Our current generations come from a time when all leaders were men. It makes sense, then, that when we think of a leader, we picture him with “male characteristics”: wearing a suit, being loud, strong, and assertive. Of course, these male characteristics are stereotypical, they are culturally constructed and part of our unconscious bias. This shouldn’t be the standard for neither men nor women (nor gender non-binary).
In this article, I’ll focus on women and how this view of stereotypical leaders affects us.
It is hard to be a woman in today’s world. Especially working in male dominated environments. We usually must go the extra mile to be seen and heard.
One thing that often happens to women trying to “fit in” is that they “turn into men”. They imitate the characteristics that they see in them -that they see in today’s leaders- to be part of “the club”. This is highly damaging, not only for women but for all people.
It is damaging for women because, as I mentioned, it demands this “extra effort”. Not only must we excel at our job, but also, we need to adopt a persona that is just not us.
This behavior crushes people’s individualities and personal, unique characteristics. It also perpetuates the stereotype.
I found myself in these situations several times. Below are some examples from my own personal experience:
Back in my consulting days, I received some “wardrobe” related advice which was: look like them. Soon after I started working with the C-suite, I began to wear pants and to greet people with a handshake (when culturally in LatAm I would have worn a dress and greeted people with a cheek kiss). I was unconsciously imitating the leaders I saw in power, trying to fit in, to be like them. Maybe, if I was like them, they would listen. Again, wrong approach.
Another advice I received was: shout louder. If you have an idea that you want to communicate; shout. I had to understand that people wouldn’t give me the space to speak unless I was loud. There are in fact many studies that show that in meetings, women’s ideas aren’t heard until they are suggested by a man. I wouldn’t let another person take credit for my ideas, so I did what I was taught. Yet again, wrong approach.
I share these stories of how I struggled and used these flawed techniques to be seen and heard. They are not flawed in the sense that they don’t work (because they often do). They are flawed because they promote a single way of leading, a single approach of making it to the top. These approaches continue to strengthen a stereotype that excludes great people from becoming incredible leaders.
We shouldn’t change who we are to be seen.
We shouldn’t have to shout louder to be heard.
I wrote this article sharing my personal experiences to reflect on how we think of leadership and to review what we are doing to promote better and more diverse leadership.
Are we creating workplaces that are safe and welcoming? Are we listening to all voices? Have we created the correct circumstances that allow the best talent to rise? Do we have the best possible leaders?
For more information on how to ensure a diverse and inclusive leadership please reach out to us at: firstname.lastname@example.org