I spoke to a reporter this morning who is doing an article about women entrepreneurs. (Luckily she is not doing an article about mompreneurs because, well, you know how I feel about that.) One of the issues we touched on was how women are perceived in the business world. I told her my stories–which you can read here and here. But then I said to this very nice woman that I’ve developed some strong opinion about this and I’d like to lay it out:
- Women who are strong and confident are often perceived as aggressive and bitchy
- Women who are nice and collaborative are often perceived as weak
- Once we have kids, many assume that our mom identity IS the entirety of who we are
- Women are too often each other’s worst enemies (we don’t network as well, we don’t help each other well, we are often catty)
This is all true, in my experience and according to some experts. But second to waving a magic wand and changing these ingrained perceptions and biases in the workplace, the only solution I can come up with is to try to not care and push ahead.
Now I pride myself on being a practical person in life. I try not to give advice that I don’t think can be put into practice and I dream but back up my dreams with bullet points of steps I am going to take. So I don’t kid myself by thinking that it’s easy to ignore the perceptions people might have of us at work. A few years ago I worked at a small technology companies–there were 2 women there, besides me, and 5 men. One day I overheard the two other women talking about how bitchy I was. It hurt, it made me doubt myself, it made question whether in fact, I was bitchy. (I didn’t change, partly because I don’t think I can change who I am and mostly because I disagreed with their assessment.)
But the alternative to ignoring these perceptions isn’t practical. If we try to be nicer, we’ll be considered weak. If we try to be stronger, someone out there will think we’re bitchy. We can’t win that way.
Here’s another unsolicited opinion I shared with the reporter: I think that often women judge women much harsher than men. When the two women called me bitchy the guy from the company with whom they were talking disagreed. “Sure, she’s tough, but I don’t think bitchy,” he said. This skill we have of undermining each other… I wish that’s something we could get rid of. Because it’s not helping remove the perceptions, just perpetuate them.
OK, another rant over. Tell me what you think–do you consider how you’re perceived in the workplace? In your job have you come across these stereotypes or do you think I am off the mark? Do you think strong women are considered bitchy at work and nice ones weak?
Sound off, I really want to hear what you think. (And for a different take on this subject, check out Kathy’s recent post over at Who Stole My Stapler?)