Women are “Bossy” and Men are “Decisive”

What Gender Stereotypes Really Mean in the Workplace and How to Overcome Them

Susan Fleming is a senior lecturer at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, specializing in entrepreneurship and women in leadership. She’s a veteran of Wall Street and no stranger to the challenges that women run up against in the workforce.

As part of our Women in Leadership webcast series, Fleming sat down with eCornell’s Chris Wofford to discuss the difficult tightrope that women are expected to walk and to dish out advice for how best to navigate situations why gender biases may be at play.

Fleming: Today I’m going to talk about some of the biases and barriers women in leadership roles face as well as some strategies for overcoming them.

I find that when I kick off these presentations, it’s useful to share some information about the current status of women in leadership, at least in the US. Today, women make up just under 50 percent of the US workforce. They also make up more than 50 percent of managerial and professional positions — meaning mid-management and lower middle management positions.

One might logically think that if women are half the population, make up half the workforce and half of the managerial and professional positions, they must also make up half of the leadership positions. But I probably wouldn’t be giving a talk on this if that were the case.

I’m curious to see what our audience might know in terms of the representation of women in a few sectors of our society, the first being Congress, the second being law firm partners and the third being board directors and CEOs within the Standard & Poor’s 500.

Wofford: We’ve got the guesses coming in now. Looks like the audience thinks the percentage of current female Congressional representatives is around 10 percent.

Fleming: The correct answer is that, as of 2015, women made up about 20 percent of the Senate and 19 percent of the House. So when you think that women are half of the population, clearly things aren’t where you might expect them to be on that front.

I often get asked how the United States stacks up against other countries in this. There are 190 direct-election countries in the world and the United States is actually ranked 72nd. Just to give you a bit of context, we are just below Saudi Arabia, Colombia, Greece, and Kenya. And just above Kyrgyzstan and Slovakia.

We often hear our politicians say that we’re the greatest democracy on the planet. To me, democracy would include both genders.

Wofford: Indeed. Do you want to look at law firm partners next?

Fleming: It looks like for the most part, the audience poll is showing answers between 2 and 20 percent. They are pretty much on the mark there. Women account for just under 20 percent of law firm partners. In some ways, you might say there has been a significant increase back from 1995, when women were at about 13 percent. That is a huge increase but it’s a little disheartening with all of the change that you see in our society to only see it go from 13 percent to just under 20 during that time.

Wofford: How did our audience do in guessing the percentage of women in leadership positions within the S&P?

Fleming: Well, two percent was the most popular answer and they pretty much nailed it. When it comes to S&P 500 CEOs, women make up 4.6 percent. Again, there has actually been huge progress mathematically on that. When I first started teaching this, it was one percent. On the board seat side, the answer is about 19 percent.

Wofford: So why are these numbers are so low?

Fleming: There are many complicated reasons. There’s no one thing. It can’t simply be ascribed to discrimination or bias or this idea that women want to have babies. There is a very complicated set of dynamics that are going on culturally and socially that are at play.

The one thing that I really want to focus on today in particular is gender bias and stereotyping.
Gender beliefs, probably more than most people realize, are incredibly powerful in shaping our culture, in shaping the business world, in shaping our behavior and the way that we go about our daily lives.

Part of the reason for that is that gender is the dominant basis for categorization, across virtually all social contexts. Just to give you an example, when you walk into a room of people you don’t know, the first thing that you categorize people on is gender. The next one could be race, it could be class, it could be age, and so on. But gender wins pretty much across the board in every culture.

Another thing that is very important for people to understand is that when you bring up the word stereotyping, and you start talking about bigotry, you get people very concerned and feeling defensive. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. Most of this is unconscious. Stereotyping is a type of cognitive shortcut. So when we walk into that room, we don’t have the mental energy or time to differentiate everything about everyone in the room, yet we want to behave appropriately. So we use those cognitive shortcuts in order to guide our behavior.

The downside of stereotypes is that all of those associations that we make, while they might be right and they might be useful, they might also be wrong. So if you walk into a meeting assessing a woman, you might immediately associate feminine characteristics as being more communal and less aggressive. But perhaps the woman is more aggressive than you expected, so you’re reacting to her in a way that is different than you would react to her if she were a man. That’s where stereotypes get us in trouble.

