I spoke with a young woman the other day who was offended by my research that shows successful women leaders “temper their assertiveness’ and, “feminize leadership behaviors”, by bringing into the mix some stereotypic feminine characteristics like empathy, inclusiveness, nurturing. She said it was a message that she wouldn’t want to put out there! Hmmm. “We (think: younger women) don’t want to hear that stuff. We don’t believe in talking about masculinity and femininity because it has no meaning anymore.” Really?
What troubled me so much was the vehement reaction that a woman, early in her career, had about these research findings. And then I thought more about it and wonder whether this denial is pervasive throughout those in their late-twenties, early-thirties.
I well remember early in my career trying to make myself “gender neutral” so I could just be accepted as another professional along with the guys. But that was in the 80’s. Have we not come further in accepting that women can be themselves and be successful? Is it really so shocking that women who have successfully reached the top of their organizations balance our expectations of them as women and our expectations of them as a leader by integrating feminine characteristics and effective leadership characteristics? My early-in-her-career-woman immediately translated that into the women who are successful have to get men coffee! Really?
Stereotypes create barriers to success for women; that is true. But some characteristics that are associated with female stereotypes (think: collaborative-ness, inclusiveness) are valued; they make women AND men effective leaders. Today’s organizations need those “feminine” behaviors and it saddens me to think that yet another generation of women who are new in the workplace wants to diminish them.