Marie-Hélène Budworth

Associate Professor of Human Resource Management, specializing in learning, development & motivation.

Marie-Hélène Budworth

No excuses? Women and power

September 29th, 2010 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Author Gloria Feldt is promoting a new book about woman and their path to success.  Yesterday, it was profiled in the life section of the Globe and Mail.  In her interview with the Globe, she argues that women are holding themselves back from positions of power.  The way the argument is articulated in this brief interview suggests that the perpetuation of the glass ceiling is due to the fact that women have learned to behave in ways that limit their progress.  Her advice? Women need to get over being viewed negatively or disliked.  

I struggled while reading this brief review.  While the advice is simple, it is not realistic.  Ms Feldt has correctly identified the fact that women have been socialized in ways that are not consistent with success in today’s workforce.  Women in North American culture are ‘feminized’ by our environments.  It is expected that a young girl will be social, friendly, cooperative, and agreeable – and so she is.  Importantly, these expectations are set by society in general and not one gender group in particular.  In the workforce, we reward confidence, competence, self-assurance, and competitiveness; traits that are not always compatible with our expectations of ‘feminine‘ behaviour.  So, while Ms Feldt is correct in that there are ways that women behave that are not consistent with modern definitions of ‘success‘ in the workplace, attempting to operate outside of these gender expectations can be problematic.  

Research in social psychology clearly finds that women who operate outside of their gender norm often suffer from ‘backlash.‘  There is a risk that a woman operating in a way that is not authentic to who she is will miss out on productive relationships, rewards, and advancement.    While I admire Ms Feldt’s goal of assisting women in advancing in their careers, I worry about advice that asks women to behave in ways that may not represent who they are, and that opens them up for negative consequences.  

This is where I am supposed to offer an alternative to the advice provided by Ms Feldt.  Unfortunately, I do not have clear guidance based on the existing research.  I do sincerely believe that the solution needs to understand the current barriers in a realistic way, but provide guidance that allows women to be authentic to who they are.  At this very moment, I am doing some work on advancement and salaries for men versus women based on a set of impression management behaviours.  I will keep you up to date on what I find.


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