It’s a problem. We’ve all run across that woman in a leadership role who ends up being called a “bitch” behind her back. She manages to create the perfect storm of resentment and fear among her co-workers. But is she really a “bitch?” Is she acting in any way that different from what her male counterparts would do in a similar situation?
Often, my sense of it is that women in the workplace fail in “tough management” jobs due to (1) a disconnect between the way they look and the way they act, (2) the particular way in which they address confrontation, which often is much different from men, and (3) [and this will sound weird, but I think it’s true] the different intonation in a female voice versus a male voice.
Before everyone jumps on me for sexism, let’s be clear: there are distinct difference between men and women, in case you haven’t noticed. Un-PC thing #2, we all live our lives to varying degree by stereotypes. Sorry folks, it’s biologically built in. So, when we get a disconnect between what we subliminally expect and what would be normal male leadership behavior, our minds go tilt. Cognitive dissonance. That person must be a “bitch.” No, that person is just not behaving according to our stereotype influenced expectation for female behavior. You can train only a certain amount of that behavior out of a person… it’s still there lurking under the surface.
On the other side of the fence, the female leader must adopt different strategies when working with males, particularly those from other cultures where equality between the sexes is an anomaly. The female leader must be extremely careful in how they modulate their voice, the normal tightening of the vocal cords due to stress will result in what’s perceived to be a shrill voice. Ladies, lower your voice. Speak quietly and slowly. Remember, you are dealing with men, who are often much more emotionally immature than women. They will to varying degrees subliminally react to your stress in a prehistoric, biologically driven manner over which they have little control and no awareness.
The normal interaction of men in a workplace can be analyzed by analogy to herd patterns and dominance challenges in the animal kingdom. It’s biologically hard wired. Now, go throw a rogue female in there. See what happens. Welcome to the workplace, ladies.
Let’s take one issue that constantly crops up: a conflict arises between a female manager and a male subordinate. The conflict is resolved. Now what happens? Among males, the chances are that the conflict will be forgotten, life goes on as usual. What happens among females? Males perceive that females do not “forgive and forget” and that the conflict will remain forever in the history, to be dredged up at some future point. Females perceive that the conflict was a major statement of position, not to be forgotten or ignored. Cognitive dissonance.
Successful women managers must adopt a different approach to management. They are clear in their objectives, expectations, and consequences. When women manage according to their natural style, modulated by a keen understanding of how males react differently, things go well. When they try to adopt male patterns of behavior and management, chances are things are going to go haywire and descend into chaos sooner or later.
For a woman to survive and prosper in management requires an exceptional degree of social intelligence and sheer grit. My hat is off to those who are able to make it happen. They are truly outstanding. OK, so some of us neanderthals may interpret what they do and the way they react as “bitchy” behavior. Maybe it’s true, most probably it’s our own faulty perception.