Women are often faced with a bit of a conundrum in the workplace: failing to show confidence and assertiveness can leave them behind when it comes time for handing out promotions and recognition. At the same time, women who do show some level of assertiveness are sometimes perceived negatively by their colleagues, particularly relative to men exhibiting the same characteristics.
In an article for Forbes, Kathy Caprino argues, “At the root of this phenomenon [of negatively perceiving confident women] is unconscious and conscious gender bias against commanding women, and surprisingly, it exists in both men and women.”
It isn’t necessarily the case that women need to show this type of confidence in order to get ahead, though. Business Insider recently published an article which covered a podcast interview with KPMG CEO Lynne Doughtie. In the podcast, Doughtie says: “We need to kind of break down these myths that a woman's approach is the wrong one, and she should be acting more like a man.”
Women, Doughtie says, can show their own kind of quiet confidence that can be just as effective and may be a more natural fit for some women. Stereotypically, she says, assertive men are perceived as being confident, even if they don’t have the competencies, or experience, to support that confidence. Men, she suggests, tend to see themselves as having a level of experience that may not reflect reality, whereas women tend to take the opposite view, often questioning: “Do I have enough?”
At the same time, she says, this doesn’t mean that women should always avoid coming across as assertive or even aggressive and commanding, if that’s their style and it fits the environment and the situation. The point is that women – or anyone for that matter – shouldn’t fall into the trap of letting stereotypes push them into a work style that isn’t their own because they are avoiding or embracing a stereotypical “right way of doing things.”
As Doughtie said in the Business Insider interview, “we should think about how we, as business leaders, embrace the differences of all people and advance the careers of all.”
There is no stereotypical “best” approach to take. The best approach is a combination of both the situation and the leader’s preferred style. Be alert to how unconscious biases and stereotypes may be affecting your perceptions of both male and female leaders in your organization.