We’re sure you’ve heard some of these - perhaps subliminally or full-on experienced them in day-to-day work life. The spectrum for stereotypes about working women is wide, varied & so normalized by decades of regressive stimuli, that these often breeze through & escape notice with even the most assertive of us!
We’d like to debunk a few today. Because you know, it's 2020 - we’re well into the 21st century. And these deserve a good shattering.
*ALERT* - The titles of these stereotypes are as unreasonable & ridiculous as the stereotypes themselves.
TAMING THE SHREW
“A man told me that for a woman, I was very opinionated. I said, ‘For a man, you’re kind of ignorant.’” - Anne Hathaway
Unlike its Shakespearean title, this stereotype is a doozy. Ever been advised or mentored to be less opinionated and less ‘harsh’ at work? If yes, then many women in the corporate world would relate with you on a global scale!
In an eye-opening ‘Fortune’ article, writer Kieran Snyder describes ‘the abrasiveness trap’ and takes a closer look at how working women are likely to miss out on promotions & get a lower rated performance review in male-dominated industries (such as tech) for being assertive and essentially daring to do ‘male business’ things that their male counterparts get praised for.
A common problem even today, it's not unbeatable by any means.
Finding your tribe, like-minded people, allies & other women (if possible) who understand and have been through similar experiences at the office is key. Share your stories and connect the dots on patterns of behaviour and preferences given. Keep your receipts for when you need to call things out for what they are, and most importantly - keep being you, and keep being as assertive as you would like to be. Period.
WORK & THE BABY
“Get rid of the guilt. When you’re at one place, don’t feel bad that you’re not at work; when you’re at work, don’t feel bad that you’re not at home.” – Katie Couric
A working mom has it especially rough in the arena of stereotypes. Many times, she finds herself in a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ kind of a scenario. On one end, she is made to feel guilty for not giving her child her full attention (we’re totally side-eyeing this one) and on the other hand she is made to feel like she can’t give her 100% at work since she is also a mother.
Like a candle burning on both ends, this no-win situation leads to several assumptions about working mothers that affect their careers fundamentally.
A catch-22 situation like this, can be eased by communication.
Set the right expectations with your managers, employers and co-workers from the get go. Leave no room for assumptions and frankly discuss your boundaries with those around you. Also, according to this article by HBR, as a working mother it is vital to foster healthy gender parity, support and sharing of responsibilities with your partner at home.
Pssst… want to blow off some steam and have light hearted, oh-so-relatable fun? We’re huge fans of the ‘Working Moms’ series on Netflix - check it out if you haven’t!
WHAT WOMEN WANT
“People respond well to those who are sure of what they want.” - Anna Wintour
What do women want? Movies have been made and poetries have been written, exploring this conundrum. And that’s exactly the problem. The ‘women don’t know what they want’ trope is particularly damaging when it comes to working women looking for more responsibility, career advancement and leadership roles.
The notion that gender plays any role in the matter is ridiculous, but regardless, women are often thought of as indecisive and emotional when it comes to making key business choices for no other reason but for the fact that they are female.
Well, we would like to put this to rest once and for all. There are people who have great decision making skills, and there are those that aren’t. It is a skill like any other & can be learnt and mastered by all human beings.
How to deal with a stereotype this unreasonable?
Stay assertive and lean in with your talents & hard work - here’s a reading list recommended by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, to help you do just that! We cannot change the perceptions of others and generations of societal conditioning with a snap, but we can choose to deal with it in a way that aligns with our work purpose, builds healthy discussions, & focuses on the ‘why’ that kick-started our career journey.
THE DRAGON LADY
"I want every little girl to whom someone says 'they're bossy' to be told instead, 'you have leadership skills’.” - Sheryl Sandberg
While many of the stereotypes discussed on this list inhibit women’s roles and actively interfere with the access they have to leadership positions, this stereotype deals with the way women are referred to, treated at work & even depicted in popular media, when they do manage to be a boss & secure that corner office.
‘The dragon lady’, ‘Ice queen’, ‘bossy’ - these are a few common tropes attributed to women who are leaders, opinionated and, thought-building expressionists in their careers. Successful & ambitious women are often painted as unsympathetic, imposing power-mongers for showing competence and being forthright - qualities that are often praised in male leaders.
It can be disheartening to reach success and get a chance to lead while also being aware that you would be villainized for it - a case that many women feel.
How does one manage this?
Break the ice with your team, subordinates and co-workers by moving into male-dominated spaces fearlessly and leading through value-oriented action and conversations. You do not have to limit yourself because of the fear of being called these names & simply expressing that, can be a stepping stone towards overcoming such hurdles.
Know more about how we bought into the myth of the ‘bitchy boss’ here & share it with those who would benefit from a read like this one!
A SMILE A DAY
“The more stories I heard, the more I tried to talk about the problem. And yet time and time again I found myself coming up against the same response: You're making a fuss about nothing. You're overreacting. You're uptight, or frigid. You need to learn to take a joke, get a sense of humor, lighten up... You really need to learn to take a compliment.” - Laura Bates
Oh we’re just going to go in on this one! Let's be clear - asking a woman to ‘smile’ at work is a micro-aggression with a disproportionate impact on their promotions and performance reviews.
A survey conducted by a direct-to-consumer company Byte-me, reveals that 98%women have been asked to ‘smile more often’ at least once in their lifetimes, with roughly 1 in 3 women working in mid level and senior and executive roles receiving requests to smile more regularly. While to many, it may feel like they’re giving ‘harmless advice’, the repercussions of this tactic leaves women feeling stereotyped & demeaned.
