A friend interviewed for a job but the barrier for her was the female boss. Is having a woman boss that difficult?
As a woman who has reported to women and also lead multiple teams my career, that statement stung. Women fight to constantly be more than what society deems them to be. The U.S. Presidential Elections is a hurtful sign of how someone as powerful as Hillary Clinton does not escape misogynist and sexist rhetoric even in the 21st century, and not just from Donald Trump but also the media. Not much changes in the corporate world.
Compassion and nurturing, the expected cornerstones of most feminine personalities, are played out to a large degree in the workplace. If too compassionate, then the woman is soft, unimpressive and ineffective, and if not, then she is aggressive.
It’s one thing to need to be impactful in a man’s world, but women also get judged for their womanliness. When Theresa May, Prime Minister of the U.K, took her oath earlier this year, social media struggled to look beyond her leopard print kitten heels. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, has long since adopted the neutral pantsuit, and Hillary followed after the infamous Cleavagegate that made possession of a pair of breasts a scandal in a candidate for the position of Secretary of State.
A senior market researcher I interviewed spoke about how male colleagues would joke about taking her and her predominantly female team along to meetings for ‘sex appeal.’ These snide comments (or ‘jokes’ if one must), much like Donald Trump’s jibes, are hard to digest.
If with child she seen as distracted or at the other end, a workaholic who doesn’t care about her family. While a single or married man or even one with a child, doesn’t have those words used in his performance appraisal. ‘The woman can never win,’ said the journalist I interviewed. A disheartening perspective!
Women, themselves, seek to live up to stereotypical expectations. Jennifer Lawrence spoke about this frustrating need to be likeable in her open letter on the Hollywood’s wage gap.
Despite these obstacles, women have grown professionally but the hardened glass ceiling has been tough to break. As per latest figures, only 4.2% of CEO positions in America’s 500 biggest companies are women, I couldn’t find a similar study for India, though I suspect the numbers would be even smaller. A study which surveyed 461 women in senior roles in Fortune 1000 companies found that “stereotypes and preconceptions of women’s roles and abilities” is a barrier to advancement.
Women might circumvent these obstacles but the journey doesn’t ease up.
In fact far from it, even amongst female reportees. Women bosses are seen as clear-headed but forceful, micro-managers while male bosses are perceived to be easy-going and relaxed. Possibly attributed to elemental personality differences between men and women or just stereotypes playing up.
There is the Roizen Case Study, repeatedly mentioned by Sheryl Sandberg, where a woman, by sheer virtue of her success, is seen as selfish, not someone you’d want to work with compared to a man in the same situation. When impactful, women are seen as strident, pushy, trying to be a man – words that echoed through all my interviews.
A senior technology professional interviewed mentioned she was viewed as too aggressive by juniors. When asked to explain, they’d said, ‘body language.’ Ironically, she works with them remotely so body language cannot be a determining factor.
Most of them have had to fight their way to the top, stand out in a sea, or army if one must, of men. After having reached that top rung, they still feel tested for their competence more than men. Added to that, they aren’t part of senior management clubs which are most often all male, so it gets lonely.
A market researcher with over 30 years experience felt she had to learn the ropes herself. There is the established male way to be a boss so women grope in the darkness, figuratively, combating stereotypes and preconceptions about their abilities, while trying to become a boss aligned to their personalities as well as one that is accepted within the organisation.
The journalist I mentioned felt she missed an increment and a better role within the team because her female boss felt threatened by her. On mentioning her ‘demotion’ to a less important desk, her female friends first asked if her female boss disliked her. A common story across their careers?
This might not be the case across women bosses but it resonates across other sections of life. We women are often our worst enemy. Two women working in technology firms in the U.S.A., mentioned the Boys’ Clubs in their industry –you need to be in the club to get to climb the ladder. There were no favours handed out to women from either male or female bosses, and definitely no Girls’ Clubs!
You need to work with the right people who value your contribution and in an organisation where gender is not a factor for differentiation nor favouritism.
Journeys shape our personalities and the kind of journey we have is shaped by our personality – a rather symbiotic relationship. Expecting identical thought and action in men and women is asking for a biological shift, maybe not something even evolution can grant. If we respect each person for what they bring to the conversation we would have a more secure, solid workforce with celebrated diversity, where each individual is confident of their strengths and secure enough to help others along the way.
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