How to be an Assertive Woman in Leadership
She said, “Violating gender stereotypes,” in response to, “What unique challenges do women in leadership experience.” I asked the question at the beginning of a presentation for a Woman’s Business Consortium.
When a woman is assertive she’s bossy and resented. She’s bitchy. But, when a man is assertive he’s powerful and admired. He gets things done.
Men can be men but women must be both.
If a woman wants to get ahead in a man’s world, there’s pressure to be like a man. To get ahead you must conform. A high-level woman in a large corporation told me she was encouraged to wear fewer dresses and more pant suits.
Men are liked because they are competent. Women, on the other hand, are either perceived as competent or liked. (Catalyst research) In our culture, it’s easier to like a woman who is less competent.
Is there an up side?
Women are different from men. Saying they aren’t diminishes both. What’s the point of diversity if everyone’s the same?
Research shows women are better than men when it comes to:
From: It’s Harder for Women.
How to be an assertive female leader:
- Ask male leaders to publicly affirm your leadership.
- Remain pleasant and optimistic while dealing with tough issues.
- Share your success by focusing on results.
- Talk about results in terms of the team.
- Lift yourself and others at the same time. Bring others with you.
- Run toward not away. Don’t allow frustration with the past to prevent you from moving forward.
- Choose private over public. If you feel disrespected by a male colleague, deal with it privately.
Bonus: Be assertive but don’t attack.
On 9/27/2013, I asked Leadership Freak Facebook fans to answer: “What unique challenges do female leaders face?”
What unique challenges do women in leadership face?
How can women be assertive in leadership?
Well this is a topic I know nothing about.
On top of that honestly I look particularly awful in a dress.
Only thing I could add is two things. One being assertive has commonalities in spite of qualifiers that separate folks. Gender, personality type, yada yada yada. What are those common successful traits? Find out what those commonalities are and DO THEM!!!!
Second, what woman in the history of the world in your opinion practices assertiveness with the best results you wish you got on a regular basis?
When you have clearly identified THAT woman find out what she thinks, believes, does in the area of assertiveness…….DO ONLY THAT till you croak, then u get the results your Heroine gets!!!!
Lastly in my opinion, Gods Greatest Creation…..WOMEN!!!!!!!
Shifterp back to Now!!!
A really pervasive phenomenon at workplace. Suggestions are good, they will reduce the barrier between men and women. I think women leadership faces two challenges- men ego and perceived incompetence. Ego plays major role in accepting women as leader in male dominated world. They resist to accept women leadership. So, to deal with such situation, women need to understand the ways to deal with such egos. I appreciate your suggestions that women need to remain pleasant and optimistic. I also believe that communication is very important component to create good culture. Communication makes information clear and reduces the chances of distort information. Secondly, men perceive that women are less competent and capable. While it may not be true always, except in some position where physical strength is required.
One important point for women leader to lead successfully is to minimize the feeling among men of being controlled and dominated. To do this, women leaders should create a culture where men should feel that they are competent, recognized and more respected than before.
It’s ironic that in many schools, women dominate the teaching force, but men dominate the administrative roles. What I found though is that when they wanted something done, they asked a woman. I was fortunate to have many leadership roles, and we hired women administrators from time to time, but when they turned out to not be the kind and quality of administrator that we wanted, their performance tainted the perception of women as administrators as a whole, whereas if we had a poor male administrator, that was not the case – he was his own problem.
I was entering the education profession just as Title IX was sweeping in and the advice I got from a very successful women’s basketball coach (also a woman) was that you have to work with the men (or anyone) and not just ram the law down their throats, but also you must not be afraid to stand up for what is right.
It should be about effectiveness and results regardless of gender. It has taken far too long to level the playing field. (And women have contributed to that problem too because women often don’t even support a woman leader). When you say that women have more challenges to get and remain in leadership positions, I totally agree. But it can be done, and the barriers are slowly (and I do mean slowly) dissolving.
