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.
One of the mindsets that create obstacles for women in the workplace is “unconscious images.” We have mental pictures of how leadership looks and what women want and can do. In our workshops, we bring this and other mindsets to conscious awareness. In the news, we see women leaders and experts, including Fortune 500 CEO’s. Lean-In.org and Getty Images have joined these efforts to broaden our images of women’s potential. They have published a gallery of 2,500 images of women and men that challenge old stereotypes.
McKinsey & Company issues an annual report called “Women Matter.” McKinsey has researched the bottom-line value of gender diversity, what has been effective in successful gender diversity initiatives – and what is still in the way. One of the things in the way is “unacknowledged mindsets.” “Cultural factors” are a key reason so few women reach the top. Culture reflects the “mindsets” of an organization’s leaders. The key to creating an inclusive culture is bringing unconscious mindsets to consciousness so attitudes and behaviors shift. In our workshops, we help bring awareness to those mindsets – the double bind, the comfort principle and unconscious images.
In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg points to internal barriers that hold women back. Many are just “feminine” ways. Women are wired and acculturated to value relationships more than status and to avoid bragging. This looks like lower ambition. Women tend to speak more humbly; this looks like lower confidence. I agree that, to make it to the top, women must demonstrate ambition and confidence. But my hope is that one day leaders will understand and appreciate feminine as well as masculine style and see leadership in both.