An Aggressive Woman

powerful woman

I was meeting with a dear friend the other day. She is a wife and mother of 3 adult sons. She is under a lot of stress due to ill health in the family and she is working hard to hold the family together. She was sharing with me that all four men in her family have at some point or other suggested that she “screeches” and that she should tone down her timbre when speaking about something she feels strongly about.

That got me thinking of the recent US Senator Kamala Harris story. For those of you who missed it. The Senator was speaking at a Select Intelligence Committee and was interrupted twice by her male colleagues and called hysterical. I leave you to view it for yourself and decide if you agree with that word.

So why is that when a man speaks with passion it is considered assertive and firm where as a woman is screechy and hysterical. What can we do to address this unconscious bias that so many of us have, women and men included, in how we perceive women. It comes down to the power relationships in society. Men have had a sense of entitlement for many hundreds of years. Most of them can very easily speak their minds, challenge the status quo, be assertive. Yet the more senior a woman becomes, the less liked she usually is. She would most likely be seen as aggressive, dominating.

In 2015, leading researchesJoseph Grenny and David Maxfield revealed that women’s perceived competency drops by 35 percent and their perceived deserved compensation by $15,088 when they are assertive or forceful. Assertive men are also punished, but at lesser rates.

“Speaking up in forceful, assertive ways is especially risky for women,” said Grenny, co-author of the New York Times bestseller Crucial Conversations. “An emotion-inequality effect punishes women more than men. Women are burdened with the assumption that they will conform to cultural stereotypes that typecast women as caring and nurturing. Speaking forcefully violates these cultural norms, and women are judged more harshly than men for the same degree of assertiveness.”

Those of you reading this in India will remember the ariel ad. Yes, it is advertising washing powder but it also teaches us that respect of women should start at home. This is where our unconscious bias is embedded. How can a woman who does not have equality at home expect equality at work?

Let’s begin by addressing how we women behave at home and how our family treat us. Let’s challenge our unconscious bias in that regard. There’s no point in having training sessions at work to empower women if they are not empowered at home.

And for those of us who have daughters and sons –are we giving them equal opportunity to speak and to be heard?

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