I’d like to offer a variation to your suggestion #3 – “talk about results in terms of the team” – if what you mean by this is to share the wealth rather than take credit, that’s a very fine line for a woman. Research shows that many women are socialized to deflect praise. If they bring this practice into the workplace, they may also tend to minimize their personal contributions to the team effort. So, while I agree with the advice, I would also coach a woman to be sure to accept praise of *her* specific contribution, not deflect it with, “Oh, really, it was a team effort.”
This is a terribly “hot” topic & one that I am particularly interested in not only in educational endeavors, but also in the Non-Profit, church, & business world.
It seems to me that it all goes back to an individual’s personal security & significance. I try to keep mine where I believe that my Christian-World-And-Life-View teaches me that it should be & that is in my relationship w/ the Lord. I am secure because He loves me & I am important because He made me.
If a man in the workplace has this kind of relationship w/ the Lord, he will work better w/ competitive men & women who in his natural self might be threatened by them.
It bothers me tremendously to think that I have a choice to be either competent or liked. I want to be liked even if I am disagreed w/ and obviously I believe that one should be as competent as possible. We do not place the standard of being liked or competent on men & I do not think that it is just or fair to put that on women. Maybe, we are just discussing how things are in a fallen world.
The sooner we get over this culture the better the world will run. I offer things in the workplace & some of them are unique to my femininity & some aren’t. Masculinity & femininity are on a sliding scale. Because of the fall, no one is 100%.
We all bring strengths & weaknesses to our relationships & to the workplace. That is why it is important to do training in Personal & Leadership Styles so that we can do a better job of understanding each other & consequently working better together.
Well, my sermon has ended w/o 3 points & a poem. However, it is as long as my communications tend to be.
Have a blessed and productive day!
Well Sabrina, in the words of Geraldine…..”what you see is what you get”.
Fella sees himself as a dude the ladies don’t really like. Goes to a dance. Asks ten gals to dance. 9 say “YES, LOVE to, you are really cute”! One says “Gosh NO you make me want to hurl”
Next day I see him ask him how the dance went. Know what he tells me? “It was awful, this gal I asked to dance told me the thought of me made her want to hurl”!
What happened to the other 9? Edited out by the Dudes filter, paradigm.
I go to the same dance next week! I KNOW women LOVE me, how could they not, I AM the most interesting man in the world! Women love the worlds most interesting man with a sense of humor to boot! Frankly I am irresistible!!!!!!!! And MODEST!!!!!!!! What a combo! LOL
So I go to the dance and 9 women tell me the thought and sight of me want to make them hurl!!!!!!!!!! One recognizes the REAL ME and of course she wants to dance with me!!!!!!!
See the other dude at work the next day! He asks me how the dance was. What do I tell him???? FANTASTIC!!!!!!!! Danced with the greatest smartest most terrific gal there!!! Had a GREAT TIME!!!!!!
What happened to the other 9? Did not fit how I see ME so I edited them right outta here!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
What you see is what you get. You mentioned your filter of how you see the world. Your choice. I see it not fallen but as a empty canvas and each paints their own perspective. Each chooses what they see means to them.
Big rain storm, little Johnny CRUSHED because his baseball game cancelled! His Dad, a farmer is THRILLED, been a drought now crops got the water they need to grow so he can harvest them so he can provide for his family.
What really really happened, IT RAINED but what it MEANT depends on ones filter.
So what HAPPENS happens, what it means is dependant on the person perceiving it and THEIR FILTER. As a man/woman thinketh in their heart, so are they, right???????????????
So I think WOMEN ROCK! As Leaders, as Teachers, AS Spiritual beings having a Human Experience, in EVERY WAY! One day if I start a company they will get the same or greater pay DEPENDING on their contribution, not their gender. Treated just the same as I will treat fellas, like I want them to treat me which is AWESOMELY!!!!!!!!!!!
I will have no preconceived notion about them except THEY ARE GREAT!!!!! Gods Greatest Creation! That is my filter where women are concerned.
Just remember, your filter is just your filter. Lots of other filters out there.
My Higher Power and Women ROCK!!!!
Shifterp back to now!!!!!!!!!!!!
I found the comment about the leader “encouraged” to wear more pants and suits a little limitting.
I prefer women in leadership roles to wear their dresses. I kinda get tired of the pompous and generic suit & pants look which really does no more than standarize everyone.
