Women, Work, and the Art of Gender Judo

by Joan C. Williams for the Washington Post

Courtesy of Washington Post- Original Article

Why practice gender judo if women are supposed to lean in and just ask for what they want? My interviews with 127 highly successful women show that more straightforward strategies can backfire. While plenty of glass ceilings have been shattered, most good jobs — from senator to scientist, comic to chief executive — are still seen as requiring what have traditionally been perceived as masculine qualities. Lawyers are aggressive; chief executives are decisive; techies are nerds; comics are obsessed with sex. So women have to behave in “masculine” ways to be seen as competent.

One problem: Women are still expected to be feminine.

The solution that Williams suggests that leveraging a blend of "stereotypically" masculine and feminine leadership traits has the most promising outcomes. If you take a gender blind approach, a few key strategies seam to be effected for both women and men. 1) Good Cop/Bad Cop: being warm/nurturing 95% of the time and reserving stern authority for that 5%, when you need it. 2) The Posse: Negotiating or lobbying for the team's mutual interests, rather than your own will emphasize your leadership strengths and seams to be easier than doing so for yourself.  Similarly, assembling a posse of like-minded colleagues (both men and women) that will reciprocally promote each another at the right opportunity is much more successful than self-promotion, especially by women. Another revelation that Williams suggests is that elimination of natural gender bias by providing multiple ways to assess achievement for men and women.

Eliminating bias would require redesigning hiring, assignments, evaluations, promotions and compensation to interrupt subtle bias.