Wonder Woman at Work: The Mixed Messages Society Tells Young Women

You’ll find this blog by Lee Desser—and more from the NACE Blog Team—at http://community.naceweb.org/blogs/lee-desser/2017/08/10/wonder-woman-at-work-the-mixed-messages-society-tells-young-women

4 thoughts on “Wonder Woman at Work: The Mixed Messages Society Tells Young Women

  1. This is a thoughtfully reflective essay, Lee. Much research has found that women can’t be both “competent” and “likeable.” What a shame. I hope that your generation of women fixes that! In the meantime, please remember that just because someone makes an observation about us does not mean it is correct regardless of how well-meaning it was and also that we sometimes do misinterpret the message – often in the negative. As to your question, perhaps the answer is not so much in a measurement of “assertiveness” as to the ability to stand in possession of ourselves so that others perceive us for who we are and, therefore, what we are capable of accomplishing.

  2. Brave post! What surprises me is that this still happens, this mixed messaging. It’s been true since the 70’s when I was a teenager. Be assertive, but not too assertive. Be nurturing but not a pushover and doormat. I take comfort in that it’s just as mixed for men these days as well. Emotional Intelligence as a popular concept is finally helping bring “soft skills” and empathy into vogue for everyone, especially leaders. Student Affairs IS different. It’s the kinder, gentler version of higher education (usually), which is typically “nicer” than many corporate settings (but not always). So, to be caring, empathetic and flexible is a greater expectation. I still see, however, that it’s difficult to be noticed or heard if you don’t strike the right balance.

    As for “How assertive is too assertive in higher education?” is a great question and a challenge to answer. I’ve found it varies from institution to institution, but I hope there are a few studies out there on this topic! Landing your first professional job is different than if you set your sights on moving up in the future. If you want to be a leader and decision maker, you can’t avoid making some people uncomfortable. I’ve found that HOW you say things is critical for women in particular (as unfair as that may be). Staying positive and seeing the good in others has been the most helpful strategy. Not to be a Pollyanna (does anyone but me use that reference anymore?) but it helps in getting where you want to go. It’s OK to be strategic, confident, assertive AND caring at the same time.

  3. What I read in your article is basically this question: What is it to be a woman in the workplace today? How is it that we lead as women? As a 50-something myself, I can only say that navigating what it is to be a woman in the workplace is somewhat undefined yet so many have unexpressed expectations (while holding you accountable to them).

    I think the key is not to allow others to define those expectations, or else we’ll never get ahead of that message. I would focus on confidence and integrity. Know your communications style and focus on your strengths. Your womanliness will shine through just being you. For example, if you are naturally caring and nurturing (a shepherding style of communicator), that will come through all on its own. Not that we can’t work on areas becoming more rounded, developing more empathy or other soft skills for greater mindfulness, but I wouldn’t sweat it so much. Be you. You are a woman.

  4. Thank you everyone for your thoughtful responses and feedback!

    Catherine–I hope my generation fixes it, as well! One thing I’ve noticed is that there seems to be an expectation that women in entry-level positions should be nurturing, kind, and subservient, while women in positions of leadership need to speak their mind and maybe ruffle some feathers. Can these be the same person?

    Diane–Your comment about how this applies to men as well reminds me of the firing of Uber CEO, Travis Kalanick. In part, he was so successful at expanding Uber into other countries because he didn’t follow the rules. Yet, when it came to issues to sexual harassment, he could not take a softer approach and find ways to improve the hostile company culture. The same quality (aggressiveness, rule-breaking) that helped him succeed led to his firing.

    Catroy210–Absolutely agree. One of my very best supervisors was able to lead in a caring and nurturing way and it created a tremendous company culture. There are different ways of leading and that’s OK.

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