When collaboration becomes overkill: How collaboration can kill your career

By Erika Harrington

“Women aren’t authoritative.” “A commanding voice is a masculine one.” “Women are too dainty to lead.” We get it. You think it takes a certain type of a person to be a leader, and that type of person is usually a man. Thankfully, when it comes to the success of a company, what you think doesn’t matter; what actually matters are performance and results.

With that in mind, it’s high time that we face the truth that women can produce as well as men. Don’t believe me? Well, maybe you’ll believe British sociolinguist Judith Baxter, who published a study on the leadership abilities of males and females. Baxter wanted to find out if different, gender-specific language characteristics affected an individual’s ability to become a leader, and how well people  respond to them as such.

mulanclimbingUsing groups of all male, all female, and mixed gender participants, she was able to see who stepped up to the plate and hit a home run. Her findings—women were just as likely to exhibit leadership qualities and deliver respectable results. While women did communicate differently, they weren’t any less likely to take command or any less effective in command.

So why aren’t we seeing more balance in top-level professional positions?

There are many explanations for the scarcity of women leaders. One especially was noted in this study; Baxter found that the all-female group did not allow for a leader to emerge, and reacted negatively to one woman trying to take control of the group.

I know what you’re thinking: Here we go again with cattiness and women tearing each other down.

Not so fast, though—this article pointed out a more probable explanation; Baxter noted that the all female group seemed to value a group where everyone was equal. This approach allowed for a more diverse set of ideas to emerge. Nice job, ladies!

However, it is important to remember that there is also value in having a leader. The downside of this diversity enhancing collaborative approach was that no single idea gained significant focus. Kinda like when you spend 20 minutes driving around town with your friends trying to decide where to eat before Natalie finally caves and (in a truly hangry manner) screams, “Screw it! Let’s just get McDonald’s!”

Sometimes, having a leader just makes final decisions easier.

So, what can we learn from these findings?

Allowing a single individual (or a small group of individuals) to have power over a group or organization is important for productivity.  But, ensuring that these individuals can do a good job is just as important (let’s be real, McDonald’s was not the best choice, Natalie).
What isn’t important is that every leader fit the same mold. Masculine and feminine styles  differ, but these differences do not mean one is better than another. So let’s end the illusion that there’s one right way to get things done, because thinking that way is how one social group gets an unfair advantage. There is a time and place for all of these styles, so let’s all acknowledge strong women leaders for what they are. Let’s get more ladies in top-level professional positions and watch them thrive with their male peers.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to comment. We love to hear what you have to say, and as always, thanks for reading The InformHer.

The betrayal of badass boss ladies

By Jennifer PeeksMease

A few weeks ago I was on the phone with my mom. We were talking politics. Don’t worry, it’s a relatively safe topic in my family.

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No one insulted anyone’s intelligence. No feelings were hurt. It was just good ole’ fashion discussion. Then, the topic turned to Hillary Clinton, and my mom said something along the lines of this: “I think Clinton is well qualified to be president. She has the best set of experiences…I’m just not sure that I like her.”

There it is: She’s good. She’s competent. And what does the research suggest? We don’t really like that.

I first learned of the “likeability penalty” from Sheryl Sandberg’s TED talk. Sandberg references a study in which MBA students were asked to read a scenario involving a leader, and were then asked to evaluate the competence and likeability of the leader. The good news? The assessed level of competence didn’t change much when researchers changed male and female names.

Believe it or not, that’s an improvement. The bad news: women were deemed less likeable. And that, my friends, is a downer.

But, in 2011, two researchers noticed that most studies showing a likeability penalty dealt with hypothetical scenarios, so they set out to assess the situation by conducting a nationwide study that asked people to assess their real-life bosses. One of many conclusions was that people assess a likability penalty less often when they are assessing the boss they actually work with.

Whew! Uh, sort of…

What does it mean that we assess women more harshly in imaginary relationships than we do in actual relationships? On one hand, it’s good to hear. It suggests that women can be powerful, competent and liked by the people they manage.

But there’s still a troubling catch: despite the fact that real relationships with women leaders don’t support the need for a likability penalty, when we imagine relationships with powerful, competent women, research indicates that we assume they aren’t likable.

That goes for you too, Secretary Clinton.

But there is something we can all do, men and women alike: We can interrupt this somehow shared imagination. We can call people out on it. We can question our own judgment of successful, competent women.

Let’s be honest. We believe our gut feelings have some kind of intuitive authenticity to them, and so we often trust them blindly. While I believe that intuition matters, it’s important to recognize gut feelings aren’t always unique insights.

Anyone can earn your distaste, women included. But if you’re looking for things to justify that nagging feeling that you “just don’t really like” that kickass, successful woman in your office—whom you don’t even know—then check yourself. It may not be your intuition talking, it might just be patriarchy.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to comment. We love to hear what you have to say, and as always, thanks for reading The InformHer.

Hair we go again…

By Erika Harrington

Let’s talk about the sassiest nonverbal. Let’s talk about the act done by the tallest of runway models to the smallest of cute toddlers. Let’s talk about the hair flip.

Well actually, let’s talk about hair in the workplace.

It’s no surprise that when we talk about getting a job, we talk about appearance. Self-presentation is definitely important. But where do professional standards come from? One answer to this question might be policy. Legal scholar, Angela Onwuachi Willig, analyzed cases in which women’s hair was the bases for reprimand. And who were the women that were most likely to be involved in these cases? You guessed it– African American women.

A quick google search of ideal workplace hairstyles, and what kind of results do you see? Straight hair worn down and tucked behind your ears, an organized bun, or relaxed but well-managed curls. All suitable options for the hardworking woman—well, the hard working white woman at least.

Willig’s study addresses Title IX, explaining that discrimination goes further than a woman’s right to not wear makeup. Our workplaces are not only plagued with gendered norms, they’re plagued with gender norms typically associated with white women. What is the company policy on dreadlocks? Afros? Kinky curls that can only be held down after a draining battle with blood, sweat, tears, and tons of product? Pressure to conform to these appearance policies is the exact burden that Willig describes, and the exact burden that violates the rights upheld by Title IX. This pressure is too real because to resist it is to welcome career-impacting consequences. The result: an average work day that begins at 7:15 am with fine tooth comb and a hot iron. Why do we look at braids with disdain? Braids! A style we spent a large chunk of our adolescence styling on our Barbie dolls.

This is unacceptable. Keeping our hair down is literally keeping us down. Why are we focusing so much time and energy on hair, instead of focusing on killing the next sales presentation? Why are these expressions of individualism and culture being stifled? This doesn’t only apply to black women– although if you’ve never had to run away from your mom as she tried to hot comb your relentless curls, consider yourself lucky. It applies anybody who’s putting in extra effort to uphold standards that are completely unrelated to their actual work performance.

Fortunately, there are ways we can begin to address this problem. For starters, let’s shift the emphasis on producing, not primping. If there are specific policies in your organization that address appearance, check to make sure that they’re inclusive to women of all races and ethnicities. If you’re an employee and you encounter a disagreement with a higher-up about what constitutes “extreme” or “unkempt” hair, understand that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Manual on Race Discrimination is on your side. Speak with your organization’s human resources department or coordinator and keep a detailed record of all pertinent conversations.

say enough. And if you’re like me, and love looking into a crowd of people and seeing heads of diversity, then tell the world you’ve had enough too. Say it loud, say it proud: a woman’s hair, afro or otherwise, has nothing to do with her professional competence.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to comment. We love to hear what you have to say, and as always, thanks for reading The InformHer.