A close friend was in an industrial research lab in the early 1980’s and remembers going to hours-long workshops about moderating one’s expectations about women scientists. Somehow the company had gotten the idea that male scientists might not be able to decode the actions of female scientists. Imagine that!
Fast forward twenty-five years and one must ask: Where did that effort go!?! Lisa Belkin, writing in the NYTimes, relates the conclusions of a report from Catalyst, which studies women in the workplace:
Catalyst’s research is often an exploration of why, 30 years after women entered the work force in large numbers, the default mental image of a leader is still male. Most recent is the report titled “Damned if You Do, Doomed if You Don’t,” which surveyed 1,231 senior executives from the United States and Europe. It found that women who act in ways that are consistent with gender stereotypes — defined as focusing “on work relationships” and expressing “concern for other people’s perspectives” — are considered less competent. But if they act in ways that are seen as more “male” — like “act assertively, focus on work task, display ambition” — they are seen as “too tough” and “unfeminine.”
There is some good news, and it’s about Catalyst. It’s done a series of studies about implementing practices that help diversify the workplace. Though the one with 65 winning strategies seems priced for someone with a corporate account, most are affordable. I’ll be recommending them to my university’s commission on women.
Addition: Closing down windows, I looked back at Catalyst and saw their press release on the study mentioned above. I thought readers might find this part interesting:
Extreme perceptions: Women leaders are perceived as “never just right.” If women business leaders act consistent with gender stereotypes, they are considered too soft. If they go against gender stereotypes, they are considered too tough.
“My observations show senior women to be at either end of the spectrum, drivers that do it themselves (even though they might have given it to someone). This type tends to give little recognition and is a perfectionist. The others are very effective delegators, giving lots of recognition and building loyal teams, but can be perceived as ‘not tough enough’” (U.S. man, age 35-44, level not specified).
The high competence threshold/lower rewards: Women leaders face higher standards than men leaders and are rewarded with less. Often they must work doubly hard to achieve the same level of recognition as men leaders for the same level of work and “prove” they can lead.
“Men and women are seen differently, and the difference in my experience and observation is that we (women) need to show it more times before they believe it. With a woman, they will want to see the behavior repeated more frequently before they will say that this is really part of the women [sic] and her capabilities” ( European woman, high-potential manager).
Competent but disliked: When women exhibit traditionally valued leadership behaviors such as assertiveness, they tend to be seen as competent but not personable or well-liked. Yet those who do adopt a more stereotypically feminine style are liked but not seen as having valued leadership skills.
“…it may just be that people are more sensitive to how women behave in that regard. There does seem to be a little more tolerance for harsh behavior from men rather than women. Women are quicker to get labeled, and with men, it’s easier to brush it off…” (High-potential woman, U.S.-based manager).
“I have experienced in the past that women can be distrusted in leadership roles, especially when they use a dominant style of communication. On the contrary, if they use a collaborative style serving their organization and empowering people, they get more recognition and sincere appreciation from their male equals” (Spanish man, age 31-35, middle management).