Former PM Margaret Thatcher was famous for running the country with her no-excuses approach; Dragons’ Den Deborah Mearden is renowned for driving a harder bargain than her male counterparts; and no one has set a deadline with quite the same panache as American Vogue’s Anna Wintour.
As these women know, the nice girl always comes last and never more so than in the office... A recent study for the Institute for Employment Research in Germany shows that women who adopt a ‘masculine approach’ to work - to stereotype: unemotional, direct and demanding - earn up to £40,000 more in their lives than their ‘nicer’ female colleagues. So, do we have to be ruthless at work to be successful?
Nice girls come last
Unfortunately there’s still a gender discrepancy between how ‘tough’ male and female bosses are viewed. When a senior-ranking man asserts his authority he is positively viewed as an assertive leader, but when a woman employs the same tactics, she is labelled ‘a bitch’ and often given a suitable nickname to go with it – take Thatcher’s ‘Iron Lady’ tag and Wintour’s ‘Nuclear Wintour’ moniker. We shouldn’t have to put up with such labels in our modern society but it is a common problem, and if you want to have a successful career, being strong minded and confident seems to be the key.
“Being decisive and being seen to take the lead are very important for anyone in a senior role in business,” says Rachel Bridge, Enterprise Editor for The Sunday Times and author of several books about entrepreneurs. “Some people may perceive this as being a bitch, but they are essential attributes, regardless of gender.”
One of the UK’s most successful businesswomen, Ultimo magnate Michelle Mone, who is often seen as a firm but fair contributor on BBC’s The Apprentice agrees; “To be success you need to present yourself as confident and knowledgeable. No one will follow a leader who doubts their own ability or decisions.” Getting to the top is tough, it requires hard work, strength, determination and yes, sometimes a little bit of a no-prisoners attitude.
Women need to play hardball
Due to women being socially conditioned to be nice and modest - we have 10% less testosterone so are biologically programmed to be more empathetic and less risk averse - some women overcompensate when trying to vanquish gender stereotypes. Leora Tanenbaum, author of Catfight, Women & Competition, says: So many female bosses go out of their way to prove they are not too emotional or passive, and they can be more agressive than any man."
Disappointingly, evidence suggests that women do need to work harder to be taken seriously. There’s a famous experiment called ‘the Goldberg paradigm’, where a group are given a speech and asked to rate how effective, intelligent and persuasive they think it is. Every time this is run, if they are told it is by a man, they invariably rate it ten to twenty points higher than if they are told it is by a woman. Another study found that two thirds of female employees said that they would prefer to work for a male boss because they’re less prone to mood swings.
However, things are slowly changing and recent trends show we could be heading towards a business climate which promotes the best of both sexes. "We’ve come a long way in a very short space of time,” says Bridge. “Being in charge is a relatively new thing to us. It’s an evolutionary and a learning process. I believe that the ‘tougher’ women mentioned in the research are £40,000 richer because, quite simply, they’ve got the guts to go and ask for a pay rise. The strong woman knows her worth and demands that she is recognised for it. And rightly so.”
When it comes to being a boss, no woman should have to compromise being a nice person in order to be a leader. But equally, isn't it time for both men and women to shake the opinion that being a direct, firm and successful female boss translates her into being a bitch?
Words: Rachael Wright