The idea of what it means to be a professional woman has come a long way in the last fifty years. However, due to the specific set of milestones in women’s lives, they tend to face a unique set of challenges, especially when it comes to asserting their authority in the workplace.
Many women have expressed a rather perplexing catch 22 at workplace: If they display the stereotypical feminine traits - caring, open and kind - they are seen as less qualified to hold leadership positions than their male counterparts; on the other hand, if women display characteristics that are more associated with masculinity - being assertive, stoic and even aggressive - they are classified as bossy and domineering even though the men who display similar traits are praised as natural leaders. This paradox presents a challenge to the modern working woman. How can she advance to and successfully navigate leadership position without facing personal backlash by those beneath her station?
According to the Center for American Progress, although women make up the majority of the U.S. population and earn over 57% of all undergraduate degrees, they have substantially lower representation in leadership positions than men. While there are likely many reasons why this statistic exists, the reality is that it is essential for women in positions of leadership to find ways to command a greater sense of respect in their leadership role. The following tips could serve as a useful guide on how to come off as assertive and confident in the workplace without seeming overly aggressive.
1. Stop Apologizing
You have every right to express your opinion and you do not need to apologize for having a say. Going along with this, eliminating qualifying and permission statements in your speech and writing can have a positive effect on the way your coworkers view you. Phrases like, I think, Just, and Maybe, indicate uncertainty; therefore, by avoiding these phrases you can easily come across as more self assured and confident. Furthermore, statements like May I, Sorry, and Excuse Me, while seen as polite in moderation, can lead people to believe that you are less competent than you are. That being said, still being able to recognize when you’ve made a mistake and making amends for that mistake is crucial to being a good leader.
2. Be Succinct and Direct
While men are highly valued for speaking at length about a given topic, women are criticized for doing the same. Therefore, it becomes crucial for women in the workplace to be able to express their thoughts and opinions in a straightforward and concise manner, both in their professional writings and in their speech. Also, always support your claims with sound logic, numbers, and objectivity.
3. Utilize Dominant Body Language
Your body language can convey a lot of information about you as a person. Adopting more dominant postures such as standing tall, draping your arm over the back of a chair, and crossing your ankle over your knee, while simultaneously speaking in a relatively neutral or friendly manner, can help you to assert your position of authority without facing the negative backlash that comes with a leadership position.
4. Keeping the Conversation Friendly
Demonstrating powerful body language while simultaneously keeping the conversation friendly and open is a great way for women to embody the strengths of both male and female characteristics. This can give the impression that you are both open and friendly while still commanding respect and displaying your authority. One way to keep the conversation open and friendly is to actively listen and follow up with questions for the other party. This shows that you are critical yet interested and engaged.
5. Demonstrate Empathy
The ability to express empathy is probably one of the greatest female-attributed strengths that a leader can exhibit. Showing that you care and that you respect those working under you can significantly increase the respect that your employees have for you, making them far more likely to follow your lead. Leading with empathy is a demonstration of your ability to motivate others, rather than commanding by exerting your authority in an aggressive manner.
Empathy also comes in handy when you are in a position to deliver bad news. A good strategy would be to open with something positive, followed by how the decision was made, then expressing your understanding of its impact on the other party, before ending with a suggestion for the next steps. Some phrases that can also be useful to exhibit empathy are “I understand you,” and “Instead of doing A, have you considered B?”.
All in all, finding the balance between being assertive and being feminine in a position of leadership is a tricky line to walk but is one that is, unfortunately, still necessary for many women in order to advance their careers. However, there are techniques that women can incorporate to maximize their chances of success in the professional world, and many women leaders and mentors who have walked the path exist in the entrepreneurship ecosystem to help other women reach their potentials.
If you need more help with navigating the professional workplace, please leave a comment below or send Kay-Tee a direct message!