Are you struggling to get rid of that stigma attached to being an ambitious woman in the workplace? Is there forever this balancing act between your femininity and hardcore corporate attitude that is required if you have any plans of advancing in the workplace?
Will there ever be true gender equality, or is it exactly those differences between man and woman that will set you apart from all the other suits?
According to Catherine Tinsley, professor of management and head of the Management Group at the Georgetown University’s School of Business, women working to advance in the workplace usually experience either that they are perceived as being poorer leaders than men, or that – if they show their true competence in this area – they are socially punished.
Can you find a middle ground? A balance between the two behavioural extremes?
A study helps
In Tinsley’s study on ‘Punishing female negotiators for asserting too much … Or not enough: when advocacy moderates backlash’ it is revealed that understanding why and when backlash occurs can go a long way in perfecting this balancing act.
Three principles to follow
Three principles or strategies flow from the study: Advocate for others, share your success and strike when the resources are plentiful.
Principle no 1: Advocate for others
Follow your inborn motherly instinct of speaking out for others and being supportive. “There is growing evidence that when women wield power and assert themselves on behalf of others, they are able to do so effectively and without incurring social repercussion,” says Tinsley.
There is an important key phrase in this: ‘on behalf of others’. If you do this on behalf of yourself, you will suffer the wrath of both men and women as it goes against the selfless characteristic society expects from women. Make this a key strategy to adopt in the workplace. The more you practice this, the more likely you will get respect and trust from those around you. What people want the most from leaders is to feel safe, and there is no better way to do this. “Women leaders can be seen as very effective if the beneficiaries of the female leader’s efforts are her team members,” according to Tinsley.
In another recent study is was revealed that asking for resources for both ‘on behalf of others’ and ‘on behalf of self’ is possible if you do it the right way. The secret is to ask for both together. Change your ‘my’ and ‘I’ to ‘us’ and ‘we’. Following this strategy you will be able to successfully get what you are asking for without the normal ‘backlash’ result that follows after such a request.
Principle no 2: Share your success
“Female leaders can advance by others speaking out for them – conferring upon them the social status needed to endow female leaders with the legitimacy to be assertive,” according to Tinsley. In a study that is still to be published, called ‘Ask and ye shall receive? How gender and status moderate negotiation success’ it was found that if a woman’s status is not reinforced by someone else, women are seen to have lower status than men who are in positions equal to theirs.
When women with this lower status then behave assertively, self-interested or seek resources, they are treated differently to women whose statuses were reinforced by another. The latter are treated the same as their male counterparts.
So you will do well to earn the respect of others (through principle no 1, amongst others), so they can openly speak out on your behalf, confirming and so reinforcing your status. When people are treated with respect and as if they have high status, they tend to return the favour.
Principle no 3: Strike when resources are plentiful
“Female leaders can advance through social opportunities created by abundant resources,” according to Tinsley’s studies. The findings suggest that women can act more assertively, wield more power, and even act ‘on behalf of themselves’ if resources are plentiful. This is for the simple reason that people are less wound up if there are a lot of resources to go around. This gives male and female leaders more freedom to do what they want to advance in the workplace.
And it is exactly then that you need to jump a few steps on the ladder and take full advantage of the looser, less judgemental environment.
The abundance of resources in larger firms compared to that of smaller firms may explain why women are more likely to make it to the top in those larger firms. “However, even among larger firms, only during times of economic downturn was there any evidence of gender effect on firm risk-taking” says Tinsley. This confirms the notion that you should take full advantage while there is a gap.