We’re hearing it all around us, and not subtly either; women are tired of being told how they are expected to get ahead in the workplace. We’re not talking about classic tips regarding career management or assertion techniques – we’re speaking about the most archaic forms of people-management around: how to be liked as a woman in order to be successful at work. How pandering to the egos-that-be (usually men) should bring you the promotion you crave, albeit at 10%-20% lower pay than your male colleagues.
Even in Hollywood for the most successful female actors, having an opinion and not pouting your lips at the same time can be seen as problematic. Jennifer Lawrence didn’t cushion her words when she spoke out about having to first consider how she voiced her opinions or how she was pressured into maintaining an unhealthy body-weight and miserable diet to do so – things, she said, male actors didn’t have to even consider.
Away from the ‘glamour’ research shows that this is also something that happens more to women than men at work, where any assertiveness is deemed aggression and is noted as such on your annual review.
Any person good at their job and with an iota of ambition wants to see a job well done, that their colleagues deliver to a certain standard and gets frustrated with incompetence. And every person hopes to be generally liked and accepted in the workplace, but women especially appear to be seated under the sword of Damocles when it comes to being branded aggressive, mean or unlikable (instead of ambitious) and still being liked or promoted.
Furthermore, the traditional ‘characteristics’ of a female to be nice, kind, nurturing and supportive while carving a successful life for herself and her family while looking pretty and unflustered – stems from a world view that this is the only way to exist. And we, ladies, are all complicit.
We could insist on bringing up our girls, and boys of course, to learn that to communicate well is a skill we should all learn and that to be ambitious doesn’t imply that one gender will inherit the earth while the other languishes in frustration.
Instead of perching in a lady-like manner on this wall of uncertainty, we could choose to jump off and, like Jennifer Lawrence, tell the fabricators of this ‘norm’, where to go, politely of course.