Awareness: Five Challenges Women Leaders Face
Many men ask, is there really a difference for women who are appointed to leadership?
Here are five things that women in charge have discovered, often to their own surprise:
1) People will notice that she is a woman first, not her title.
One of the common stories of women put into leadership positions is their surprise that people comment on their gender first. Very often, a woman who rises to leadership just assumed that all women were given the opportunities they were. They often don’t recognize that there is a glass ceiling. They tend to be creative problem solvers, the trait most needed to get into leadership positions. Because they focus on possibilities, often they’ve never studied the facts or statistics that would reveal to them how rare and lucky they are compared with the majority of women.
So when they are given a position of power and authority that comes with visibility in the organization, she expects to answer questions about the position, company operations or the facts and numbers of the business. She is not ready to be questioned on her femininity or prepared to represent and defend all working females. Plus her experience is often so radically different from others in her gender that her answers don’t seem to resonate with the rest of us.
2) People will not assume she is competent for the position; the burden of proof is on her.
When a man is hired or promoted, he will be given the assumption of competence. People presume he is competent simply because he’s already been given a title and authority. Very often it takes a long time, many excuses, and forgiveness while the team overlooks or covers up his mistakes. The presumption of competence is absent for women recently appointed to leadership.
Instead, people are suspicious that the woman was put in power for other reasons, perhaps affirmative action, sleeping her way up or favoritism as if she were the CEO’s pet. This causes jealousy, rivalries, and hesitation within the team to follow her lead, reporting suspicious activities to the authorities if she isn’t 100% on her game from the start, and logging her mistakes to get her out of there and put someone who really deserves it in charge.
3) People will find it easier to stick to stereotypes, caricatures and distance in labeling her rather than taking time to grasp her complexities, realities, and intimacy with who she really is.
A woman who is put into to leadership is not a typical woman. She has really played her cards differently and has some sort of edge or talents that are unique. The value she adds is not something that is easily imitated; otherwise women would not be such a rarity in the upper ranks. And yet it is easier for people to make assumptions than to find out the truth and learn something about whom this woman is and her road less taken.
Instead, it’s easier to say she is a –itch, that she didn’t raise her own children, that her husband is less than a man, that she must not have the same sexual integrity, that she is bossy and doesn’t share her secrets and numerous other myths that not only damage her reputation, but also make it difficult for any other women to rise past the biases into positions of leadership. A common story of women in charge is that they can’t believe people wouldn’t ask her directly rather than perpetuate rumor, or that she is so misunderstood. But human nature is to do what is easiest, and that it to label first rather than seek any depth.
4) People will assume she plotted, schemed, and had a hidden game plan to get where she is.
Because business is a game for guys, they often assume everyone has a “game plan”. Very often, women don’t. A lot of women in leadership “fall into” opportunities because they kept their head down and focused on doing the best job they could in the position they were given. They often don’t even know to ask for title upgrades, perks, larger teams or budgets. They assume if they do well with less, someone up top will come down and tap them for a promotion to a position they didn’t even know was open or existed. Very often it is a position the guys have been suggesting, vying for with the upper brass for months, or counting up the additional benefits to them if they get it.
Many people presume that because of her gender, she is expecting special treatment or favors. The work ethic is so rare, and attitude of entitlement so common, that it is hard for people to believe that many women who become leaders are actually genuine. In fact, many women do set goals for their lives or careers, but very rarely is that actually what happens to them. Instead, the music major becomes the CIO of Charles Schwab. The massage therapist ends up Director at Microsoft. And the Secretary of State really intended to be part of a sports team, she just kept doing favors and solving problems for people that helped them out and ended up getting helped up to a position of power.
5) Men who have “context” will do better with her in charge than those without.
Across the board, women report experiencing coaching, mentorship, and less resistance from men in business who have seen or experienced powerful women before. Perhaps they had a competent working mom so they just expect a woman can be competent. Often they have a working wife, who they learn empathy from so that they are more aware of the issues that women encounter at work. One source says that almost 99% of CEO’s wives stay at home, so often male executives have little context for women who must work, and are not doing it to volunteer or have something to keep them busy. Very often, it is when their daughters have grown to an age where they want to enter the workforce that the men in charge become deeply concerned about women’s wages and opportunities. Women in leadership consistently report that men with working women in their lives take them, their advice and experience more seriously.