Stereotyping of women in leadership

Women in leadership positions face several types of stereotyping. As a 21st century workforce striving for equality between the sexes, we must begin with awareness and sensitization to workplace mindsets, biases and dynamics that affect women in ways that are unseen and often unnoticed.

In an article, Jill Abramson, the first woman executive editor of the New York Times, was described by her staffers as “impossible to work with,” and “not approachable” This was just a few days after the paper won four Pulitzer prizes, the third highest number of Pulitzers ever received by the newspaper.

No eyebrows were raised. This is a commonplace stereotyping of women leaders. High achieving women are easily branded as “too aggressive”, just one of the many different types of stereotyping women are faced with… Although over the recent years women have scaled many rungs of the corporate and political ladder and continue to hold key leadership positions as heads of state and billion dollar companies, they are never too far away from careless and hackneyed stereo typing based on their gender that subverts their status and abilities. Most women leader have risen to their positions of power despite the stereotyping.

Gender and career experts have examined the dangerous notions about female success and how they seep into the collective subconscious.

Too Aggressive or Too Weak : While women often do well in collaborative leadership, when it comes to taking an authoritative position, women leaders are quickly labelled as too tough, too aggressive and Egoistic. Just being assertive or knowing her mind and speaking it has women leaders being perceived as to aggressive.

As a flip side to this same coin, since women leaders tend to be more compassionate and understand that getting results are a collaborative effort, they tend to strive at inclusion, and research has shown that they get easily branded as “Too Weak”. A label that affects their opportunities at moving upwards towards higher positions with the organization that may require tougher decisions.

Heartless Power Mongers: In the movie “The Devil Wear Prada”the protagonist is painted as an unsympathetic and ruthless slave driver. This character was loosely based on Vogue Magazines Editor in Chief Anna Wintrow, who is one on the most powerful personalities of the fashion world and whose personality has been exaggerated by the media (and the above film) as ruthless and power hungry. She however, does not consider herself as intimidating or powerful. In an interview, she says that she “Just keeps her head down and does her work to the best of her ability”.

Masculine: It is now well known that Margaret Thatcher made a transformation of her image, particularly in the way she dressed and her voice, in order to be heard and perceived as a distinct voice of power in a “man’s world of politics” she was groomed to make appearances only in sober monotone suits and abandon all “frills, dresses and jewelry”She only got to keep the string of pearls because she absolutely insisted on it. She was made to drink warm water with lemon so that her voice would be less strained and acquire a lower pitch when she makes her speeches so that she does not sound like a “shrill, high pitched and excited woman”.

In more recent times we can see this form of “masculine” dressing in Indira Nooyi, Head of Pepsi, where the only hint of femininity comes from single pearl drop earrings. Even powerful and smart women leaders are often forced to conform to male biases that being too feminine is a deterrent to be being perceived as strong leader.