During August this year Sheryl Sandberg was on the cover of Time magazine with the headline, ‘Don’t hate her because she’s successful’. When I read that article online it led me to another that outlined seven traits of successful women leaders. I have a love-hate relationship with these kind of articles: Love because it is always interesting to read another take on women in leadership. Hate because more often than not these articles focus on what women in particular can bring to their work as leaders. Weirdly I don’t see as many articles on male leadership. Odd that. Two of the seven traits in this article intrigued me more than the others. Firstly, Assertiveness. The article chooses to frame this in the terms that a successful woman leader will be prepared to say no, will not be taken advantage of and will be prepared to argue her case. What struck about these was that each suggestion appeared to assume that the woman started from a disadvantaged place.
The second trait that I thought was interesting was Aggressiveness. Again the article suggested that this was in terms of ‘constructive aggressiveness’ going on to use the word ‘feisty’. Now I’m a big fan of the word ‘feisty’ in the right context, but can’t help feeling that women in leadership is not that context. It has the smatterings of angry pup about it, that I think implies that any kind of female aggressiveness is the workplace equivalent of Scrappy Doo.
More interesting was reading an article this week in Grazia magazine asking the question why women are afraid of being scary at work. It’s an interesting read focusing on the concept of the ‘dominance penalty’ & a Harvard study which suggests that if women are tough at work, displaying ‘leadership qualities like strength and decisiveness’ (Emma Barnett, 5 October), then they can expect to be disliked. I think this is equally true in an education setting, women in leadership are incredibly supportive of each other, but it tends to be about encouragement & overcoming obstacles, but what about taking a different tack? What about asking the question is it bad to be too tough? It’s definitely an uphill struggle if you bring together the supposed successful traits of women leaders, plus (dare I say it) a tendency of articles on women in leadership to focus on ideas such as How do we manage it all? Being brave enough to speak up and not being negative about ourselves. Isn’t it about time we acknowledge that, along with Barnett and architect Zaha Hadid on Radio4 this week, it is OK to be scary if scary means being tough enough to stand up for truth and fight for your values. Is #WomenEd ready to get scary and…even have a go at reclaiming the b word. One thing that did make me smile on the traits page was a quotation from Tina Fey – ‘Know what? B*****s get stuff done’. Too much?