Leading Ladies: Overcoming Stereotypes
We all know the truth — women were born to lead. We can achieve success in the workplace and even outperform men in leadership roles. Unfortunately, not everyone has come to this realization just yet. In fact, when it comes to women achieving power and leading in business, many obstacles still remain. One of the biggest hurdles facing working women today, believe it or not, is stereotyping. Despite the fact that women in power are growing in number, people maintain some of the harsh, long-lived stereotypes regarding such women. When people attach these pre-conceived notions to these leading ladies, not only is it frustrating, it’s also discouraging. The below stereotypes are the ones most often facing female bosses.
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Remember The Devil Wears Prada? Meryl Streep’s character, Miranda Priestly, who was widely believed to represent real-life Vogue editor Anna Wintour, demonstrates perfectly the “icy b*tch” stereotype. Such women don’t necessarily need white hair, but they’re thought to lack emotions and be driven by stop-for-nothing ambition with a no-sympathy policy when it comes to others’ affairs.
We know, of course, that no woman — or person, for that matter — can be totally void of emotion, regardless of how well she can hide it at work. Ambition is certainly not a bad trait, either, but maintaining a balance of ambition and empathy is important when it comes to leadership. People are more receptive to approachable leaders — female or not.
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Single men in leadership are called bachelors. Single women in leadership are called spinsters. In such cases, ladies are viewed as career-driven to a fault, while men are revered for their dedication. Unfair as it is, this is a popular stereotype facing female leaders. A woman dedicated to her job should not be ashamed — she should, however, make sure she has a healthy balance between work and play.
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Crack the whip and you’ll be facing the “tough” stereotype. In actuality, having a “no-nonsense” approach is not a bad thing in leadership, although it can sometimes be given a negative spin for working ladies.
Women are generally viewed as the gentler sex, so when women leaders step up and face situations with a “manly” and “tough” demeanor, it is given more emphasis in the way that woman is viewed. If you’ve been called “tough,” seek ways to relate and connect with your employees/coworkers that don’t require sacrificing your edge.
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Not tough enough? Be careful; you could be viewed as a weakling. It’s a truly delicate, fine line for women: too tough and you’re mean, too weak and you’re a pushover. For many women, unfortunately, it’s a real struggle to achieve a perfect balance. Try speaking in a louder tone and make demands rather than requests in question form to avoid this one.
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You don’t have to work for a construction company or the police force to be considered a masculine female leader. Women working in all areas are tagged with this stereotype. Again, it’s hard for women to find the perfect balance of “feminine” and “masculine” traits.
Quite stupidly, people think if a woman isn’t foremost kind or gentle — two “feminine” traits — that she’s “masculine.” She speaks loudly and makes demands? Masculine. Her closet is comprised of black and navy pantsuits? Masculine. There’s nothing wrong with dressing professionally and being an effective leader, obviously, so don’t cower away from such leadership practices.
Hopefully, there will be changes down the road, when women have exemplified characteristics like “powerful,” “ambitious” and “bold” consistently in the workplace. In time, we can strive to make these traits gender neutral or — dare I say it — feminine.
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The final and most crippling of the stereotypes — “emotional.” What does this mean, anyway? We let our moral convictions sway our decisions? Is that such a bad thing? It’s not as if women are having regular breakdowns in the office, so what does being “emotional” even entail?
Women’s emotions should be considered a workplace asset, actually. We’re notably more in-tune with the emotions of those around us, which boosts our ability to relate to others. It’s appealing for leaders to be real, approachable and human. No leader, male or female, should be walking around acting like a robot. Emotional, to an extent, is a good thing.
Annoying as they are, these stereotypes are not going to disappear overnight. We, as women, need to overcome the discouragement that accompanies these insulting generalities by facing them one day at a time. In time, the truth will reveal itself.