At times, it seems like women who are leaders just can’t win. If you’re a strong, assertive leader, you’re viewed as domineering and abrasive. If you’re not assertive enough, people see you as a weak pushover who doesn’t deserve your leadership position. This is the all too common “double bind” that American women in leadership positions experience. Has this been your experience too?
Madeline Heilman, a psychology professor at New York University, is researching gender stereotypes and biases in relation to leadership. In one study, she asked volunteers to evaluate a high-powered manager joining a company. They were given identical descriptions…the only difference is that some were told the manager was a man, others were told the manager was a woman. The results?
“When the person was presented as a high powered person, who was very ambitious, we found that the person was seen as much more unlikable when it was a woman than when it was a man.”
The American culture fosters this unconscious reaction. The stereotypical gender role women fill is that they’re nurturing, compassionate, and supportive. Yet to be a leader, women must also be able to face conflict and resistance and work with people who think, act and communicate differently from themselves, which women are very capable of doing. However, the assertive woman is going against the perceived “norm”.
When you become aware that this unconscious preconception is there, you can monitor your automatic mental reactions and consciously choose to widen your view and acceptance of women in less than typical roles. Ask yourself, “Would I think the same thing about a man who has this identical behavior?”
“No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens.” – Michelle Obama
You can begin to recognize and increase your awareness of this double bind by thinking about how you react to the follow situations. Consider first if a man acted this way, then if a woman acted this way, what would be your first thought?
- The (boss, President or parent) makes unilateral decisions rather than getting feedback from the team.
- The (boss, President or parent) competes rather than collaborates.
- The (boss, President or parent) gives orders rather than influences through persuasion.
- The (boss, President or parent) is direct when handling conflict rather than beating around the bush.
When a man behaves is such a way, it’s more likely to be excused. When a woman does, it causes friction. However, women who learn to consciously shift between masculine and feminine styles free themselves from this double bind.
How can you navigate the double bind?
Most workplaces tend to be more masculine in the way they communicate – firm, declarative and confident. The feminine style is more humble, qualifying assertions to avoid sounding superior. When women leaders don’t learn to speak with confidence and authority, they’ll be talked over and ignored.
Women in leadership roles can retain their femininity, their own personal style, and reach the top in the business world. Learning NLP techniques is one of the fastest ways to become an influencer and leader. Because once you become aware of your own emotional responses and consciously choose the state that serves you best, then you’re in a position to bring out the best in all of those around you, which is what great leaders do.
To fulfill a leadership role you have to take charge, make the tough decisions, stand up and be assertive. And Neuro-linguistic programming can help you influence others with integrity so you gain the respect of your peers and employees. Acute emotional intelligence enables you to monitor your automatic reactions and consciously alter them.
If becoming a leader is your hearts desire, don’t give up. We’d love to support you in your journey. There’s still time to sign up for our upcoming Women in Leadership Retreat. It might just be the step toward reaching your full potential as a leader that you’ve been looking for.