When feminine leadership super powers become a poisoned chalice

You might remember Heather Sarson's research into collaboration and gender where she coined the phrase 'co-author penalty'. Heather is a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard, and looked at CVs from economists who went up for tenure between 1975 and 2014 in one of the top 30 PhD-granting universities in the United States. She found a bias toward men in instances where men and women co-authored research papers, and found that co-authoring with men had a sting in the tail for women.


Well I think I've found another issue - the 'collaborative problem solving poisoned chalice phenomenon'.

Where you're rewarded for tackling projects that other people don't prefer ..... not with a promotion, but with more projects that people don't prefer. 

Let me explain.

  • You know when you've asked, negotiated and lobbied for a raise or promotion so many times, even you're sick of hearing about it?  
  • Finally your manager indicates that he/she will be willing to consider your request but only after you've untangled an extremely complex problem. In fact, this problem is so complex it could either way - a career maker or breaker, depending on the outcome.
  • So you accept the challenge, focus intensively (because it's the right thing to do AND you do love a good collaborative problem solving challenge) - then put your nose to the grindstone while you tackle the project.
  • Finally - despite this problem being one that many others have tried to solve (and failed), you not only prevail but you excel.  Woot!

So you go to your boss with your glowing report card, only to be told that:

  • Someone else got the role you really wanted while you were so focused, and
  • Not only can the organisation no longer afford to give you that raise, but ... wait for it ....
  • They have another equally complex problem for you to tackle next!!!

Sound familiar?   Sadly I hear this story frequently as organisations struggle to understand, value and reward feminine leadership talent in their leadership talent pipeline.

The problems?

  • Collaborative, complex problem solving is a unique (and feminine) expertise - but is not (yet) seen as a trait of great leadership
  • When work becomes "feminised" it's devalued - in fact salaries drop
  • For you the individual - accepting that challenge without ensuring your leadership goals remain front and centre, visible to both yourself and your leadership team, is a risk
  • For the organisation -  because complex problem solving is not rewarded in leadership development it's possibly yet another reason why talented women are still leaning out after just a few years in an organisation.

What can you do?

  • Great results don't tell the whole story - great results might speak for themselves but they don't tell others that you have leadership goals or ambitions. Work is not school - you can't rely on results to get you ahead.
  • Always keep your eye on the prize - don't become so focused that you lose sight of your ultimate goal even for a moment.
  • Always be visible - maintain your visibility in the leadership talent pipeline despite being sidelined to do other work. Just likeClippy who used to pop up on your computer all the time, you want to do the same. Keep networking, keep catching up with other leaders in the business, keep pitching your great ideas up the business.
  • Always be leaderly - keep your future leadership personal brand front and centre in all interactions - try not to become branded as The Fixer.
  • Mitigate risk - is there a way of involving someone else such as HR in that conditional raise/promotion discussion?
  • Don't wear yourself out - so often we throw ourselves into our work so much that we wear ourselves out and lose momentum.  Find your tipping point and stay well below it for the duration.
  • Flick the switch from proving your worth, to knowing your worth - and head on in and start negotiating for a role and/or raise that you do prefer.
Femininity is the operating system of twenty-first century progress. Women—and the men who can think like them—are creating a future we’ll all want to inhabit
— John Gezerma

And if it has happened to you, do chat with me. I'd not only love to hear your story, but let's create a strategy to get you out of yet another drawn out, tangled black hole of a complex problem with no light at the end of the tunnel.

Vive la révolution!
#ambitionrevolution #LookOutCSuiteHereSheComes #feminineambition

If you enjoyed this please spread the word!  Let's inspire women everywhere to keep their eye on the prize.


Feel like your leadership journey has stalled? Email ablesing@amandablesing.com to set up a 30 min one on one to learn more. Helping clients shift from feeling invisible to becoming invincible in just 12 months