As much as many people would like to believe that female and male leaders are treated the same way, the truth is that a number of societal expectations historically placed on women complicate women’s leadership efforts. While this may be slowly changing, we have a long way to go as a society before women and men are playing on an equal playing field when it comes to leadership. Here are three things that it takes to govern as a female leader in the current environment.
Kindness over niceness
Girls are often raised to be “nice,” which can be at odds with the demands of leading in certain contextsBoth male and female leaders will often have to fire people or demand more from them, but women are more likely to be judged more harshly for it. While women may have to fire someone or set a high bar for people to meet, this can be accomplished respectfully. This is the difference between being kind and nice. It is important to be kind – especially when delivering a difficult message. People may not always consider you to be nice when you deliver a message that, by definition, is not pleasing.
A thick skin
Perhaps one of the most unpleasant and unavoidable realities of being a leader is that no matter what decision you make, someone is always going to be unhappy. Although making people unhappy will happen to both male and female leaders, women are more likely to be sensitive to conflict in the workplace.In addition, women are often criticized more harshly for making unpopular decisions. Those decisions are part of the job, however, which means women have to develop a thick skin in order to not be derailed by criticism.
A strong sense of self
In a world with very few female leaders and role models, most women will largely learn how to lead from men, but women have their own natural strengths that will largely be different from those of men. Leading as a woman requires women to learn how to follow their own inner voice or intuition and develop their own style that may be very different from a man’s style. What’s most important is that women develop a strong sense of their own self and the style that is right for them.
If you are a woman considering a leadership role, consider how you might be affected by societal expectations or gender biases. Talking through these questions with more experienced leaders or with a mentor may benefit your personal and professional development.