The Paradox of being a ‘Professional Woman’-II

As an aspiring fresh business grad I always thought an professional woman is an empowered woman. An empowered woman is a key decision maker of her own life and financially independent to implement those decisions. In that sense, climbing up the corporate ladder is the pursuit of being empowered and being a top notch professional in a C-suite job is the means of achieving this.  But after spending sometime in workforce and interacting with a lot of senior female colleagues  I’ve realized women face a very paradoxical challenge~ masculinity is the criteria of competence. This doesn’t mean you physically have to be a guy but think, act and behave like one.This isn’t much of a problem either but the costs associated with is the real big deal. This is the famous Damned if you Do and Doomed if you Don’t situation. Dominating, assertive women are disliked by everyone. They are seen as too arrogant, bossy and pushy whereas in a man these traits are described as confident, authoritative and forthcoming. Successful, competitive women are disliked by both men and women. For women traits that make you a good corporate leader also make you undesirable because men generally prefer marrying down. They usually want a woman to appreciate and acknowledge them more and not brag herself. In a corporate, if you are not standing out in all likelihood your efforts will not be acknowledged. Women emphasizing their achievements are perceived as arrogant and by default authority and femininity contrasts each other. Here is an an excerpt from the corporate trainer Randy Siegel’s article.”While many women want to claim their authority, they are concerned about appearing too domineering or abrasive, and thus losing likeability. “We are in a double bind,” one female executive shared. In essence, being a woman in authority you have to lose some likability* unlike man who don’t face this situation and are more liked the more authoritative they appear.Therefore if you do try to stand out you are not desirable. If you don’t, you are not successful.But this isn’t the only paradox professional women face.  Women impose a self restrain and deliberately undersell themselves. This isn’t typical of just women only. Many men don’t know how to take a compliment either. (When someone says thank you, mostly people say no it’s nothing, not at all. Why not? Why do we always undervalue our contributions and this isn’t always about being humble at times people aren’t comfortable with recognition). But women just do it a whole lot more than men do. Sheryl Sandberg, distinction holder from Harvard, Director of Starbucks and Walt Disney,Former economist at World Bank and Chief of Staff for US Treasury, Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google,  current COO of Facebook , veteran advocate of women and their rights in workforce begged her  co-workers and friends to remove links from their social-media feeds, and shooshed anyone who tried to congratulate her  when Forbes put her at No. 5 in their “Most Powerful Women”  in 2011. Even professionally competitive women deliberately forego the opportunities to propel themselves in the limelight. In her interview to HBR Blog (sadly it was a limited access article and is now locked so I cannot post the link), Sandberg was asked about various research that support women are biologically programmed to perform traditional roles of society. She agreed with the notion but also emphasized we all evolve as individuals and with a trend of changing gender roles women now have opportunity to adapt to new roles of society now open to them. I have also jumped on this band wagon and am only wondering where will this lead me and what will I evolve into? This cascades off into another topic altogether. How many different types of people have women evolved into?

*There’s a flip side to this. Liza Mundy in her book The Richer Sex describes how men are adapting to the increasing number of high earning women and it impact in family.So the next post will also cover the evolving role of men.

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