Managing Perceptions – A Special Challenge for Women Leaders
Ms Marin, Prime Minister of Finland is in the news, thanks to the serious backlash she is receiving for letting her hair down and partying the night away.
This incident brings up one of the factors that seem to constantly come up in our conversations with women leaders – the fact that they think twice about letting their guard down when it comes to work.
Being in power and being a woman, one’s words and actions are dissected to the minutest detail.
One woman leader told us how she had to be very careful to keep all men (including the boss) at a distance, to ensure her intentions were never misunderstood.
Another leader told us how she dresses much more conservatively than usual so that what she is wearing does not colour or distract from what she is trying to say. Ironically, many times, it is other women colleagues who would be the more judgemental lot.
Some are cautious about how much they can reveal about their personal lives. For example, some have experienced a shift in the way people perceive them based on the position or designation of their spouse. The responses could range from ‘why do you even need to work’ to ‘some man could be feeding his family if he had your job’. Not surprising then that many women end up thinking twice before inviting colleagues into their homes.
This caution also extends to who they can trust, be open and transparent with. Many women leaders had their confidence betrayed by people they thought they could trust. While this could happen to men as well, it seems to result in one maintaining a certain level of formality in all interactions.
An important quality that could fall by the way-side is also displaying one’s sense of humour at work. As a small note in Adam Grant’s ‘Think Again’ reveals, “If you choose to make fun of yourself out loud, there’s evidence that how people react depends on your gender. When men make self-deprecating jokes, they are seen as more capable leaders but when women do it, they are judged as less capable. Apparently, many people have missed the memo that if a woman pokes fun at herself, it’s not a reflection of incompetence or inadequacy. It a symbol of confident humility and wit.”
It is only natural to carry oneself in a manner appropriate to the environment. What our research has thrown light on is this – when it comes to women leaders or even women in general, it takes a more conscious effort to manage perceptions. Like the prime minister of Finland, they can’t seem to afford to let their worlds mix.
The consequences can potentially damage all that they have worked for.
Would you agree?