and was comfortable in her role as an authoritarian.
This is the kind of setting the original male dominated workplace had. There was a hierarchy and it was respected and things functioned smoothly for generations, until at some point women started entering managerial positions. Suddenly there were these anomalies that no one knew how to deal with. Most men, raised in a patriarchal society, found it frustrating at best and demeaning at worst, to take orders from women. Many women, on their part, found it difficult to order to men, who they found intimidating.
Women who don’t command the obedience of male subordinates, are seen as weak, incompetent or emotional. Women who want to be nice and find it difficult to say no are often taken advantage of to their own detriment. On the other hand the ones who did successfully command their team, are despised, and seen as aggressive and bitchy and subordinates give them as little co-operation as they dare.
I am reminded of the time, I had to hire domestic help. I am bad at giving orders and criticizing people’s work and getting them to fix it. I become defensive and use anger as a shield and either yell or become passive aggressive. I can’t bring myself to naturally expect obedience like my grandma did. Maids too on their part have become significantly less meek over the last 2 decades.
So when I did hire domestic help, I politely asked for the jobs to be done. However when one of the maids did something, in a way I did not like, I would do it myself to show them how to do it. This included cleaning toilets, scrubbing grimy surfaces and a host of things my grandmother would have considered only suitable for maids to do. I found that this way, I did not feel insecure about ordering my maids. After all I was only asking them to do things I could do, myself. So I did not feel guilty of being a tyrant. I also found that this method easily earned me their respect.
I used completely different technique to earn the loyalty and respect of my maids than my grandmom did and we both succeeded. But if I had tried to just emulate my grandmother things would have gone quite haywire.
So also, in the office, it is possible that women may typically have to use different techniques compared to men, to be successful bosses. Men or women, we all have different strengths as individuals. And to progress in our careers we need to make the most of our strengths to find our own best solutions to our problems and not just emulate traditionally set procedures.
While I have mentioned some ways to deal with the gender bias at work that women face, the fact remains that the gender bias is an ugly reality. That makes the playing field rather unfair for women. So it is not enough to deal with the symptoms.
The root cause must be eliminated. And that cause is, the way kids are brought up to expect nurturing, conservative and submissive behaviour from women and aggressive, confident, risk taking behaviour from men. Feminine traits are often undervalued by society, while masculine traits are glorified even when there is no logical reason to prefer one trait to another.
From a young age girls are taught to be cautious and boys to be adventurous. This bias is deeply rooted in their upbringing and follows them through life. It is not enough to give our girls and boys the same opportunities and exposure. It is also important to show the same faith in them and have same expectations of them. It is important to encourage their individual strengths whatever those strengths might be and help them find self respect and confidence.
As women we need to fight our battles with the tools currently available to us, in whatever way we best can, and not brood or give up in despair of the gender bias. As parents we need to raise the next generation in such a way that our daughters have a more level playing field to contend with.
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