Hilary Clinton and Carly Fiorina are ferociously breaking down barriers and proving that tough female leaders can thrive in a “Man’s World”
When I joined the Military almost a decade ago, a retired female Colonel told me that my greatest power as a woman was my empathy- because that is the one thing that emotionally deprived Soldiers desperately need from women in leadership roles.
Understandably, this Colonel came from an era where women were admired for their patience, understanding and grace. Conversely, men were encouraged to be, well, men. Stoic, hard-nosed men.
Fortunately, not all men are made from rock and not all women are made from sugar and spice. Some women are made from iron and nails and run nose to nose with their ambitious male counterparts in the workplace. And these women are now having a spotlight shined on them thanks to aspiring females who have shattered the glass ceiling- women like Hilary Clinton and Carly Fiorina.
So, what are the challenges facing powerful female leaders in the workplace?
1. People are quick to question their leadership skills and capabilities.
Women are often perceived as having inferior rationality and reasoning skills (I won’t even touch math and science abilities) compared to their male counterparts. This makes not only competing for management positions a challenge (especially ones that require strategic thinking), but competing for competitive pay an uphill battle as well.
2. People assume emotions, not rationality, drive their decision-making.
The idea that women are emotional creatures, driven solely by their feelings and not the facts at hand is a deep-rooted misconception in many workplaces. Women often find themselves having to defend their position and prove their point to a greater extent than a male co-worker would.
3. They are viewed as cold and bitchy rather than direct and to the point.
Men who are regarded as formidable are seen as strong leaders that often rise quickly and easily to top management roles. They are rarely judged on their demeanor, but rather on their vision and results. Conversely, a woman’s persona often affects how others feel about her, clouding the importance of her efforts. If a female is viewed as a “bitch”, there’s not much chance she’ll be considered for a promotion- is there?
4. Their drive to succeed is misconstrued as trampling over others to climb the corporate ladder.
Improving an organization’s efficiency and productivity is a difficult task, especially for women. Many are quick to assume that an ambitious woman is only out to benefit herself and has little concern for the good of the group. Promoting people and tasks is a delicate balance, and it is unfortunate when drive is confused for a lack of caring about the people who do the work.
5. They must work harder and longer to prove themselves than their male counterparts.
Women have to work longer hours to prove their worth, especially in jobs that are dominated by men (i.e. law enforcement, military and engineering). If men are dominating the workforce, it is inevitable that the perception is- well, men must just be better at this job. Women not only have to break past this initial misconception to get into those jobs, but continue to break down walls to be placed in management positions as well.
6. They have to prove themselves as a dominant, alpha leader.
Women have to prove themselves not only as an alpha female, but an alpha leader as well. Without establishing dominance, a woman in charge may quickly find her decisions and authority being challenged by employees and co-workers alike.
7. Showing a warm, caring demeanor is showing weakness.
The women who struggle the most in positions of increasing responsibility are women who have a warm and caring demeanor. Although they are fully capable, these women are often viewed as being more sensitive than their male counterparts and unable to handle the stress and tough decision-making that the supervisory role requires.
8. People assume they will be an overly stern boss because they have a point to prove.
How many times have you heard someone say, “I would rather be pulled over by a male cop than a female cop”? This statement is made because many people assume that a woman’s judgement can be clouded by her efforts to work in a male-dominated field. It is a terrible misconception that industrious women can’t find a balance between rationality and diligence.
9. Their ambition is seen as intimidating, not inspirational.
The most unfortunate struggle of all is that women in leadership roles who have accomplished inspiring feats are often perceived as simply- intimidating. A woman’s strength should be admired and her achievements and management skills taken at face value.