Could it be that plain old mental habit is the reason for gender inequality at work? According to consultant and former businesswoman Caroline Turner, that’s pretty much what it comes down to. In a blog post for the Huffington Post, Turner said that the biggest reason women aren’t proportionately represented in business leadership positions is a set of “mind-sets,” or unconscious ways of viewing the world. The most powerful and deep-rooted of these mind-sets, it seems, is the “double bind,” or the idea that if a woman channels her more feminine energies, she’ll be liked by her coworkers but not seen as a leader. On the other hand, if she allows her masculine energies to lead the way, she’s likely to be judged and disliked. What I take this to mean is that the biggest obstacle we’re up against in the workplace is essentially subconscious stereotyping.
Not surprisingly, workplaces are usually more masculine than feminine, according to Turner. Most have a declarative communication style among employees, which is apparently considered masculine, rather than more of a “humble” and feminine way of speaking. Since women naturally tend to take on the norms of their successful coworkers, they may operate in a more masculine way. But instead of leading her to the top, this assertiveness may cause people to question and dislike her.
Other regrettable uses of masculinity from women at work can happen when she takes charge of a group rather encouraging each individual’s ideas, uses a competitive working style, gives direct commands, or handles conflict directly. So, essentially, everything a male boss might do, women shouldn’t do if they want to stay popular. Turner calls it a “lose-lose proposition.”
Turner insists that awareness is the most important thing. Since the “double bind” often isn’t conscious, simply knowing it exists and acknowledging when it surfaces is a major tool. Catching our own subconscious judgments of how others behave can take away some of the problem’s power, as does alerting fellow women about the double bind phenomenon. Turner also suggests that women alternate between feminine and masculine management styles. To me, that just seems how people typically behave : we all have a little bit of both types of energies in us, and each surfaces at different points.
[Image of gender symbols via Shutterstock]