Simply put, women in the workplace are at a distinct disadvantage. Women in business, including entrepreneurs and CEOs, have even the hardest, perhaps, because it is a traditionally very male field.
What is this disadvantage exactly? Well, according to stereotypes, women are weak. They focus on feelings, communication, and concern for everyone’s opinions; this makes people consider women less confident. However, a woman who acts in “male” ways makes men uncomfortable. All these barriers result in a situation where women are stuck in a double bind: they must project masculinity in order to overcome stereotypes about female weakness, but they cannot be too masculine without upsetting traditional gender and sexuality roles. Women must be feminine, yet the CEO must be masculine; female businesswoman must constantly negotiate how to project both images. The title of one recent study says it all: “Damned if You Do, Doomed if You Don’t”
Professor Lawrence Glick, of Lawrence University, has conducted many studies in women in the workplace. His overall conclusion is unfortunately depressing: “Most of what we learn shows that the problem is with the perception, not with the woman,” he said, “and that it is not the problem of an individual; it’s a problem of a corporation.” That’s right, it’s not the women; it’s the way other people look at the women. Yet, there are some major pitfalls you can avoid in order to get the respect you deserve.
1) Mingle with men. Men are much less likely than women to leave work during their prime years in order to raise children. As such, more men have more and better contacts than most women. While it might be nice to join a group of women professionals in order to have a support group, when it comes to networking, don’t shoot yourself in the foot.
2) Dress conservatively. This obviously goes without saying. Studies show that people take women executive less seriously when they are dressed in a sexy manner (though, it does not affect how seriously they take secretaries, interestingly enough). The perceptions of a man’s competence are not affected by their perceived sexiness. Yet, people like other attractive people. So dress well, have your clothes flattering, cleaned and ironed always, and wear tasteful makeup and jewelry. Our world associates beauty with goodness, but sexiness with stupidity. It’s a fine line. Of course, no matter how you dress, there is never any excuse to be sexually harassed by anyone. Women take this sort of harassment in silence every day, in all sorts of workplaces — I know I have. Don’t. Make sure sexual harassment is inexcusable in your workplace, for all of our sakes.
3) Stand up for yourself. In one experiment, Linda C. Babcock, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, recruited volunteers to play a board game. She told the volunteers ahead of time that they would receive $2 to $10 for their time. At the end, she gave them $3 and asked if that was enough. Men were eight times more likely to ask for more money than women. In another set up, in which participants were told that the salary was negotiable, 50% of women asked for more money — but so did 83% of men. Women need to recognize their skills, what they are worth, and not be afraid to make demands. Speak up and don’t avoid confrontations.
4) Project confidence. Make eye contact with everyone. And stop nodding your head. Women are more likely to avoid eye contact, which makes them come off as weak. They are also more likely to nod their head to show that they are paying attention, but that is often misperceived as agreement and submissiveness. Stand up straight and hold your own in a conservation. Don’t let anyone think you are a wilting flower.
5) Let loose. We as women work so damn hard to be taken seriously. We start off at a disadvantage, and so start off compensating for it before we even realize. And then there are the double standards — it’s okay for men to go get drunk after work but not women, okay for men to go have casual sex but not women, okay for men to break the rules and let lose, but not women. Firstly, people who have more fun are happier. Happier people are more successful because they are more confident and more pleasant to be around. Not only that, but they feel better about their success. Secondly, a little rule breaking is sometimes necessary. Especially for aspiring business tycoons and people in start-ups, sometimes it pays to go against the grain. Women need stop being proper ladies sometimes, when it is appropriate and beneficial.
The bottom line is don’t take any shit. Stand up for yourself, have faith in yourself, and project the image that you would like other people to see. Play business simulations like the CEO Game, read books, talk to professionals, and do all you can do to hone your skills. Don’t get fixated on trying to please everyone, because it’s never going to happen, and ignore the haters, men and women alike.
The CEO Game.