Wofford: So even though these things sort of spring into mind subconsciously, they can still affect how you respond to a given situation?

Fleming: Right. I want to talk a little bit about the content of gender stereotypes, and I thought it could be fun to ask the audience to provide one word that’s a stereotypical description of a woman.

Wofford: Okay, let’s see what we got. The first three all say ‘emotional.’

Fleming: That always comes up but, wow, three in a row?

Wofford: Here come some more: controlling, nurturing, bitchy, soft, timid, communicative, sweet, nice, intelligent, weak, sensitive.

Fleming: Look, here we have “unassertive” and “bossy” right next to each other — that’s interesting.

I can see some more are continuing to roll in, but what you see is that many of the stereotypes fall into what we call communal characteristics. And then you see that people list all of these negative words that are applied to women when they violate that communal stereotype. That’s where you get bitchy, controlling, overly assertives.

Wofford: All of which would probably be considered assets for a male, right?

Fleming: For males, it would be an asset. So that’s kind of the content of gender stereotypes and they do change over time, but mostly you see the same answers.

The problem with stereotypes is not so much around description, it’s when they become prescriptive. Those prescriptive stereotypes are what give rise to the comments we saw in the chat box. Controlling, too assertive, pushy, those kinds of things.

We’ve just talked about typical stereotypes about women and men. When it comes to stereotypes about leaders, they tend to fall into the masculine category. Numerous studies across many different countries, different age groups, etc. have consistently demonstrated that when individuals think of the typical leader or manager, they think of a male. They think of those male characteristics. So when you see that aggressive male leader – confident, intelligent, decisive, exercising authority – the world feels right. In contrast, when you consider a female leader, you have inconsistent stereotypes being triggered.

A female leader is supposed to be strong and authoritative, know her stuff, hold her ground and speak her mind, but while doing that, she is simultaneously also supposed to come off as sweet, supportive, nice, communal, kind and gentle — all of those expectations of what an appropriate woman is supposed to be. As a woman who’s worked in the business world, that’s really hard to do simultaneously and the failure to do that triggers a lot of bad things for women leaders. That inconsistency contributes to prejudice against female leaders.

If the female leader is too communal, she’s seen as a poor leader and too weak. If they’re too agentic, they’re seen as competent but they’re unlikable and for women, likeability is a requirement for success. For men, it’s nice to be likeable but there’s a lot more leeway for a man than a woman to be likable and be tough.

That creates what we call the Double Bind, which is having to walk a tightrope between being simultaneously assertive and smart in order to be seen as competent while simultaneously being nice and warm in order to meet stereotypes of communality. The people that don’t navigate that tight rope well will be either labeled as an incompetent or as a bitch.

Wofford: It seems like a no-win situation.

Fleming: I like to use the Sarah Palin – Hillary Clinton illustration. The political media painted Clinton as the bitchy and unlikable one while Palin was the incompetent bimbo. So women in politics often get painted into one corner or the other.

There was a really funny clip recently on Jimmy Fallon where Hillary Clinton was on and he had her give a talk and he critiqued it by saying, “No, you’re being too loud.” “No, you’re being too quiet.” “Could you be a little less pushy?” or “You’ve gotta want it more.”

Wofford: You hear others say she should smile more.

Fleming: Right, exactly. Fallon said that too and then she smiled and he’s like, “Come on.” So, it was illustrating that Double Bind. It’s a funny clip.

The Double Bind is really important but I also want to touch on some other stereotypes about women’s competence. There are a lot of stereotypes about other things, around women’s commitment, around their credibility, around their organizational fit, but what I really want to touch on is competence.

Women are perceived to be generally less competent than men. The difference isn’t huge but it’s there and it will particularly show up when you’re dealing with male-type tasks. But it’s also true on gender-neutral tasks. In experimental studies where people are assessed doing a general neutral task, women will be assessed lower despite the exact same performance. That’s because there’s bias that they’re less competent.

There was a study in which an identical essay was put out but when you attached a woman’s name as the author, the essay was rated lower even though it was identical to the one bearing the man’s name.