I lean towards Jennifer’s comments. I think women should be more proactive about stating their mind and taking credit for what they do. Women tend to hold back a lot and then end up bursting out in aggressive comments which creates the unbalanced double standard of “competent vs. liked”.
Just yesterday (2013) my daughter, a saleswoman in a fiber optics company, was openly “hit on” by a client in a business meeting. Her male colleagues told her later that the comments even made them uncomfortable. It’s too bad that men hid their shame when one of their own acts shamefully.
Women face sexism in the workplace period. So, we have to swat off those comments AND lead at the same time. Unjust burden.
Hi Dan – good for you for tackling this topic – as I’ve noted before, the female gender seems under-represented in your work, overall. I would appreciate hearing directly from female leaders in your blog – there are just as many leadership styles demonstrated by women as by men…
Thank you for this blog and especially the link to Catalyst Research. I’ve been dealing with this issue my entire 40 year business career. One of my epiphanies was “You can never make everyone happy so choose your personal integrity and don’t worry about the talk around the water cooler.”
While I think it is valuable for women to reflect about how we lead and interact with our male colleagues, there is another discussion to be had about how men might reflect on their dynamics with women who lead. Many of these suggestions require women to modify our behavior to accomodates mens’ perceptions rather than asking men to shift how they view the women who lead them. While I see some practical reality to “Ask male leaders to publicly affirm your leadership,” I can’t help but be bothered that there would be a culture of men that would require another man to affirm my leadership.
As a dude who studied women’s studies at University, and as a dude who is used to working in business and other environments alongside and for exceptional women leaders, I am not understanding this article. In my experience:
(1) competent female leaders are valued for their competence. Incompetent male leaders are criticized for their failures,
(2) the male equivalent of “Bitchy” is “A**hole”, not powerful and admired.
(3) effective women leaders haven’t needed affirmation from men since the ’60s. Women leaders have enough clout to support and affirm other women leaders.
I’m currently sitting in my office, next to my boss (an exceptional female leader). She would like to add that the discourse between her and her female (leader) friends, based upon the absurdity of this blog post has made her day, and helped them all to remain “pleasant and optimistic”. They also appreciated the solid advice to “wear more pants-suits”, despite the commenter who prefers women to wear their dresses.
As for my humble male opinion – I must be living in a different world or era than the one that spawned this blog post.
Hey Jeffery, Dan is really a cool dude and occasionally he writes really provocative stuff!!!
I personally believe on purpose he writes stuff that one must do a double take. Whawhawhat???!!!!????
That spurs reaction that spurs conversation.
Anyway congrats on your firmly held paradigm!!!!
Ain’t life Grand???
What I would really love is to a gal write she prefers men in plaid!!!! Tweed you know is SO EIGHTIES!!!
I think my best look as the Worlds Most Interesting Man is a bell bottomed polyester leisure suit with one of those silky shirts with only two buttons buttoned!! Half drowned in aqua velva and I am ready to cut a jig!!
Take a number ladies there is gonna be long line!!!!!!
Let me tell ya, ONLY the Worlds Most Interesting Man can pull off that look!!!!! And smell!!!!! Lol
Have a good one!!!! Great Paradigm seems you agree with me….. Women Rock!!!!!
I Concur in my two buttoned polyester bell bottomed leisure suit!! And drenched in aqua velva!!!!
Shifterp back to Now in left field!! Hehe
Dan, I appreciate the sentiment that differences between men and women are diversity and shouldn’t be dismissed. I agree with that idea just as much as I agree with the idea that every leader’s style is just a little different as each of us are a little different.
However, I think there a couple of items on your how to be an assertive woman list that should be read with caution. Starting with number 1. In the eyes of some people if as a women you have to have your leadership affirmed by a man, it is probably because you aren’t a good leader. If a male leader is talking about the leadership skills of a female leader without some context it will often come across as fake or manufactured and not seen as being really sincere.
Also, as an optimistic person, I think number 2 on that list goes a long way for everyone. However, as a female leader it is also important to know when being pleasant and optimistic is not going to be enough to convince people. Not that being assertive and being pleasant are opposites but without a dose of firmness in your pleasant optimism some people will not take your points seriously.
