Women have been climbing the rungs of power but still are undervalued and under-appreciated due to their gender. No matter how brilliant they are or how remarkable their work ethic is, they are often summed up by hackneyed stereotypes that often pull them down. That explains why the male to female ratio in India’s top companies is 10:1, which is quite discouraging.
Over time I have interacted with many women who weighed in on the destructive notions that people have about powerful women. The following are a few most hated and outrageous stereotypes.
1. Cold And Heartless
Dispassionate objectivity so prized among men is often perceived as cold and unfeeling in women. “Successful women make people feel uncomfortable. They are seen as somehow unfeminine or unnatural and in need of being brought down a peg or two. And the best way to wrangle them back into manageability is to remind them of the fact that, regardless of their achievements, they will be judged first and foremost as women, and found wanting.” said Laura Bates, author of ‘Men who hate women.’
2. Single And Lonely
It’s true that an unmarried professional can dedicate many hours to their career growth but the advantages of a single life vary by gender. Whitney Johnson, author and speaker, has some brilliant insight “For men it's an advantage because it grounds men, gives a sense of purpose, and provides credibility in the workplace...For women it's mixed. The burden of parenting tends to fall to women. There is a juggling that has to take place that makes it less attractive to an employer and makes it harder for women to focus on the short term." Sushmita Sen has drawn a lot of attention for being a single mother and she says “I am secure in my choice and in being so, I can respect and appreciate another’s choice, whatever it may be. After all, singles or doubles, we play to win.”
3. Too Masculine
I think we all agree that when it comes to advancing in a male centric work environment, women have to elbow their way to the top. A study shows that women who have masculine traits get 1.5 times more promotions than women with feminine traits. O’Neill, assistant professor, says, “Women with ultrafeminine traits, in fact, are still seen as less competent in traditional managerial settings... To be successful, you must be assertive and confident, but if you are aggressive as a woman you are sometimes punished for behaving in ways that are contrary to the feminine stereotype.”
4. Too Emotional
Female leaders are often accused of being too emotional at work. They are accused of having many feminine flaws like being over sensitive, highly emotional and taking things too personally. “Frustration was the hardest to contain for me. I cry because I care and I don't know how to stop caring.” says Oprah. Women are not allowed to be their authentic sleeves at work, “I’m really self-conscious about uncontrollable emotion and that it may reflect poorly on my leadership skills. As women, we go against so much to get ahead, and I wouldn’t want an emotional outburst of any kind to overshadow my hard work.” says Tanvi, a lawyer.
5. A Token
Only 17.1% women hold higher positions like that of a CEO in a company. Even though they are hired for their talent they are often devalued as being a diversity project. Women try their best to be a part of a team that’s predominantly male despite the potential psychological toll of being a “token.” Choosing to be a team’s token—a member who’s held up superficially as a symbol of diversity—can be isolating and hurt performance. Women often feel isolated and often end up blaming themselves for any problems. Kanter, author of ‘Men and women of the corporation, says, “She felt guilty at jeopardising the opportunities of other women. She also suffered stress related physiological effects such as insomnia, high susceptibility to infections etc.”
I hope the days of bottled up emotions and pretending to be someone else for women end soon and we can use the energy it takes to check ourselves into doing our actual jobs. I also long for the day when I can show my multi-color personality -- from talking about my kids to crying when it’s too much. The crux is that whenever these labels start getting at you and you doubt yourself, close your eyes and repeat after me: I will own my strengths and not downplay them. I’m a beautiful human being, I’m telling the truth!