She strides into the room, walking tall with her shoulders back. She commands the room and speaks her mind. She exits.
Assumptions and impressions are made immediately – without even trying. Biases are inherent. So what comes to mind for you?
Wow – look at the [XXXX] on that lady.
Who does she think she is? Who is she to interrupt a meeting?
What a B@#$#!
She must’ve been furious or even worse, emotional…
But what I didn’t tell you is that she is the president of the company – and she interrupted the meeting to congratulation the team for a job well done and left quickly so as to not disrupt the session.
So why is it that the vast majority of us will automatically put these negative associations (and assumptions) on a female leader? Why are we seen as intimidating? Or domineering? Or aggressive? Especially when our male counterparts are seen as confident, in charge, resolute.
A few years ago, Forbes published an article titled The 10 Worst Stereotypes of Women which includes:
(And thank goodness they also published a top 10 list for men too or this post would take a very interesting turn…)
While I don’t agree with stereotyping of any sort, it does justify the question of why?
After recently interviewing Emmy Beeson, she expressed a very logical response. The majority of women have been leading in a very different fashion up until the recent past. While we can have a separate conversation about that too, the strength of a woman in these kinds of settings is “new and unexpected”. People don’t know what to do with it – neither men or women alike. “It [is] nothing to do with successful women and everything to do with how we perceive them,” says Lucy Kellaway from Forbes on this exact topic.
So what do we do to change this?
Did you know that women make up 51% of the US population but still men account for 80% of all Fortune 500 companies leadership teams. This includes management – so when you look at the very, very top, men make up 93.6% of CEO’s and women make up a staggering 3.4% (which is a new record this, year by the way – read more here). So it’s not even that women are a minority in the workforce, “but truly powerful women remain a tiny minority, and fear of the unknown is common and rational,” cites Kellaway.
To break these stereotypes and characterizations and this fear of the unknown, female leaders have to become the norm – not the exception. We need to fill our well-deserved slots – all 51% of them – and stop caring about what adjective is being used to describe us. We need to be confident and self-aware, but we also have to express empathy to those less enlightened and explain to them the reality – that we are all individuals and those with the skills, talent, drive and experience will rise up – regardless of gender (or ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, etc).
So ladies, let’s keep this simple. Don’t hold back – but don’t be a dick either.