The inherent gender bias embedded in our society creates unique challenges for female leaders which are very difficult to navigate.
“Women are sent confusing messages on how to lead and how to behave,” said Monique Tallon, women’s leadership and inclusion expert, speaker and author. “They are told to be assertive but if they are too assertive, they can be regarded as aggressive or difficult to work with. They are expected to be passionate but not too passionate because then they may be seen as emotional.”
Female leaders are balancing on a tight-rope, putting a lot of energy into figuring out how to present themselves.
Deep-rooted stereotypes impact the ways in which men and women are perceived differently at work. While men are associated with leadership qualities, women are perceived as nurturers and care-givers.
“This stereotype boxes a lot of women into a place where they feel they have to be the nice girl to get ahead,” said Tallon. “It creates a double bind which results in a choice between being liked and being respected.”
Instead of trying to emulate male leaders, women should tap into their unique feminine traits to build loyalty and respect, Tallon believes.
“Showing empathy and care for others, taking time to develop your team, being more collaborative and inclusive of others; these are all qualities that people are looking for in leaders today,” said Tallon.
“Businesses should be valuing these feminine strengths in every step: in the hiring process, in job performance evaluations and in leadership,” she said. “Women bring unique qualities that are essential for driving business to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”
Demonstrating the ideal leadership style is not a “one size fits all” scenario. In order to strike a balance, Tallon recommends looking at each situation individually and considering the desired outcome.
Tallon is a Greater Los Angeles-based thought leader on women's leadership and the published author of Leading Gracefully: A Woman's Guide to Confident, Authentic and Effective Leadership, which introduces the feminine leadership model she developed to play to women's strengths and help them be more impactful as leaders. She is also the CEO of Highest Path, a boutique global consulting firm which strives to close the gender gap within companies.