Another barrier that women have to deal with is what we call shifting standards for evaluating men and women. Some researchers did a study on hiring for the position of police chief, which is a very male-typed position typically. They created two resumes, one that had more experience and one that had more education. They then pre-tested them with no names on them and they were evaluated as fairly equivalent. Then they put a woman’s name on the one with more education and a man’s name on the experience one. When they asked people which one they would pick, they picked the man and they justified their decision by saying he had more experience.

Then they flipped the names so that the woman’s resume had more experience and they still said they’d hire the man. Why? Because he had more education. That’s shifting the standards. Because of these unconscious biases, there is an answer they want to get to and they’ll change their perception of the facts in order to get to the answer that makes them comfortable.

Wofford: And these unconscious biases are something that we all have? Can they be overcome?

Fleming: We all have them. One of the things that I find really insidious is that people will use stereotypes to set expectations for themselves and guide their own behavior. Before anyone else can tell them they can’t do something, they’ve already said, “Well, I was really good at math and I’m interested in it, but women aren’t so good at math or computer science or whatever, so I don’t think I’m going to be good at that.” And so they don’t even try, they opt out into different tracks.

Everyone has biases. The goal is to be aware of them so that you can stop yourself from using them unfairly. I would ask you all to be particularly mindful of this when you’re in a context where you are hiring others or you’re evaluating people for promotion or you’re assessing who should get an opportunity in the workplace. You owe an extra level of attention to make sure you’re not using those stereotypes unconsciously.

And don’t apply stereotypes to yourself. When you’re considering career advancement, you might be unwittingly limiting your own opportunities.

Wofford: I think that’s great advice. Do you have any other pearls of wisdom you want to share before we run out of time?

Fleming: Just a couple other things. If you’re a woman, you need to develop a communication style that responds to the reality of the double bind. Truthfully, I don’t like giving this advice and I’d rather see every individual be authentic and be themselves. I’m a real kind of go-getter, I’m loud, I speak up a lot. I don’t like having to dial back and to sort of be less authentic but I have had to do that at times in order to advance.

I think that one of the great ways to start to change the culture to allow more women into leadership positions is to get into the leadership positions to begin with. You’ve got to get that cycle going and if that means that you have to dial it back and maybe bite your tongue on occasion, that’s an okay thing to do in my view. Then over time, you can hopefully drive change by helping to make more women leaders.

Wofford: So there are compromises that still need to be made before we get to where we want to be?

Fleming: I’m a big fan of changing society, changing culture, changing perceptions and getting rid of stereotypes — but in the meantime, you also have to survive.

When I’m teaching MBAs and teaching undergraduates who are about to go into the workforce, I say to them, “This is your own personal choice. You have to read the environment and read the culture of the organization. But be mindful of how you’re being perceived and mindful that it will be different than the way a man is being perceived who’s doing the exact same thing. And you have to decide if you want to tone it down or not.” That’s their call.

Wofford: Thank you Susan, this has been great.

Fleming: Thanks for having me.


Want to hear more? This article is based on Susan Fleming’s live eCornell WebSeries event, Bias, Barriers and Strategies for Overcoming Them. Subscribe now to gain access to a recording of this event and other Women in Leadership topics. 

Here’s What the “Glass Ceiling” Really Means for Women Leaders

Global studies have found that words traditionally defined as feminine in nature, such as expressive, reasonable and loyal, are the words that people most commonly list as the competencies they want to see in their leaders. But if people favor these ‘feminine’ leadership traits, why aren’t there are more female CEOs and board members? In the US, only around 16 percent of corporate board seats go to women, despite women currently holding between 50 to 60 percent of all graduate degrees in the country.

Allison Elias, a visiting assistant professor at Cornell University’s ILR School and expert on gender in the workplace, says the disparity is due in part to a disconnect between what is expected of women and what is expected of business leaders.

In a recent Women in Leadership Webcast hosted by eCornell, Elias suggests that traditionally assigned gender roles affect our perceptions of female leaders. Female leadership candidates have to contend with the often unconscious or unintentional discrimination of males in the hiring role. When a man interviews a woman for a leadership position, for example, his mind may wander to thoughts about her family life, leading him to wonder if she would need a more flexible work schedule than a male candidate.

“Perhaps that employer really wants to hire a woman. Perhaps he has even explicitly declared that he wants to make gender diversity a priority in his organization. But our brains automatically take these cognitive shortcuts,” Elias said.

