Suzannah works in investment banking. She is on track for a senior role and intends to have a high 6 figure salary (at least) by the time she is 40. Her goal is to break through the glass ceiling in this male dominated sector which has less than 10% women at board level.
A 70 hour week is her norm and leaving the office at 9.00 p.m. would be considered an early finish. Her boss might ask her only semi-jokingly if she has enough work. She is well-groomed and exercises regularly. She has time for passion, but not romance. Her biological clock is ticking and she knows that. Although she thinks about having children, her partner is a corporate lawyer, she is not sure marriage is in her long-term vision. The only items in her refrigerator are nail polish and left over takeaway. She has a housekeeper and has no idea how her own washing machine works.
As a top revenue generator she improves the team results. She believes that there is one passenger in that number and she has made her thoughts clear. Her colleagues respect her, but don’t seek her out socially. She travels internationally at the drop of a hat to make pitches and close deals, and always sits “at the front of the bus.” With a reputation as a tough but fair negotiator, she takes no prisoners when she closes deals. She knows she is considered in the office to be difficult to work with, and at times referred to as a “a complete bitch.”
Does this bother her? Not one bit. She told me why.
Gender blow back
“The difference between the alpha female and the alpha male is that most men and women admire the alpha male and most men want to be like him. He is considered to be successful. When I do exactly the same thing, the alpha female becomes the “alpha-bitch” in the eyes of both men and women, and almost an object for sympathy and ridicule. Being tough, direct, successful and assertive is not considered to be feminine and attractive. My approach doesn’t fit a mould and neither men or women know how to deal with that.
I work hard and give 100% plus. I don’t expect my subordinates or peers to work the way I do, or have the same ambitions, but I do expect them to do a proper job. I’m a result orientated rather than presence insisting manager, and if someone works long hours and needs to attend their child’s school play at 3.00 p.m. then I’m OK with that … if they get their work done by the deadline.
Women are as guilty of perpetuating stereotypes as men
Sure we should fix the system, but if I wait, I will be dead! I am not suggesting there aren’t other ways to do business, but I get tired of waiting for men to create better conditions for women. They are not getting it done. I get even more irritated by implications that I’m a “ball-breaker” because I don’t behave in a stereotypical female way. Most men by definition aren’t aren’t alpha males either, but alpha males don’t get the type of flak that I do.
My starting salary in my current organisation was twice that of the other women at my level because they had failed to negotiate their market value and were being under paid. This is not my fault. At least one has now had a 30% increase because of my efforts. Should I decide to have a child, then I have negotiated more generous maternity options than are on offer currently, which will certainly become a precedent for the other female employees above a certain level in my firm. Just as all men are not dominant and assertive, not all women are group-hug, collaborative and supportive. Most times someone has to take tough decisions.
Work is not a popularity contest which is what worries many women and holds them back.
They are just as guilty of perpetuating gender stereotypes as men and they need to get over it.”
Strong words…What do you think?
If your organisations needs support dealing with gender bias – get in touch NOW.
Great blog, Dorothy!
Seems to me she’s emulated the guys to get where she is and where she’s going. Which is fine if that’s what rocks her boat. We all have different criteria for success. However I don’t think women being successful in business is an either/or situation re acting stereotypically female or male.
Remember working with a client who was known in her male dominated organisation as the ‘rottweiler’. She relished being the one sent in to make hard deals or clean up under performing aspects of the business. Until she realised how unhappy she was!
By accessing her Passion and strengths as a woman, she was able to be/do all of the things quoted by your interviewee … by playing the game in her own woman way rather than the ‘boy’s’ way. It also brought some learning for her male counterparts about healthier relationships in the workplace.
Doesn’t your interviewee get how threatened men are by a powerful woman who mirrors back to them their own behavior… the best they can do is call her an ‘alpha-bitch’. I think there’s transference here of the aspects of themselves they don’t like/accept.
I’m so weary of the gender thing. Women! Learn how to be powerful as the woman you are… and then we can change the world!
Look forward to other people’s take on this….
Brava for AB and for you on writing this.
I’ve had to work with similar “alpha-bitches” and it’s hell. What these women don’t seem to realise is that we are allowed to evolve to be different from men. What’s the point in copying male behaviour, and becoming just like them? It’s the differences between men and women that make a business successful. If you walk into a meeting with three men and three women acting like men, you just have six men in the room – yuck. To me, women who act in this way are trying to prove the wrong point. You don’t have to act like a man to be successful.
Hi Elaine – thanks for your comment. I’m not necessasily in agreement with Suzannah – just reporting her comments. I think she does have some valid point- not all men behave in an alpha way – but when women behave in a way that is normally associated with alpha males they are judged harshlyvby both men and women.
To play devil’s advocate, for true diversity shouldn’t we have a balance of personalities and behaviours regardless of gender. A softer approach from a male should not be criticised and neither should tougher type behaviours from a woman.
I agree with you – women are judged harshly by both men and women by behaving that way – but I judge men pretty harshly when they behave that way too!! Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could all be nice to each other (sorry, Christmas is having that effect on me!!!).
Have quoted your blog url on several forums to which I belong Dorothy… one in answer to what I had posted. It’s a fantastic starting point for discussion across genders. Thank you!
Thanks Sharon – appreciate your support and energy. Suzannah makes good points – some situations do require certain types of responses. If women act in this way they are judged harshly by both men and women. Conversely if men are softer they also can be critcised. As workplaces become more diverse we have to stop getting locked into behaviour based on gender stereotyping.
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