Thursday, November 01, 2007

Be Nice, But Not Too Nice

Yet another relevant article on the topic of Women at Work. Lisa Belkin today dissects the various research that has been conducted recently in determining how people perceive woman at work. This involves taking into account her expression of emotions, how she dresses, and all the other hard-to-nail-down instances of how women are easily kept out of the top tiers of leadership.

[Of course I found much of this striking a chord with my own current situation. One of my confidantes here said that a possible reason for my ouster was that my amazing capabilities and intelligence (yes, that was said about me, and it felt great to know that someone thinks so highly of me) may have threatened a few people. I think this would be an example of a woman being unafraid to voice new ideas, and being "unfeminine." One thing I've learned from this office is that double-standards rule.]

I think the research presented by the group Catalyst, headed by Ilene Lang was the most clear cut on the damning situation for women at work:

Catalyst’s research is often an exploration of why, 30 years after women entered the work force in large numbers, the default mental image of a leader is still male. Most recent is the report titled “Damned if You Do, Doomed if You Don’t,” which surveyed 1,231 senior executives from the United States and Europe. It found that women who act in ways that are consistent with gender stereotypes — defined as focusing “on work relationships” and expressing “concern for other people’s perspectives” — are considered less competent. But if they act in ways that are seen as more “male” — like “act assertively, focus on work task, display ambition” — they are seen as “too tough” and “unfeminine.”

Women can’t win.

In 2006, Catalyst looked at stereotypes across cultures (surveying 935 alumni of the International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland) and found that while the view of an ideal leader varied from place to place — in some regions the ideal leader was a team builder, in others the most valued skill was problem-solving. But whatever was most valued, women were seen as lacking it.

I'm very intrigued by the work presented by Catalyst, and it even crossed my mind to look into a job there. Sadly, it would involve relocating out of state, which is not a possibility until Nate finishes graduate school.

Some of these perception issues continue to pop up, time and again, and in order to avoid them in the future, I've been trolling various websites for advice on keeping on top of the situation. I've found some helpful pieces on Damsels in Success, and some of the other sites you'll find listed under "Recommended Reading" on the sidebar.

It's odd to be learning about these things while I'm already out in the world; I wish I'd been prepared in high school or college. But then again, my high school's entire mission was to get me into college, and at college, I spent all my time studying or working to pay for college. How ironic.

Maybe my next venture could involve training high school girls to anticipate these situations? It's certainly food for thought.

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