How to be an Assertive Woman in Leadership


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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.

Catch 22:

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:

  1. Affirmation.
  2. Collaboration.
  3. Coaching.

From: It’s Harder for Women.

How to be an assertive female leader:

  1. Ask male leaders to publicly affirm your leadership.
  2. Remain pleasant and optimistic while dealing with tough issues.
  3. Share your success by focusing on results.
  4. Talk about results in terms of the team.
  5. Lift yourself and others at the same time. Bring others with you.
  6. Run toward not away. Don’t allow frustration with the past to prevent you from moving forward.
  7. 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?

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