Leading while being female can be joyous, exciting, challenging, hard work and plain awful all in one. Add into the mix that female leaders are still thin on the ground so those who do lead are highly visible and under intense scrutiny - ergo highly vulnerable. One woman appears to mis-step and all women are criticised everywhere. What a burden!
No-one said it would be easy, and they were right.
However for many, once you get past a few of the hurdles, there is no other choice. Leadership is the only viable option.
How we lead is another story. Historically women have embraced, and been rewarded for, more masculine traits in order to fit in and be successful. You know - big hair, big shoulder pads, go hard or go home - assertive, competitive and/or combative. This not only doesn’t work any more, but society and business miss out on the various benefits that diversity of leadership styles bring.
In the early 2000s Lois Frankel wrote a book called Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office. It was a page turner. I read it cover to cover and bought the CD set to listen to in my car.
The inference is that you can’t lead and be liked at the same time.
But is that true anymore?
Last week, Hillary Rodham Clinton in conversation with our former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, at the Melbourne Convention Centre, provided some interesting reflections on the topic of likability - and let's face it, if there were ever two women who have been harrangued for not being liked it's these two.
- The more successful a man is, the more likable he becomes
- The more successful a woman is, the less people like her
- When women advocate for ourselves, we lose in likability
- Instead, women run the risk of labelled by men and women alike as whiney, witchy and worthless when they challenge the status quo and dabble in anything other than women's arenas - all labels low on the likability scale.
And that's a double standard if I ever heard of one.
To paraphrase Lieutenant General David Lindsay Morrison AO - "the double standards we walk past are the double standards we accept".
(Note: both women received standing ovations in Melbourne, so must have been doing something right.)
If recent history of female leadership is to be believed, then leading and being liked is still challenging, but not impossible. So don't give up
One thing needs to change. And that's the personal criticisms of leading women that we all engage in. When women challenge the status quo, their differentness and femaleness is critiqued, rather than their performance in the role.
Let's stop with the witchy, whiney and worthless labels. Stick to the facts instead.
And maybe replace with those labels with wise, world class and wonderful!
Thanks to two wise, world class and wonderful women who inspired this blog - Hillary Rodham Clinton and Julia Gillard.
Special mention also goes to Annabel Crabb for her superb emcee performance. It was an inspiring evening and I trust that talented younger women are now seeing a leadership pathway as a viable option to aspire to, rather than something to be avoided.
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