Saturday, April 18, 2020

Careers advice: stop telling women to talk like men – ask men to talk more like women

A therapy session illustration
A viral Twitter thread has explored an “unpopular opinion” about women in the workplace, and it makes a lot of sense.

The year is 2020, we’re all in lockdown due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and we’re using social media more than ever . As such, the internet is absolutely full of so-called “unpopular opinions” – perhaps more so than ever before.

One such “unpopular opinion” growing in popularity, however, is Dr. Charlotte Lydia Riley’s commentary on women in the workplace. And it’s one which we here at Stylist can 100% get behind, too.

“Apparently an unpopular opinion, but I don’t hate that I say ‘does that make sense?’ all the time in a professional context,” she writes, in a Twitter post which has been shared almost 20,000 times in under 24 hours.

“It lets other people into the conversation and gives them the chance to ask questions. Maybe sometimes feminised speech patterns are… good? Helpful?”

Continuing her train of thought, Riley adds: “I’m not keen on the way that all these things relate to language in a way to tell women to be more declarative, more dominant, more loud and assertive. Maybe it would be better for men to, I don’t know, listen more? Ask more questions? Leave room for doubt?”

It’s an opinion which is shared by author Ruth Whippman, who recently penned a careers advice piece for The New York Times entitled: ‘Enough leaning in. Let’s tell women to lean out.’

In the piece, Whippman further explores the idea that the assumption that assertiveness is a more valuable trait than, say, deference is itself the product of a “ubiquitous and corrosive gender hierarchy.”

“Until female norms and standards are seen as every bit as valuable and aspirational as those of men, we will never achieve equality,” she notes.

“So perhaps instead of nagging women to scramble to meet the male standard, we should instead be training men and boys to aspire to women’s cultural norms, and selling those norms to men as both default and desirable. To be more deferential. To reflect and listen and apologise where an apology is due (and if unsure, to err on the side of a superfluous sorry than an absent one). [And] to aim for modesty and humility and cooperation rather than blowhard arrogance.”

Of course, gender shouldn’t be a factor in whether or not a person can be a great leader – a person’s leadership abilities should depend on their individual strengths and personality traits.

However, there’s no denying that women have been repeatedly told to embrace those traits which are still traditionally viewed as being more “masculine”: strength, courage, independence, and assertiveness. However, research has repeatedly shown us that those traditionally “feminine” traits (empathy, sensitivity, caring, and compassion) should be nurtured by all genders, as they lay the groundwork for better leaders.

Indeed, a 2017 study looking into personality and leadership identified the key characteristics of effective leaders (emotional stability, openness, sociability, methodicalness, and good communication skills) and found that women score higher than men in four of the five traits – thus concluding that women “are better suited for leadership than their male colleagues when it comes to clarity, innovation, support and targeted meticulousness.

The research, led by professors Øyvind L. Martinsen and Lars Glasø from the BI Norwegian Business School, assessed nearly 3,000 managers in the private and public sectors and pinned down the following personality traits of effective leadership.
  • Ability to withstand job-related pressure and stress (leaders have a high degree of emotional stability)
  • Ability to take initiative, be clear and communicative (leaders are outgoing, with a high degree of extraversion)
  • Ability to innovate, be curious and have an ambitious vision (effective leaders have a high degree of openness to new experiences)
  • Ability to support, accommodate and include employees (effective leaders display a high degree of sociability)
  • Ability to set goals, be thorough and follow up (effective leaders are generally very methodical)

Women ranked higher in initiative and clear communication, openness and ability to innovate, sociability and supportiveness, methodical management and goal-setting. The one area the study showed men to be stronger in was dealing with work-related stress; Glasø said the findings suggested that “female leaders may falter through their stronger tendency to worry – or lower emotional stability.”

However, he pointed out that the trait did not invalidate the other areas in which women excelled, saying: “This does not negate the fact that they [women] are decidedly more suited to management positions than their male counterparts.

“If decision-makers ignore this truth, they could effectively be employing less qualified leaders and impairing productivity.”

Martinsen said: “These findings pose a legitimate question about the construction of management hierarchy and the current dispensation of women in these roles.”

This evidence seems to prove that promoting “feminine” qualities such as deference, humility, cooperation, and listening skills will be beneficial to pretty much everyone – particularly businesses.

In the words of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter: “We need to reshape our own perception of how we view ourselves. We have to step up as women and take the lead.”

Of, to put it plainly, if we can disregard outdated stereotypes, learn from ourselves and from those around us, then we’ve got this.

Images: Getty

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