Women Leaders and Those Who Resent Them
Women leaders are resented in the workplace, and this creates major issues that hurt their performance. But that’s a thing of the past you may think, because feminism! But here’s a question for you: If you had a very serious brain condition that required a difficult, extensive surgery – would you feel comfortable if a woman operated on you?
If you answered yes, you’re in the minority. According to the AMA Journal of Ethics, 60% of people would choose a doctor who was a man over a woman, even if she had more experience.
If a woman in a leadership position is hired by a company, more often than not, her gender will factor into the conversation: “Did you hear that we got a new CEO? She’s a woman“. It’s still surprising to many that a woman can succeed in high-level executive and leadership positions. Not only is her performance is already doubted before starting, but she can’t win either way. If a woman really is a strong leader, she is labelled as a bitch. Since obvious hostility is not acceptable in the workplace, employees may use to passive-aggressive tactics to show their disdain. You don’t have to put up with it. Drawing from my own professional experience and that of others, here are four issues at work that you as a woman may be facing with your colleagues – and how to stop them.
The Authority of Women Leaders is Deliberately Tested and Undermined
Some men (and women) will resent your leadership if things do not go “their way”. If you are a male leader however, it is more acceptable. If you feel like your leadership is being undermined, you must confront the person directly, professionally and immediately, and ask specific questions such as “Why did you do this and undermine my authority?” or “What made you take this action given that it is my job, and not yours?”. If the response is aggressive and unprofessional, you must speak with your Human Resources department and escalate the issue immediately. It is in situations like these when women leaders and their authority as a female will be challenged, and your actions will determine your colleague’s attitude and perceptions of you.
Subtle Discrimination and Microaggressions
Know your rights because many employers assume that you don’t. Many women are not aware that employers cannot and should not ask particular questions during interviews that are usually, only aimed towards women. For example:
- Are you pregnant or planning on getting pregnant?
- Are you planning on getting married soon?
- What is your religious affiliation / ethnicity?
- How old are you?
These questions are seemingly benign, but they can also be construed as discrimination. You have the option of not answering any of these questions. Your employer is entitled to ask you if you are authorized to work in the United States, but cannot ask you where you’re from. You do not have to provide your age, marital plans, or irrelevant personal information during an interview and remember – official paperwork already gives them these answers. Forms such as your I-9 and W-4 clearly indicate your work authorization status, age, and marital status. During an interview, these questions are problematic and are subtle methods of discrimination. Men are not usually asked if they plan on having children, or if they plan on getting married, and as a woman neither should you. If you are asked these questions, you must handle it in a professional manner and analyze the question to know why you are being asked and what is being communicated. If you are asked for example, if you plan on getting married anytime soon, you can answer that your performance will not change regardless of your marital status. If you are asked if you are planning on having children, you can answer that you understand that your job requires dedication and commitment, two values that will not be compromised if you are accepted for the position. Women leaders have the added burden of being subtly discriminated against based on their gender, so always assess the questions you are asked and respond directly to those concerns in a professional manner.
Sexual Innuendo and Harassment
Harassment is not necessarily overt, and you have to trust your gut on this one but be very careful to identify the behavior. It also does not stop for women leaders. If a colleague makes statements or does something that is making you feel uncomfortable consistently, you need to speak out because s/he is counting on the fact that you will not. This is not mere speculation; according to a statistics compiled by the Huffington Post and YouGov, 70% of workplace harassment is unreported, and most people who see others being sexually harassed at the workplace also don’t report it. It is not your fault that you are being harassed and it is NEVER acceptable. Harassment can include:
- Being ogled or stared at in a manner that makes you uncomfortable
- Constant sexual innuendos and remarks
- When a colleague pointedly looks at your breasts / legs when speaking to you
- A colleague keeps touching you “mistakenly” or in a “friendly” manner that you don’t like
- You are recorded on video or taken pictures of without your consent
- A colleague consistently makes inappropriate remarks or comments that are sexual in nature to you
- You are hugged and groped without your consent
If these happen, make sure to document what’s going on. This is important. You must document this in case you need to take legal action against this person. When you document the actions of the colleague, you have evidence that you have explicitly expressed your discomfort. Remember to specify the action, and in a clear manner, ask this person to stop. For example, you can say: Hello Frank, I have some concerns that I would like to speak to you about. I feel uncomfortable when you place your hands on my shoulders / waist / arm without my consent, and I would appreciate and request that you stop touching me / stop talking to me this way, etc. After the e-mail has been sent, monitor the behavior. If the colleague escalates the behavior or does not stop, you must speak to your Human Resources department and document your concerns via e-mail. If the Human Resources Department does not help you, take legal action. The good news is HR takes these issues seriously, and companies will go out of their way to help you if you as opposed to facing a lawsuit that will hurt the company’s reputation.
Resentment by a Male Competitor
Some men refuse to believe that women leaders are effective, despite the fact that these very same women leaders are performing better than they are. What really tips the scale is when a leadership position boils down to a male and female candidate, and the woman is promoted or chosen. Here, you’re going to hear some pretty nasty statements being made that stem from a deep resentment of your expertise and position over his. This includes remarks that you “slept your way to the top”, or that you were hired only due to a diversity clause. Resentment manifests in different ways, so pay attention. Your boss or colleague may intentionally refuse to cooperate with you. Your leadership role will be challenged by those who will not do their job on purpose. The best advice I can give women leaders based on my experience is to call people out on their remarks immediately. Women leaders have been through this time and time again, and this advice does help. People are passive aggressive because they were raised in an environment where confrontation or expressing their true feelings will get them in trouble. Since it is not obvious, they rarely get called out on their behavior. The best way to overcome this as female leaders is to directly address the behavior as soon as it happens. It may make you uncomfortable at first, but it will also highlight to others that you will not tolerate it. Like bullies, these people back down when confronted.
Female leaders MUST speak out against those who resent them due to their gender, and not their performance because it works, it’s effective, and it breaks the mold.