A while back, Ayandola wrote an article on female bosses because of the unfair slander of female bosses. If there is one clear thing, the code of conduct used to assess female colleagues and bosses is very different from those applied to their male counterparts and often too subjective. Women are considered with different lenses from men in the professional world. And consequently, they are judged more harshly than men if they display certain leadership traits or actively pursue success in their field.
Women are expected to be nurturing, soft-spoken, submissive, people-pleasers, and pleasant, while men can be ruthless, blunt, ambitious, confident, and assertive. If a woman is the latter, she is seen as a mean and challenging person. It doesn’t matter so much to society that the same attributes praised in men are demonized in women.
Like Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, says, “Success and likeability are negatively correlated for women.” This means that a woman’s weaknesses will usually stand out more than a man’s as they progress in their career, and this has nothing to do with a woman being the weaker sex but everything to do with the fact that the world has drawn up expectations for the woman. These expectations are frequently impossible for a normal human being, working in a high-pressure environment and with tight deadlines, to achieve.
In Eunice’s research leading up to this post, she read about some female CEOs who have been forced to take career breaks due to actions and behaviors deemed churlish.
One story published by The Verge in 2019 stands out. The story of Steph Korey, CEO of Away, a travel startup company. When reading this story, one would feel the plight of the employees. Oh! how they were harassed, overworked, and berated for even minor mistakes. Steph Korey eventually had to step down due to the gravity of the accusations backed by screenshots of messages she sent across the company. The post made a great deal about Steph’s rudeness and impolite candor but did not notice from her statements that she did not ask her employees to do anything she wouldn’t do.
Now, we are in no way condoning the harassment of workers. We would never, seeing as we are both workers ourselves. The only problem is that less than two months after The Verge published its story on Steph Korey, a post was published by Business Insider in which Ex-Tesla employees revealed the worst part of working there (with Elon Musk). The post outlined complaints such as long working hours, which caused a former worker to nearly get a divorce, the toxic environment created by Elon Musk, who gave unrealistic plans, and employees having a constant sense that the company did not care about them. These complaints seem to mirror what the Away employees were going through, but guess what? Elon Musk is still CEO and product architect of Tesla Motors. He has 52M followers on Twitter, most of whom enthusiastically support him.
Let’s step out of the corporate/ tech world and into the sports world. Remember when Serena Williams made a scene at the US Open Women’s final? Yes, of course, you do because it was all over the news and social media as if something out of the world had happened. A woman defied the status quo and stood up for what she believed was right and, for that reason, was perceived as a violent verbal abuser. Once Serena Williams left the calm, composed, and gracious nest, she became prey for the booing crowd, and it was at once as though none of the strenuous years of the women’s rights movement had happened. The early champions of women’s rights must have rolled in their graves. To realize that they had fought to have jobs, to vote, and to stand in the same rooms as men, only to be told that there was a specific way they could go about exercising their newly found freedom and privilege, must have made them want to tear apart their graves.
In his earlier years at Microsoft, you have probably read about how Bill Gates’ “angry, bitter boss” character was lauded by his employees and was seen as an inspiration. Like any company builder, Gates, like Steph, was known for sending “critical and sarcastic” emails to employees at night, but guess what? Unlike Steph’s employees, Gates’ employees liked it. We could blame it on the millennial workforce or the fact that social media and thus self-awareness was not on the rise during that time, but the bottom line is that she is a woman and he is a man. While her actions were seen as dangerous to human well-being, his were praised as sound leadership and even affectionately dubbed “tough love.”
How do we expect female-led companies to be able to compete fairly with male-led ones if the former must abide by tight (sometimes unachievable) codes of conduct? Whereas the latter is free to pull any trick in the handbook without caring how it would affect their career or their companies? How do we expect to see more ladies at the top if they are crucified for their actions, whereas the same actions done by men are hailed as good leadership or shrewd business dealing? How are we surprised that there is a gender disparity in the workplace/business world or that women are increasingly uncomfortable with the limitations?
Systemic gender discrimination has become so rooted in our social settings that it is practiced without awareness by both men and even fellow women. Therefore, we collectively need to decide to change the narrative. We must consciously understand that women are not collectively more nurturing than men, and female bosses should have the room to be as loud, ambitious, and strong as their male counterparts without the fear of a career catastrophe.
Borrowing from Martin Luther King Jr’s famous speech, “It is our dream that one day the world will be a place where women and men are judged by the same objective standards.”