Careers

Why women are liked but underappreciated in the workplace

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Susan Devaney
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It’s 2018, and women are still staying out of the spotlight at work…

We all know that in order to climb the career ladder we have to be our own self-promoter.

From speaking out in meetings to working overtime and shouting out about our own accomplishments, it can prove to be both exhausting and, well feel a little … arrogant.

And it’s this clambering for visibility in the office to reach the top that women are struggling with (and, boy, do we get it).

Not only are women’s accomplishments often overlooked in the workplace, but when women try to make themselves ‘seen’ they can be viewed as acting out of turn – for a woman.

Which is why researchers, Priya Fielding-Singh, Devon Magliozzi and Swethaa Ballakrishnen, immersed themselves in a women’s professional development programme at a large non-profit organisation in America to delve deeper into why and how it can change.

After interviewing 86 in-depth interviews, observing 36 discussion groups and being present in 15 program-wide meetings, they found that the women (who were all white and degree-educated) actively “opted for a risk-averse, conflict-avoidant strategy in the office”.

And it’s a strategy most of us can relate to. Not only did the women replace assertiveness with niceness, but they also quietly “got stuff done”, too. 

And it’s this clambering for visibility in the office in able to reach the top that women are struggling with (and, boy, do we get it)

The researchers also found that women actively avoided backlash in the workplace, hindering their chances of a promotion.

“Women in our study recognised that being less visible in the office could hurt their odds of promotion. But they worried that violating feminine norms could leave them even worse off,” the researchers wrote in the Harvard Business Review.

“Many had personally experienced or witnessed situations where women who acted assertively or authoritatively were penalised.”

And it’s not the first time this issue has been highlighted.

“Many reports show that women speak less in meetings than men do, particularly when in a group, and that women also face bias when they do speak up at work,” Pip Jamieson, founder and CEO of The Dots, tells Stylist.co.uk.

However, there are a few apps available to help counteract this issue – if employers get on board to address the difference.

“One example is GenderEQ, which analyses the ratio between male and female voices in real-time,” explains Jamieson.

“Excitingly, the upcoming All.ai – developed at BBC’s 100 Women Challenge – will tell you what portion of the meeting your voice was heard, perfect for people that want to speak up, and for others to encourage everyone to have their say and ensure there’s an equal share of voice during meetings.”

Researchers also found that women struggled to find professional authenticity

Throughout the study, researchers also found that women struggled to find professional authenticity. Often in the workplace we’re told to be louder, firmer and self-promoting. But the women in the study favoured a more “mission-oriented, communal style” instead and rejected the “idea that they should have to embrace norms set up to advantage traditionally male characteristics.”

And studies have shown that this leadership style is usually followed by successful CEOs. In 2017, the CEO Genome Project analysed the personalities of 2,000 CEOs, alongside their career history, business results, and behavioural patterns. Researchers then sifted through that information in a bid to work out what set apart the leaders from the followers, as well as those who excelled into the role from those who under performed.

The results found that qualities often associated with introverts made for the better leaders.

“We’ve been struck by how few of the successful leaders we’ve encountered fit [the] profile,” said CEO Genome Project founder Elena Lytkina Botelho to the Harvard Business Review. “Our analysis revealed that while boards often gravitate toward charismatic extroverts, introverts are slightly more likely to surpass the expectations of their boards and investors.”

In addition, the women in the study also faced pressures from work and parenting duties. Adopting the invisibility method at work meant women could have time to focus on things at home, too. In turn, minimalising conflict at work with colleagues also had a knock-on effect at home as it reduced any backlash from partners.

Interestingly, women opted for careers that offered “flexibility and stability while their husbands pursued riskier, and potentially more rewarding, ambitions.”

After examining all of the data, researchers stressed the changes that need to occur in the workplace to help women going forward. Firstly, the office environment needs to “value unconventional forms of leadership”. Secondly, employers need to “fight implicit bias”, and lastly, companies should start to “balance women’s second-shift responsibilities”.

We’re definitely on board. 

Images: Getty / Unsplash 

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Susan Devaney

Susan Devaney is a digital journalist for Stylist.co.uk, writing about fashion, beauty, travel, feminism, and everything else in-between.

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