Faced this one in your day-to-day too?
Counter. Decline. Ignore. Read more on how to respond to being asked to smile at work in this fantastic article by Ruchika Tulshyan, author of ‘The Diversity Advantage’.
WHERE’S THE AMBITION?
“I’m totally unapologetic about being an ambitious woman, and you should be, too.” - Shinjini Das
Due to lack of mentorship, and unfair difficulties in managing work-life balance, including being given the tag of the ‘primary caregiver’, working women are assumed to be lacking in ambition. Obviously, this leads to them not being at the forefront of getting promoted to leadership positions.
Here’s a chart based on a Feb 2020 survey of around 1,068 working women (US):
Clearly, as seen above, many women feel ambition in the course of their careers, but tend to not use the ‘A’ word for the fear of being perceived as overbearing or abrasive. Men, on the other hand, don’t feel the same way and are extremely forthcoming about wanting leadership positions - thus accelerating their careers forward in a more obvious manner. Don’t pull yourself up short.
Get comfortable with the ‘A’ word.
Talk about your ambition more openly, stand up for the things that you want and hope to achieve more often, in clearer and straightforward ways.
Here’s a Business Insider article with psychologist recommended strategies to help women embrace their ambitions.
“‘What’s your favorite position?’ - ‘CEO.’” - Lauren Conrad
Too weak, too masculine. Too abrasive, too soft. Too emotional. Ice queen, conniving. The list is endless - and it has no foundation in reality or logic. Thanks, patriarchy.
Maybe it's because working women have to overlook such innumerable labels, develop a thick skin & work ten times harder to achieve a leadership role, that they are known to bring undeniable benefits to the stature of a leader.
In India, female bosses are known to have a higher score across the board and they are known to have higher social intelligence, be more collaborative and lead through knowledge and empathy in the bigger picture. As of 2020, the number of female CEOs in fortune 500 companies, though still extremely unbalanced compared to the number for male leadership, has reached an all time high.
If you have read this article up to this point, then you are definitely someone who strives for limitless potential and has the required drive to gun for a leading role in whichever field of work you operate in. We would like to take this minute to actively encourage you to do so & urge you to have a deep sense of self-belief and awareness when pursuing it. More representation by women in the top rungs of the ladder is just what’s needed to create real, actionable and much needed change in our world.
Go for it fearlessly and in your own way!
Need a pick-me-up and a surge of female power before a big meeting? We've got just the background music you need to pump you up like never before - because, best believe, we’re headed to the top so we can get a better view!
ROLLERCOASTER OF EMOTIONS
“We’re considered to be difficult when we get angry, whereas men are perceived as being tough and powerful. I’m going to be labeled as a ball-buster and men are going to be labeled as take-charge.” - Denise Dudley
Oh, the weeping damsel! The lady in distress! This is a stereotype we’ve been fed since our childhood - from fairy tales to sugary ‘chick-flicks’, with the female protagonists portrayed as emotional, & neurotic as ever, and the male protagonists pitching in with stereotypical chivalry and bravado.
While it doesn’t translate with quite such an intensity as the movies in the workplace, its subliminal presence in the notions about working women and the work they can handle, serves to promulgate this regressive stereotype.
Ever felt gaslighted at work when raising an issue or pursuing something with passion as being too ‘emotional’?
Know that it is not about you and keep being your authentic self in the face of this overtly unreasonable stereotype. As Michelle Obama said, in a one-on-one with Oprah, on being labelled constantly as an ‘angry black woman’; live your life out loud & know that none of these labels define you. They say more about the ones doing the labelling instead.
“Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world” - Hillary Clinton
Let’s have the uncomfortable conversation about ‘token diversity’ - especially in higher positions and leading job roles. Women hold just 16% of corporate board seats globally. But instead of focusing on balancing things out, they are often devalued as being a “token” of diversity rather than having earned the post.
Ignoring the sheer hard-work, and the drive to lead against all odds, women are many times treated as the supporting stars, whether it be in the boardroom or in comparison to their male counterparts. It’s high time to lay this out - women are not meant to be in the shadows, they are meant to achieve their career destinies, grow & thrive in their own right, while being fairly represented in positions of power. Cue in the applause.
Let’s reinforce & express our collective power by developing some bad-ass skills individually, ladies!
Hone in the power of strong negotiation skills, know your worth & be wary of any work-place culture that capitalizes on dulling your shine. Don’t mistake us, being a strong negotiator can be done in multiple ways while staying true to individual personas. It can be subtle & aggressive - it all depends on finding your own personal style & learning the essential mind tools for effective negotiation. Little do they know, we come prepared for the spotlight!
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On the real though? Battling and shattering stereotypes while also doing your best and the most in your career can feel exhausting. There are times when feeling powerless comes with the territory.
We get it. It’s not always possible to feel the drive & be positive when there are so many chips stacked up against you. Take your time to feel these emotions when they hit you. Take that bubble bath, listen to that playlist - do nothing for a day! Give yourself all the space to do what makes you genuinely happy.
Let it all pass through you unapologetically and supercharge for the work week. We’re rooting for you to come back to work stronger, more centered & bad-ass everyday. Because here’s the real truth of the matter - there is no label & no ceiling that can contain us forever!
Got a story to tell? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to share or be featured! Your voice is what matters the most & makes our community stronger with each new day. So sound off, sister!
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Neha Sane is TBD’s resident foodie, a literature lover & an advocate for inclusivity in fashion & media. Fuelling a drive to work with meaning & purpose, she is her happiest when interacting with new faces from our inspiring community.