A final thought on competence versus likability. Early in my career I found that people did make a judgement about whether I was competent or likable. But now in the second half of my career when competence is not in question I find that people are choosing to like me because they don’t have make a choice. Progress?
Good afternoon from Connecticut! This is an awesome topic and glad you brought it up, Dan. However, I respectfully disagree with you on a few things. I’ve had my LLC for three years now and have worked as a sole proprietor for the fourteen years previous, among things I’ve done. I’ve worked with male and female leaders in different capacities. Being a female leader presents it own sort of issues and most of what I’ve seen is female leaders denigrated more than males. Now running my own business, the same thing often happens to me and I refuse to let it any further. People want to pay me less and get mad when I fight back and call for my fair share. I just quit the local chamber because I only earned $120 for the past three years going there and the dues are significantly more. If it’s a choice between business cards and fees that aren’t getting me anywhere, I refuse to pay. I’m small bait compared to what they are getting from other organizations and they turned around and blamed me. I know if I were a man, the reaction would have been much different. I also noticed the women do everything.
Please continue the conversation on this! Have a great weekend!
I am currently fighting the “competent” vs. “liked” battel. I find that it is not men or those above my pay grade that are the problem, but those below my pay grade. Rather than tearing down successful women, it would be nice if other women would celebrate their success as an indicator that they, too, can succeed. I am still trying to figure out how to handle this situation because, in our company, anonymous surveys are sent out to all employees in the interest of improving internal and external customer service levels, but it is used by employees to tear down people with no repurcussions. Comments like “X is worthless” are commonly seen, especially on the surveys of departments led by women. Those comments are then used by upper management for coaching. I have actually been told before that I had to get everyone to like me or I would face repercussions, and I’m not the only one.
Having been in a leadership position of kind or another for over 30 years now, including running my own company for 16 of those, I say poppycock. Women can be assertive and not be pyrrahias. I work in human resources and as such coach and mentor both male and female managers and execs. Both genders can take assertiveness into aggression or become workplace bullies but it is not a given. Many an assertive female has risen the ranks and done well, myself included and kept a long list of friends. To say a woman can not or should not be assertive or must wear a pant suit in this day and time is just ridiculous.
A successful woman in management needs to know her field just as well as the men but actually has several advantages in this workplace we find ourselves in today. Collaboration and teamwork are more valued today so we can get creativity and innovation. Rewards and recognition are crucial to engage the gen y and new digital generation coming in… Women do these things more naturally than men.
Women managers rock! When I coach, women are often more open to criticism and feedback, they try harder, and they work harder.
So guys watch out… We are graduating college at higher rates than you are now in many traditionally male fields. Your days may be numbered; you may find yourselves on the assembly line answering to an assertive women in a skirt!
I’m certainly no wallflower and was recognized this year as woman of the year for big business in our city… You don’t get honored for your achievements if you listen to people who tell you not to be assertive. Go forth and rock the world .. Make it a better place!
Gents – – how would you feel if you were encouraged to wear a skirt more often? just asking …
Here in the UK we have a movement called ‘everyday sexism’ – people (men and women) just don’t realise what they’re doing sometimes when they repeat those tired old “why can’t a woman be more like a man” stereotypes…
There is need to reject the fallacies associated with gender and leadership. Admittedly, females face the burden of cultural labels about competence and are more susceptible to discrimination because of their gender. These biases, when exposed, should be condemned by the enlightened males and females among us.
Although I am 17, this really helps for whatever I may be facing if I do end up being a leader.
Great article, Dr Debora Tannen in talking 9to5 called this the double bind for women.
In this world, there will always be two minds about how women should behave. The best is to be yourself. Be happy being a woman. Whatever women do there will always be something to say.In my opinion, we, women have proved ourselves to be worthy. There is no competition. We need to be confident that we can succeed as a leader. All cultures are man made and should be thrown out. The world needs the presence of both men and women to make it a better place whether in homes or workplace. It just only going to take another 70 years for it to happen!