Women in Business Series: Move beyond the B-I-T-C-H Myth or How to Wear Ambition Gracefully
Okay, before my phone rings off the hook and my e-mail box overflows when I use the term B-I-T-C-H, I am not talking about the Meredith Brooks hit song from a few years ago. What I am talking about is “Being in Total Control of Herself!” Or in this case yourself!
So what do I mean when I talk about your being in total control of you?
Quite simply, it means that you have to be strong enough to be noticed but, not strong to the point of being rejected or seen as being overbearing.
It seems like a fairly basic concept but . . . yes another but, the line between being strong enough to be noticed in a positive light and being perceived as possessing a negative personality trait is at times very thin.
What’s even more challenging is the fact that the guiding circumstances that distinguishes between the two frequently shifts, making it almost impossible to get a good read on when to stand up or when to step back a little. I am talking about the old adage regarding the importance of picking your battles.
Of course , even when a woman makes a prudent decision to argue her point, it is a doubled-edged sword in that in being strong we may offend someone, prompting the use of the “B” word. As a result and for many women the prospect of offending another individual mutes our actions to our own detriment. Especially in those situations in which a firm or resolute response is needed. Is tied to our need to be both respected and liked?
In this context I can remember an interview with Michael Jordan in which he was asked how it feels to be liked by so many people. He said that while he appreciates those who feel this way towards him, he would rather be respected than liked. Men in general have this mindset regardless of whether they have to speak their mind or toot their own horn.
So why do we as women at times struggle with stepping up and telling others what we really think? Or alternatively when we do, why is it viewed in a negative light? Why is a woman aggressive and a man assertive?
Perhaps it is due to the fact that adjectives such as assertive, determined, ambitious, independent and self-reliant are traditionally seen as being masculine, while nurturing, caring, supportive and collaborative traits are usually associated with women.
In her studies of woman and ambition, author and psychiatrist Anna Fels once made the statement that “women have greater challenges wearing ambition gracefully.”
Ernst & Young’s Carolyn Buck Luce, who was named 2012 Woman Of The Year by The Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association, lamented the fact that “women get a lot of negative recognition for showing their mastery (in business) if it’s being shown in unfeminine ways or ambitious ways.”
Certainly studies on leadership seem to indicate that while women and men possess attributes that are desirable in a senior executive role, it is only when women demonstrate some of the masculine behaviors that they receive push-back.
So what’s a woman to do?
In line with my previous post on harmony over balance, we have to quite simply put things in perspective. Laying the foundation for future successes and seeking harmony are mindsets that can make a woman feel successful and not defeated. We need to redefine what can be possible and stop playing the Superwoman Role and assess the price we pay for aspiring to goals that do not truly serve us or reflect our authentic selves.
Within this context, I tell my clients if they wish to enhance their self esteem and feel successful, strive for excellence . . . know if you adopt this standard, you never have to feel regret or guilt.
Will you be criticized from time-to-time . . . most definitely! Will you still run into stereotypical thinking . . . absolutely! However at the end of the day if your goals and motives are centered on achieving excellence in relation to serving the needs of your company or clients you will with perseverance seize the day and all of the opportunities it affords.