It’s a well-established fact that women only earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men in equal positions. Such figures are cited often in this day and age, and the crusade to break through the glass ceiling has been drilled into girls earlier and harder than in past generations. There is endless literature, for example, urging women to speak up, initiate salary negotiation and take more credit for their accomplishments — all traditionally masculine traits that have defined leadership in the past.
Consequently, women are now navigating the business world in a climate of rapid change. As the gender stereotypes of the working world are being uprooted, the statistics are starting to suggest that women may have more leverage in the boardroom than previously thought.
Female stereotypes used to center around the idea of a soft-spoken woman in an assistive role, like a secretary or a nurse. Certainly, there is still a major difference in the gender gap today. “All you have to do is look at the leadership of Fortune 500 companies or major law firms to see that women occupy only a tiny number of the top positions,” said Lisa Moore, interim director of the women’s and gender studies department. Now the stereotypes of a powerful businesswomen are starting to evolve into the idea of an ice queen that is single and aggressive. This leaves businesswomen in what is known as the ‘Double Bind’: too feminine to lead, too manly to be liked.
The trick to conquering the double bind is balancing dominant and communal qualities, and this requires that women be aware of the traditionally “feminine” qualities that they may possess and the social contexts in which these traits are appropriate. Traditionally “masculine” traits are seen as more outward and action-based, and can be essential in building confidence, leading teams and making bigger decisions. Traditionally “feminine” traits, on the other hand, are more receptive and people-based. Being able to listen, nurture and connect with others on a deeper level is necessary to build strong relationships and garner trust and support from those above and below you on the totem pole. Both types of energy are vital to being a dynamic and successful business leader, and women finally have the social climate necessary to wield both of them.
This is especially valuable when considering how dynamic the female role is in business as compared to men’s. While women are at the forefront of overhauls of the secretary stereotype, businessmen are still expected to wear suits every day, cite the latest sports news and golf a hole-in-one while discussing stocks with ease. Though it is important for both men and women to not allow these preconceived notions to define them, the intention should never be to deliberately defy gender stereotypes for its own sake. As Kristina Elder, President of the Women in Business organization at UT, said, “As cliche as it sounds, you have to be yourself. You have to be authentic in order to build trust.”
Research has supported the idea that adopting both masculine and feminine traits can lead to success in the business world. According to a Stanford study of 132 business school graduates over eight years, businesswomen with more of a mix of traditionally feminine and traditionally masculine traits that could ‘self-monitor’ their behavior and switch between the two were “1.5 times more likely to receive promotions than masculine men, and about two times as many promotions as feminine men.” This finding suggests for the first time that women are on more than just a level playing field with men. Women are at a unique advantage.
This, of course, is only possible in an environment where we are all mindful of the disparities in gender equality and do not engage with institutions that practice it.
As Moore said, “Don’t be content with an applicant pool, entry-level cohort, or leadership group that does not include a balance of men and women and people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Actively make diversity a priority in hiring and promotion. Recognize it as a form of excellence.”
Though still not perfect, the conditions for female success in business are primed and better than ever. The only thing stopping women now is the decision to reach out and seize it.
Huynh is a Plan II and business honors sophomore from Laredo.