This comment was posed as a question at an event I recently attended and prompted many nods of agreement.
It’s a sentiment I hear too often and I respond with steam and empathy in equal dollops.
We expect a lot from women, especially senior women. Not only are we expected to jump over higher hurdles to prove ourselves, we’re expected to be feminine, assertive, acquiescent, nice, smart, effective, efficient, beautiful, humble, proud, good, caring, responsible, reliable, diligent and extend a hand to all other women, to help and mentor on call.
None of these expectations are necessarily explicit or even conscious, but when we don’t live up to them, our loyalty, credibility or authority is questioned and we’re labelled as ‘worse than the men’, ‘not supportive,’ ‘aggressive,’ ‘competitive,’ or ’hostile’.
Men aren’t any better off. They’re expected to lead and know what to do. They must look confident and be sure of themselves even in circumstances when the most sane and rational response would be uncertainty and doubt. Men have learned it’s their job to take charge, so they don capes like super heroes and run, jump and fly with certainty. We shouldn’t be surprised when they misjudge and crash in a heap of testosterone.
The challenges that women and men face are social, structural and cultural. Women are as afflicted by unconsciously held beliefs and assumptions about who they should be, what they’re capable of and how they should behave as men, but it’s harder to be a woman in a senior role than it is to be a man.
This is because the few women in these positions are highly visible. Every mistake is amplified and it’s harder to get away with merely being human.
It is important that women encourage and support each other, and many do, but frankly, when they’re so busy doing their jobs and attempting to conform to whatever is expected of them, there’s already enough on their plate.
We need more women at the top and it’s a really hard gig. Let’s support and encourage them, and offer our friendship, not our criticism.