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March 02, 2017 Practice Points

Embracing Your True Female Self as a Pathway to Success

By Natasha S. Cooper

In a recent Forbes article, author Samantha Harrington reexamines what society labels as the traits found in a “successful” business woman. As a young entrepreneur, Harrington discusses her observations on her quest to become this woman. She notices the unvarying tone in posts, blogs, and editorials stating that women must learn “how to play the game,” and women must “become more aggressive.” Specifically, Harrington’s article discusses a Stanford study finding that “masculine women” are more successful in the workplace and receive 1.5 times more promotions than “feminine women.” The masculine woman is defined as being aggressive, assertive, and confident, while, the feminine woman is defined as being understanding, compassionate, and tactful.

Rather than following the playbook and joining what Harrington labels the “boys club,” she suggests rewriting the rules to make room for women who have more traditionally feminine traits. Harrington explains that authors who use the rhetoric of the successful “masculine woman” only account for one genre of women. In fact, a successful woman does not need to seek admission into the boys club. Rather, she can be successful while remaining true to herself and creating her own league.

Harrington suggests two simple tips for how managers and partners can “make room” for all types of personalities to thrive:

  1. Pay attention. Learn the work and conversation style of your colleagues, employees, associates etc. Are they introverts or extroverts? If someone appears uncomfortable offering their opinion, then ask for it, perhaps in a smaller group setting. If someone lacks confidence, give them tasks you know they will be good at to inspire confidence.

  2. Give people tasks that fit them well. Let your employees, associates, etc., do what they excel at and enjoy. If someone is more of an introvert, a speaking engagement and/or large networking event will not be her strong suit. Likewise, do not assign the most assertive and outspoken individual to the task of moderating a collaborative group session. The result will be a more productive work environment. As confirmed by a study conducted by the University of Warwick, employees are 12 percent more productive when they are happy.  

Essentially, Harrington advocates that balance is the key to developing and sustaining a successful business. Diversity isn’t just about getting more women in the office, but getting all kinds of women–those women who “don’t hesitate to interrupt and don’t apologize for their opinions” and those quieter women “who value compassion more than transaction and who aren’t afraid to apologize or put other’s feelings before their own.”  

Harrington isn’t the only one suggesting women rewrite the rules. In her recent book, Own It: The Power of Women at Work, Sallie Krawcheck, former CEO of Smith Barney and Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, advocates that women should not succumb to the pressure to act like something they are not—men. Krawcheck believes that with women “having more freedom and more options than [they’ve] ever had, …controlling $5 trillion in investable assets in the U.S.…and making up half of the workforce,” they should not be told to act like men, and going forward, men should seek to have women that contribute intellectual diversity in the workplace.

Ultimately, both Harrington and Krawcheck advocate that it is better to play to your strengths then simply to play the proverbial “game”—a game created by men. Women have a choice. If you are a naturally aggressive, “self-monitoring, masculine woman” type, such as Margaret Thatcher or Indira Gandhi, then go with it, because we know it works. If you are not, however, do not despair. You can still find success by remaining true to who you are. Certainly, stepping outside your comfort zone allows for you to grow and develop in your career, but that does not equate to sacrificing your femininity to earn a spot in the boys club. In the end, diversity in experiences, personalities, and leadership styles in the workplace is a worthwhile goal and will lead to greater business success.

Natasha S. Cooper is an associate at Bressler, Amery & Ross, P.C. in New York, New York.

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