Gender stereotypes and subtly disguised sexism still exists even in the most advanced of work environments. Believing otherwise is either naive or careless, because decades of male leadership, dominance and superiority cannot just be erased.
There’s clearly a spectrum, spanning from outright expression of prejudice to subconscious mistrust and reservations. All levels, however, can be held by both men AND women. We all play a role in moving the world in the direction of universal equality, unity and teamwork. We also can all play a role in keeping it where it is…
Obviously, there are a lot of ways men can actively fight against gender stereotypes in the workplace. You can find some of those tactics here: https://work.qz.com/1065929/read-sheryl-sandbergs-blunt-advice-to-men-who-want-to-fight-sexism-at-work/
But the audience of this website is 90% women–PUT YA HANDS UP–so let’s talk about what we can do to be supportive, confident, straight-forward lady-bosses that eat gender stereotypes for breakfast.
1. Know your worth and demand you be compensated for it.
The Stereotype: Women not only make less than men, but they are too uncomfortable or afraid to ask for more.
A few years back I was having a discussion about feminist issues with one of my male peers, and he presented an intriguing argument to me. “Do you think that some women also contribute to the wage gap by not being aggressive enough in their compensation or promotion demands?” Naturally, the question made my face a little heated because of all of the other factors that go into this across the board, but truthfully, he may have had a point when it comes to the professional track.
I saw a little bit of that same hesitation in myself when I was first starting out, and remember what my boyfriend said to me when I expressed discomfort in salary negotiation– “Lexi, it’s not personal. I, heck any guy, would negotiate…so why shouldn’t you?” And that sold my fiery soul from that moment forward and for all future situations.
You have to be aggressive about what you want and deserve for your hard work. Gone are the days where women have to fear over-stepping or speaking up too frequently with demands. If you deserve a promotion, fight for it. Negotiate salary. Ask for more — more opportunities, more responsibility, more knowledge, more skills, more benefits and more worth.
2. Take ownership of your goals and growth.
The Stereotype: Women don’t have as ambitious, rigid and aggressive career goals as men, so they don’t advance as often.
First of all, this stereotype makes me angry to even write. But it’s been established for a long time, largely because only decades ago careers for most women were seen as short-term stepping stones before they settled down to raise a family and become a homemaker. So women with long-term, dynamic career plans may be more of a novel idea to some people than you’d imagine.
Remember this: Your career trajectory can often move as quickly as you desire, given you’re ready and willing to forge it ahead like a freight train. It’s not easy, and lofty goals are not achieved by meekly showing up to yearly reviews and waiting for someone to recognize you. It doesn’t happen that way for men either, but it’s especially the case for women. We have to do a little more, and fight a little harder to advance into leadership roles.
It sucks, but it’s the truth. But it doesn’t have to defeat or discourage you. It can empower you. Speak up to your manager from the start about what you want to work towards. Let them know what you’re capable of and willing to learn. Be candid about your expectations, interests and passions. Be vocal, straight-forward and confident when it comes to taking ownership of your goals and growth.
3. Accept that authority and success can often invoke disapproval.
The Stereotype: Women try too hard to be liked by all, and therefore cannot be as successful of leaders.
You’ve heard/seen/experienced it all before. “Women take things too personally.” “Women try too hard to be liked to be in charge.”
But again, I recently found myself exhibiting this stereotype and had to have someone smack me in the face with another “but a man wouldn’t” statement. I was feeling very guilty that a colleague was really threatened and intimidated by my ambitious candor and recent career recognitions, so much so that I discussed it with a close mentor of mine. She, being a wise female sage, quickly corrected me.
“Your success is always going to threaten some people. You can’t let it make you feel bad. Men don’t feel bad about it, so why should we? Own your accomplishments.”
The phrase, “It’s lonely at the top,” comes to mind here. Everyone isn’t going to like you, especially as you gain more authority and prestige in your field or organization. That’s not to say you should make it a point to step on people or be ruthless (more to come on that later), but you can’t let the little bitter thorns in your side dictate your perception of yourself. If you’re being respectful, exercising integrity and doing your best work, keep your head high– HATERZ JUST GONNA HATE.
4. Build up other women. Empower and support them.
The Stereotype: Women are unjustly competitive, jealous and confrontational to each other in the workplace.
I CARE SO MUCH ABOUT THIS ONE THAT I WROTE A WHOLE ARTICLE ON IT: 6 Ways to Champion & Empower Other Women Every Day
It may seem intuitive, but one of the most critical and effective ways you can fight professional disadvantages for women is by doing everything in your power to support and strengthen other women. Any hint of volatile, gossip-driven female vs female work activity can spread like a poisonous wildfire throughout a work environment, and it’s our responsibility to shut it down.
Not only do you have the power to shut down negativity, but you also can incite positivity and growth. Encourage other women to make difficult decisions, present new ideas and step outside their comfort zones. Help them reach their goals. Share your own stories and be authentic about who you are. Teach, mentor and be willing to be taught and mentored. Bring each other up.
5. Vocalize new ideas, raise concerns and stand up against the status quo for what you know is right and better.
The Stereotype: Women are less likely to speak against authority than men.
I’ve personally witnessed the adversity women face when they challenge or criticize authority, as opposed to the same actions from men, so I know the difficulty here still exists in certain environments. The best way to crush that is to have conviction in your ideas and communicate them.
If you know something can be improved, say so. If you know something is wrong, present a solution. Don’t let your status or gender impede your ability to bring about positive change. Most importantly, don’t give anyone the power to intimidate you, because people will try to. In the end, bringing about change shows initiative and innovation, and will eventually bring you a lot of success and appreciation. Sometimes that first step is just the hardest to take.
6. Be yourself, and don’t let the pressure to change impact you.
The Stereotype: Women are more easily influenced to change who they are to fit the expectations of others, even in the workplace.
Women receive a destructive amount of criticism from all people in all angles of life. We’re chastised brutally about everything from our appearance, to mothering skills to how “likable” our personalities are. This can and does happen at work as well. The pressure to adapt who you are to be more accepted, respected or liked is actually quite prevalent. But you have to resist.
On the last day of an internship that I had for a long time, I received this advice from a powerful woman in leadership.
“Don’t change who you are. People will try to change you and pressure you to be different, but don’t listen to them. Don’t ever forget who you are, and you’ll go far.”
Every day we have the opportunity to create a better world for ourselves, our friends, our daughters and the future leaders of this world. We aren’t victims, we’re fighters. Combatting gender stereotypes is something that happens from so many levels and people, and these are just 6 ways we can all speak truth to power in our daily lives and careers.