Often as women, we can assume a stance of apology in leadership. Edgar Schein (professor emeritus at MIT) talks about different relationships that maintain status inequality – such as superiors and subordinates. He writes that relationships comprised of status inequality inherently have “one up” and “one down” positions. In the case of female leaders, we can assume a “one down” position as superiors, as a sort of seeking permission or forgiveness for violating the social norm of being both female and a leader. (Wondering how true this is? Check out the current research study that I cite in my blog post here (Smart Women and Assertiveness) on how female leaders are punished by their peers in likability and warmth when they self-assert).
Unfortunately, this “one down” position can be disguised or conflated as “service leadership,” and therefore praised as admirable, when, really, we’re being socially approved of for playing conventional female traits – servitude, accommodation, and conflict avoidance.
We may have a hard time accepting this (for obvious reasons – who wants to see themselves being undermined by gender norms?), and question the assumption that female leaders are being “one down” when, for example, they could rather be warm, affiliative, and caring: Couldn’t this simply be a female leader using her relational skills?” And while this can certainly be the case, there is a dimension of obligatory privileging of relationship over productivity that female leaders do in order to be perceived as likeable – at the expense of their effectiveness as leaders.
And, this not so secretly costs us our wellbeing.
***What’s the hidden cost of “like me” votes? Remaining likeable as a leader might mean we don’t delegate as we should, or give as much direct feedback about our expectations as we could, and then we take on the fallout, and then we burnout. But we’re liked – and we’ve kept our professional belonging intact. Isn’t the price to pay too high though? How do we flip this? And make different decisions that care for ourselves as well as others… when this is inherently less approved of, therefore more of a risk, and as smart women we know it is? How do we get out of the rock and hard place?
An aspect of the change is becoming more conscious of what we want first, becoming clear on our purpose, and flipping the assumption that self-care is selfish. Rather, when we are clear on our vision, we can maintain boundaries to self-care in order to achieve our vision, and avoid burning out to others’ needs inadvertently.
The same research study cited in my Smart Women and Assertiveness blog also suggests female only spaces as a key developmental space to try out new behaviours before taking them out into the world to: a) finesse the behaviour in a non-judgmental space and b) receive support from other women attempting to consciously become leaders themselves.
Both of these aspects of change are foundational pillars to the upcoming Step Into Your Sovereignty group coaching program. ***Registration ends this Friday, Sept. 22nd. Join a small cohort of professional women this fall and bring your purpose, vision, and professional way of being into alignment. Want to know more? Click here to check out the program or be in touch for a call with me.