Many women live like it’s a dress rehearsal. Ladies, the curtain is up and you’re on. ~ Mikki Taylor
There are many reasons why women appear to be less confident than men in the workplace. Social norms, cultural customs, the work environment, personal experience of authority, temperament… We are conditioned from birth to conform to the norms of our environment however, men and women are not the same.
Before you go up in flames over my politically incorrect sentiment, consider this. Men are not hard women and women are not soft boys. We are different and I for one choose to celebrate these differences. Where this truth becomes a problem is in social/cultural/work norms where a specific type of personality, characteristic, or behaviour is rewarded and all others dissed, dismissed, or punished. Up until very recently, aggressive, in-your-face, authoritarian leadership was expected in the C-suites, and any other form of CEO behaviour was regarded with suspicion if not outright scorn. When a woman leads using this ‘Alpha male’ persona, she is labelled with all sorts of unsavoury, demeaning epithets …because social/cultural/ norms don’t allow for women to exercise authority like a man. But – if she leads “like a woman,” she’s dismissed, patronised, or ridiculed.
Here’s the real problem – take Marissa Mayer as an example. Everyone is watching her every move as Le Grande Fromage at Yahoo. Reviews are all over the map – just Google her and read a few of them. She gets it from all sides. The men think she’s too soft on this or that problem, and the women think she’s too harsh or aggressive about that or this problem. If she acts like a male CEO, the media trumpets how she’s forgotten her gender and is “acting” like a man; if she acts like a woman CEO, the media trumpets how she’s too soft, she’ll never handle all the “hard” responsibilities of being in the C-Suite.
What’s with that?
The article that caught my eye (and spawned this post) makes the argument that men are more likely to be promoted through self-promotion ~ even if they aren’t truly qualified for the job, they talk like they are. People listen, and after the promotion, the man simply does the “fake it til you make it” two-step. Does he ever admit he probably doesn’t have the experience and/or the knowledge to do the job at hand?
Women, on the other hand, appear to shoot themselves in the left foot by not speaking up when they truly are competent. We are traditionally reluctant to blow our own horns and thus miss out on opportunities for promotion, added experiences, or moving up into positions of leadership.
In other words, talking takes precedence over actual competence.
There’s lots of reasons for these behaviours in both genders, and it’s not going to change without committed leadership in the C-suites acknowledging the truth of this conundrum, and deliberately counter-acting these cultural norms in ways that don’t accept talk as synonymous with competence, and judge a lack of confidence as evidence of incompetence.
Changing corporate culture and societal norms is like the ‘turning a ship’ metaphor. The Captain called for a radical change in direction but the ship is just now responding to the helm and beginning to swing into the wind as requested about a hundred miles ago. This is a good thing – we’re headed into the wind and progress in the new direction will be made – if we keep this ongoing discussion front and center.