Do you climb the mountain to be seen, or to see?

By Barbara du Preez-Ulmi. I’m sorry, are these numbers right? I’m not 100% sure, I hate numbers.  One of the non-threatening leadership strategy tips for women, advertised in the latest The Cooper Review post. It got my blood boiling. Don’t take me wrong, I love their sarcastic sense of office humour – and as Holly states in one of their testimonials, their infographics make for soft toilet paper, too.

As the author Sarah Cooper puts it, Should men accept powerful women and not feel threatened by them? Yes. Is that asking too much? IS IT? Sorry I didn’t mean to get aggressive there totally has my two thumbs up, but how many of the over 1 Million viewers get it? I mean, who still reads intros? We all gun for the pretty pictures.

The infographic was shared 552 000 times at the time of writing this article– how many viewers agreed with the tips given, even women, as after all, us girls are taught to play nicely? When I first read it, I thought, WTF – is this for real – but as I carried on reading, I reflected on my own leadership style and started to doubt my approach in the past. Boom!

Death by connotation

  • You hate your bitchy boss.
  • You think your boss is effective and likeable.
  • Your colleague at the board meeting is just so super emotional.
  • This C-level pal knows how to captain the ship.

Death by connotation – I bet you automatically attributed gender to the sentences above. I was a boss for many years; now I’m my own boss.  I won’t repeat the niceties that made the rounds among my male colleagues in management, safe for one that stuck with me: There she goes cracking her German whip again, bossy chick. 

Non-threatening leadership strategies for women - tip 2 - -

Source: The Cooper

The race is on, bitch

Let’s get back to the infographic. Do we as women really need to change the way we communicate – the way we lead – in order to be seen? Or can we find ways to show our male counterparts in business that the real difference between us is how we see the outcome? And forget about our egos while getting there?

Most women (that I know, myself included) get to the top to see, and not to be seen. It’s about getting into the institutional seat of power that gives us the possibility to apply our transformational leadership style. It’s about capacity building, the empowering of employees, and the making of joint decisions.

We win in a pack. Whereas most men win as Alpha males.

Men and women see competition differently. I think…  Let me re-phrase this in a male way. I know that most men feel threatened by a powerful woman. In their minds, you get to the top to be seen.  And there is not much space at the top. So the race is on – and anything goes.  If a woman joins their race, and articulates her determination, then all they hear is a nasty flash-back to when they were little boys with their nagging mothers in tow.

So why have another hen at the top to tell them what to do? It’s pure survival.

A dangerous game

Perhaps The Cooper Review got it right. Change tactics and win. Pretend to be stupid, and trigger the need to be taken care of. Be the Parisian can can dancer in the office. And get to the very top.

If you leave it at that, you are no better than any other egotistical leader. You fought for your own gain. You have not achieved transformational change for all. But maybe you just applied vixen tactic.

Perhaps you are just like any candidate running for presidency; woe them, and then reveal your real agenda: The agenda of transformational leadership. But it’s a dangerous game. Most likely, you’ll be overlooked for promotion as most decision makers are male. You become a push over and help others climb the ladder.

You will forever be stuck in middle management, pinning memos to the black board.

The office is not a boudoir

Hmm, and then again: As a woman, how do you get men to respond? By flirtatiously coo-cooing like a turtle dove, or by telling them to get their act into gear? But you see, the office is not the bedroom.

Remember Jackie Onassis? She brought the boudoir into the White House. Posing sweetly as a dumb and docile First Wife, she found her way into the hearts of the world – her intelligence and sharp insights were only revealed after her husband’s death, when she could finally stop putting on an act.

I’d love to hear you explain it to me again. If women just act dumb and goody-two-shoes sweet nothing will change and we won’t have gender mainstreaming at the top no matter what organisation.

We can keep banging our foreheads against the water cooler when the Harvard Review tells us once again that only 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.

As female bosses, we need to find a way to shape our profiles differently. Many of us are not just bosses, but also wives, daughters, girlfriends or mothers.

To be married and have kids counts in a man’s favour at work. It means stability and commitment. And it means you need to earn a decent salary, as after all, you have a family to look after, right?

While being a professional who is also a wife or mother often counts against us. We are seen as needy, and non-committed to work. And we most likely earn less, also at the top, as after all, we have a man to look after us, right?

I don’t think it’s right to blame men alone for this viewpoint. We contribute to it, and we have the power to change it. And for this, we need to do what seems so difficult for many of us women:

We need to stick together.

Let us change the gendered seniority structure. It’s a tall pyramid for a woman.  Let’s rather make it a tower for everyone, and not just for men.

Daddy’s favourite girl forgets her sisters

Believe in yourself and find strength in teaming up with other women. We way too often work against each other in the fight for recognition in a male business world. There is power in unity.

As a woman, choose and empower female bosses.

As strangely enough, of those Americans who said they do mind about gender in leadership, 40% of women said they prefer a male boss.

Show what you are capable of – don’t shy away from highlighting your achievements. Put that signature under the project proposal. Exercise your bragging rights.  But at the same time, acknowledge your helpers, your team-members, and your mentors. How else will you be noticed for leadership position?

We are so conditioned to be Daddy’s favourite girl, rather than empowering our sisters. So perhaps it’s time we re-branded ourselves. We need to create a new brand for the powerful woman at work.

We need to create the woman that is a positive threat.

And no, we don’t need to grow balls for this. Or a moustache.


Humble note from the author: Please forgive me for generalising men and women in leadership positions; I do know that there are women of steel who don’t feel much for capacity building in others, and I do know that there are men who are trans-formative, humble leaders. But they are the minority. What I want to see in business as well as in our homes and in politics, is leadership that is equally shared between men and women. We can only break down societal and gendered conditioning if we learn from each other.



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