Mar 31, 2010

Thin Pink Line

A few weeks ago I caught a discussion on BBC’s World Have Your Say program about women needing to be as assertive as men to get ahead. The discussion was driven by Clay Shirky’s recent Rant about Women which appeared on his blog, and sparked a firestorm. Shirky is a professor at NYU and observes that many of his female colleagues and students are often hesitant to self-promote and as a result lose out on rewards to their male counterparts. In his words, “there is no upper limit to the risks men are willing to take in order to succeed, and if there is an upper limit for women, they will succeed less”.

So, is there any truth in Shirky’s words? Yes, there is. And I agree, to a point.

Women who are more assertive and who are not afraid to ask for more are perceived to be “less nice”, and as studies have shown, are subtly penalised. Dare I even mention the strong feelings that spring forth at the mention of Hillary Clinton, or even Nancy Pelosi (politics aside)?

We still raise girls to fit into the role of a demure woman. Good girls don’t make waves. Those that follow the rules and fit the role are rewarded with praise. We don’t like pushy, bossy and conceited girls and label those traits as “boy-ish” and undesirable in a female - in other words, those traits are more suitable in boys.

So, is it any wonder that women will often play down their skills and achievements, and want to be perceived as likeable and non-threatening?

Even with the great strides taken by earlier generations, barriers still exist such as the glass ceiling and the good ole boys network. Coupled with the aforementioned psychological barriers and societal stereotypes it’s a tricky situation for women to navigate.

What’s the take away from this?

Be a “nice girl” by being respectful of the people around you. Allow yourself to be uncomfortable by asking for the things you want, and stepping up when opportunities arise – it’s amazing what doors can open by just raising your hand, and saying “yes, I can do that”. In the long run what do you have to lose?


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