A recent article in smh.com.au small business by Gayle Bryant March 08, 2013 said that; “To be a leader, a woman must think like a leader”, and referred to research by Suzi Skinner of Selftalk (selftalk.com.au), that identified that even when some women reach senior leadership roles they still struggle to come to terms with their new role and how they should behave and respond against the backdrop of how many women are still expected to behave, that is; how we are socialized to recognize the behaviors of the female gendered identity. For some women, this new environment dealing with senior men can be daunting, but I would argue not because they lack the qualifications, the experience or the internal fortitude required, more because they have not been given permission from an early age to be a ‘leader’ that fits into the traditional business landscape. By that I mean, fitting into business environments that have been built on having male leaders. You only have to visit the majority of boardrooms to see the masculine furniture and decor and this alone can intimidate some women, particularly if they are not used to these environments. Although most women are well used to working as the minority with greater number of men, there are underlying messages that tell us that this is a male friendly environment. It is often designed with male decor in mind because it has largely male leaders who of course want to feel comfortable in their working environment. These environments ‘tell’ us how to behave, what to expect and we know who is in charge just by looking at them, what’s more we expect to see a man as leader. Heavy dark panelled wood walls were a feature in many older board rooms, coupled with timber tables and black leather chairs that give you messages about the hidden rules and behaviours that are required when you enter.
“I found even when women become leaders in a senior management role, they often find they are still not treated as they should be,” she says. “It might be that in meetings they are not being listened to, or people will talk through their presentations. One of my core findings is the need to create an environment where women are taken seriously and that will entail a major mindset shift.” says Suzi Skinner of Selftalk
I certainly agree with all the points in Bryant’s article and find this information mirrors my own observations. I continue to see women in senior leadership still acting out their gendered roles, some more than others, but many still defer to the man in the room in one way or another. As the article says, not all women want to become CEO’s just as not all men do, so the constant focus on women in leadership could be adding to a lack of equality and recognition for women generally – now there is something else for them to aspire to!