Although times have indeed changed and the Western World has taken steps to move away from a dominantly patriarchal society, still to this day, many women struggle with members of male staff who take a female boss less seriously than they would a man.
Now, although this isn’t necessarily an intentional act of sexism, it’s unfortunately a passed on culture tradition that can pop up from time to time to rear its discriminatory head. Remnants of the ‘old days’ attitudes (pre the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act where women were in lesser positions in the workplace, with no enforcing laws to prevent this) do show themselves. However, when they do, women can educate themselves on how to deal with the issues as well as preventing them altogether in the first place.
For example, if you take up a senior position with a long standing company that has a history of being heavily saturated with men in positions of power; this could be accepted as the norm. You may come across existing employees who have a problem adjusting or understanding necessary behaviours with this new concept.
Diversity within the workplace encompasses gender, equality, sexuality and disability factors, where you could assume that equality is the norm, but occasionally outdated and inherited ideologies do present themselves in working practices and expectations of status and responsibility. We now have an overarching Equalities Act to lay down in law equality for all.
Another commonly misplaced ideology stems from the impression that a woman isn’t cut out to do the job she’s assigned. Begrudged feelings can arise when male employees think they haven’t been given an opportunity they are fit to do over a woman, especially when the woman in question is given more authority than him within a business. The main problem that arises is the woman not being taken seriously. The best way to tackle these behaviours is with your own. Showing that you are strong, capable and unwilling to react to such attitudes will pave the way for males with an outdated view point to understand that sexism in both intentional and unintentional forms won’t be tolerated.
It’s naturally completely unfair to assume that this is the only way that male workers think, and many businesses’ staff work successfully and harmoniously with no unnecessary gender stereotypes. Many men would agree that they wouldn’t use gender as a reason to change the way they act around someone at work, but there are those who would admit that on reflection they do notice patterns. So, how can you go about avoiding issues within the workplace as a woman with authority? Simply put, your own attitudes can alter how your staff reacts to you, and a lack of personal power can allow for undermining behaviour – including from other women. The key is in harnessing how to manage people as well as yourself.
Make a Good Impression
There are a number of generic tasks that people in managerial roles need to get right in order to have the full support of staff. This could be money management. If you’re seen to be slacking in organizing overtime payments, dealing with client accounts or bogging down otherwise busy members of staff with legacy problems due to incompetence on your behalf, you can give the impression that you a) aren’t fit for the role and b) you don’t have a real interest in the people working with you.
Having an informed knowledge of your business and the market that you work in can be crucial in making sure you know what you’re talking about and can deal with difficult clients, customers and co-workers. If you come across difficult questions by someone trying to prove that you don’t have the brainpower to do the job, you can calmly and intelligently respond with clear and knowledgeable answers that will be sure to leave them looking silly, rather than you being stumped for an answer. Showing that you are a source of information will also make you seem a valuable boss and people will be more inclined to come to you as a source of their queries as well as concerns.
From time to time, many people find themselves trying to ‘dumb down’ in an attempt to make people around you in a working environment seem smarter. Both professionally and personally this is a huge faux-pas. Remember, you’re in the role you’re in because you are intelligent as well as capable. Don’t ever give people the impression that you know less than you do. Being underestimated isn’t a good thing in the workplace; it will give people scope to start trying to take liberties as they will think you aren’t intelligent enough to know better.
Mary Keane-Dawson is the CEO of Convertr Media and recently spoke to The Drum on the topic of women and the work place. She says: “Understand how others perceive you and work on ensuring that you always stay true to yourself”. She continues, “Keep making decisions that are about moving forwards, and learn from your mistakes”.
The same general rule applies for the way you communicate with the people you interact with on a daily basis. Your appearance may make a first impression, but the way you speak highlights to people a general impression of how intelligent you are. Cut out any bad habits such as using slang or including ‘like’ or ‘erm’ as a result of speaking too fast. Speak slowly, clearly and with an informed answer. The same applies when contacting people via text message or email – don’t use abbreviated text speak. Shortening or misspelling of words and lack of punctuation may be okay for your personal messages with friends, but this can make you look extremely unintelligent, as well as not being serious when dealing with problems with colleagues. You will be surprised how much better people connect with you on a personal level if you speak eloquently and use language correctly.
Another common misconception is that women can be lazy in the workplace when given an authoritative role. This is of course untrue, so emphasise the falsity of this claim by keeping your own office organised and making sure even the menial tasks aren’t left to pile up. This could be as simple as making sure everything is organised. There are a number of ways you can stay organised, including investing in filing cabinets or just regular storage boxes.
Being a strong woman in business doesn’t mean you have to be harsh or cold, as another stereotype would insinuate. Keane-Dawson comments on this and adds “Business is not about being horrible, but you have to be able to make decisions that sometimes won’t make you popular”. And that is just it; businesses can’t run themselves on easy decisions and blasé planning. Being headstrong without being overbearing and managing staff without being harsh are crucial balances you need to crack in order to become the best you can be, not only as a woman, but also as a woman in charge. Dealing with problems doesn’t have to be pussy footed around as, in this day in age, there is no need for gender inequality to thrive.
Katie Belliveau is a passionate blogger and enjoys helping women in business. She loves reading as well as long evening walks with a flask of tea and her dog.
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