We have seen an increase in women taking on senior roles in the workplace in the last half-century, however negative attitudes towards women in these positions still exist. Research suggests that female managers are assessed less favourably than their male counterparts. This means that whilst it is becoming more common for us to see women in management we have not adjusted to accepting this change. It’s a sad truth that many of us don’t even realise we’re feeding into, even as women ourselves.
After a year in my workplace I came to realise that this attitude existed towards my Director. For a period of my time with the company she had been on maternity leave, but as her return to work approached, I began to feel anxious. Other staff members had already told me that she was difficult to work with. She had instilled fear in them, and I expected her rigid personality to disrupt the relaxed environment of our department. So, when she did finally return I was on edge, but her serious nature and the occasional times she’d flip-out because something frustrated her, set me right off. This made my work experience very tense as my team of writers worked very closely with her. Anytime she called my name, my chest would tighten in fear that she would ask me to do something and I wouldn’t be able to meet her standards. Regardless of how I felt, I had to work with her on numerous occasions.
I later came to understand that I didn’t enjoy the experience due to the fear I had curated in my head. Once our work was done and I reflected on our time together, I realised that my fright had been far from rational. She was blunt and a little controlling, but someone to be afraid of? Absolutely not. In fact, she wasn’t much different to some of the guys I’d worked with – and that’s when things began to click. A lot of men in the company were no different, so why weren’t they feared in the same way? It’s because female managers are villainized for adopting a ‘masculine’ style of leadership.
Stereotypical views of how men can act and how women should act are, of course, prevalent in the workplace. A ‘soft’ approach to leadership is deemed feminine, yet a soft leader is seen as incompetent. This is a problem for women, especially those in senior positions. Branding and Marketing specialist Theresa O’Neal says that female bosses fear showing their vulnerability as they “may not be seen as capable as our male counterparts.” In order to be deemed competent, women in senior positions have had to adopt an ‘alpha-male’ persona. A persona associated with being fearless, relentless and forceful. Yet, if women adopt this persona or are already like this in nature, they can also be seen as too harsh. This is of course unfair, as we do not judge men in the same way. If a man yells out an order it is expected of him as a leader, however if a woman asserts herself in the same way she is seen as intimidating, aggressive and overbearing.
It is a common misconception that this double standard is only practiced by men, as I have found, that is not always the case. The strength and confidence of a woman, especially one in a high position, can intimidate male and female workers. My boss wasn’t scary or particularly harsh, she was just doing her job. When I ignored the stories, stopped over-analysing her every move, and came to see my Director for who she really was, I found that she was a decent person who was really passionate about her job. Women shouldn’t have to adopt a ‘masculine’ persona to be taken seriously, but they shouldn’t have to forsake their true selves either. It’s about time we allow women to lead without judging their character.
By Anna Christian
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