Having a woman set to represent a major political party in the race for the U.S. presidency is historical. I wish this could be the only way gender is a factor. How much of her low favorability ratings do you think are driven by unconscious gender bias?
The young lawyer worked long hours, did great work, served on firm committees and got along with clients and colleagues. At her performance review, the senior partner noted all of these strengths. But he identified one “area of improvement”: “You are lacking in humility,” he said. I suspect the “double bind” is at play. The double bind is the tightrope women must walk. If they work and behave in more feminine ways, they are not seen as leaders. If they act in masculine ways (or too masculine or too often), they are disliked.
In many parts of the world, women’s voices are suppressed. In our western culture, in particular in the U.S. corporate world, women’s voices are not “suppressed.” But they are often not fully heard. Why not? Let me suggest four challenges, with the hope that awareness can help us better hear women’s voices right here in the USA. The feminine style of speech sounds less confident. Women assert themselves only when they really know. Women get “talked over.” And women who do speak up face the “double bind.”
Women often complain about having a bad woman boss, generalizing their criticism to all women. In a difficult relationship between a woman boss and female subordinate, there is often a generational difference. While inter-generational differences can play a role, I think, the conflict is mostly based on deeply rooted gender issues. Women are less comfortable in a hierarchical relationship with another woman. And women share a culturally-based sense that men deserve top positions more than women.
While there are many successful women in sales, proportionally fewer are good at selling themselves (e.g., as a provider of professional services). Both older and younger women have a hard time “tooting their own horn.” Women find it easier, in general, to sell others and may do a “soft sell.” Reluctance to sell oneself is deeply rooted in nature (brain structure and hormones) and nurture. The “confidence gap” may affect some women’s ability to sell themselves.
Are there different or more difficult challenges in the area of business development for women vs. men? Women in general express less confidence and have a harder time “tooting their own horn” or selling themselves. In building relationships with male prospects, women have to choose a social setting that is comfortable for both – and does not look like a “date” or “come on.” Women need to stretch their boundaries and learn to enjoy “male” sports – like golf; that is where business is developed! There may be leftovers of old ways of thinking about women. Male prospects may have different or lower cultural expectations about women.