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COLUMN: Gender stereotypes harm women in business



In the world of business, there seems to be no winning for women.

A stereotype that women cannot succeed in high-stress business positions, like venture capitalists, for instance, persists in our society to the detriment of determined and ambitious businesswomen.

John Greathouse, a professor of entrepreneurship at the University of California Santa Barbara and a partner at Rincon Venture Partners, stated that women should disguise their gender or create a gender neutral persona on job applications in order to gain more exposure to opportunities in the business world.

Being a woman means not being taken seriously.

Because of this, women are far less likely to hold upper-level management positions. In 2015, CNN estimated that women made up only 5 percent of CEOs and 14 percent of all other top executives.

According to Forbes magazine, this may largely be attributed to the fact that women are judged more harshly and held to a higher standard than their male counterparts, resulting in dismissal during promotion time.

When women take matters into their own hands and ask for a promotion instead, they’re considered to be more abrasive and rude than men who do the same, according to a survey conducted among technology professionals by Fortune magazine.

The survey also found that during performance reviews, while both men and women are given constructive feedback, women are more often told to “slow down and listen” to their colleagues and to “step back to let others shine.”

This happened in more than two-thirds of performance reviews for women, but in only two percent of reviews for men. And women in traditionally male-dominated fields routinely get told that they are both too emotional and too aggressive.

When it comes to leadership, a woman is either too nice or too assertive.

Someone once told me it was difficult to take me seriously because I was just too nice. They said that because I smiled at complete strangers, always inquired about how others were doing and routinely gave people compliments, they couldn’t take it seriously when I would tell them about my future career goals and my determination to get into certain graduate programs.

And that infuriates me.

Neither my personality nor my “niceness” detracts from my intelligence or my ambition. And suggesting that I should conform to a certain pattern of behavior in order to be successful is not only dismissive, but it also reinforces an age-old myth that women need to be bitches in order to excel in this cut-throat world.

Personally, I have always seen my cheerfulness as a positive attribute. It allows me to interact with more people than I would if I wasn’t that way. I like to feel that I’ve had a positive impact on others.

In my jobs, it allows me to build good relationships with students and clients who have repeatedly told me that I am someone they feel they can trust. That’s why it infuriates me that something so core to my personality is perceived as a weakness in the professional job market.

My personality doesn’t make me a weaker person or any less qualified for a job than anyone else. And women shouldn’t be judged that way.

Men certainly aren’t.

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