Even when women achieve the highest positions within a company, they are often hit with what Elias refers to as the “likeability penalty.” Social science research shows that women who are more advanced in their careers are often found to be less likable, too power hungry or too aggressive.

“A lot of women remain in sort of a lose-lose situation. When they behave in a more aggressive or competitive way, they’re punished by being disliked. But if they exhibit traits that are more aligned with their gender role—being warm, supportive, and caring—they might be liked, but they might not necessarily be viewed as competent. Women are punished in a way men are not,” Elias says.

Women also have to contend with an American work culture that expects employees to put work as their first and only priority. Workplaces are too often “structured for a man who has someone to take care of the kids and domestic issues,” Elias said.

“It’s changing a bit, but this ideal worker norm kind of pervades a lot of traditional jobs and that’s a structural way that women face a barrier on their way to the top. A lot of times moving into leadership positions requires always being on, always being responsive to email, never missing days.”

She pointed to a study done by the consulting firm Bain and Company that found that 43 percent of women aspire to reach top management when they start a new job, but that number plunges to 16 percent after the women gain experience within the company. The study showed that women didn’t see themselves as “fitting in” at the workplace, with many of them citing that they weren’t willing to put work above everything else in their lives in order to move to the top.

While everyone is familiar with the concept of the glass ceiling, Elias and a number of other scholars say that the phrase might not be the best metaphor for what women face in the workplace. Instead, they advocate for the ‘labyrinth of leadership’ because all sorts of barriers can block a woman’s progress at different points within her career.

“The glass ceiling metaphor suggests that women are going to be able to ascend and be successful in the workplace until the very top. But when looking at why the talent pipeline doesn’t progress women to the top, the idea of a labyrinth can be more effective because there’s all sorts of barriers that come up at all sorts of points of a woman’s career that can deter her from being able to make it to the end,” Elias said.


Want to hear more? This article is based on Allison Elias’ live eCornell WebSeries event, Unlocking the Hidden Leadership Potential Inside Your Company. Subscribe now to gain access to a recording of this event and other Women in Leadership topics. 

Why It’s So Hard to Say ‘No’

Exploring social perceptions in the workplace

Imagine that your phone has just died but you have a very important call to make. Would you be comfortable approaching a stranger and asking to use their phone? How many people do you think you’d have to ask before someone agrees?

These are the kinds of questions that fascinate Vanessa Bohns, an associate professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University’s ILR School. Bohns does research on social influence and our perceptions of the influence that we have over other people.

She’s interested in the underlying psychological mechanisms like how feelings of self-consciousness, awkwardness, and embarrassment affect our willingness to ask others to do something for us and how these dynamics play out in the workplace.

As part of eCornell’s Women in Leadership WebCast Series, Bohns joined Chris Wofford for a discussion on how to get others to say yes and why it can be so hard to say no.

Wofford: Vanessa, thanks for joining us today. What can asking a stranger to borrow their phone teach us about interactions in the workplace?

Bohns: The real question is, why is it so hard to ask people for things? Likewise, why is it so hard to say no? A lot of it has to do with the underlying psychological mechanisms like emotions that prevent us from recognizing our own influence over others and potentially prevent us from seeing when other people feel like they can’t ask us for help.

In many cases, it comes down to awkwardness. Something as simple as asking someone for their phone can be a very distressing interaction. The self-consciousness, the awkwardness, this idea that you’re imposing on someone, it can create anxiety.

There is also a gender aspect to the discomfort of asking. Studies have shown that women experience about two and a half times more anxiety when asking for things than men. We all probably think of the stereotype about men not wanting to ask for directions, but that comes from a different place than when you have to ask for something for yourself, like a raise or promotion at work, for example.

We all tend to mistake our own feelings of discomfort for other people’s feelings of discomfort. We all deal with egocentric biases, because we know what’s happening in our own head—it’s very rich with information about our own experiences, and because of that, we don’t necessarily recognize other people’s experiences.

Wofford: Can you give us an example of these biases in action?

Bohns: I’ll start with something called the spotlight effect, which is basically the idea that people are paying more attention to us than they actually are. There’s a classic study from the 1990s in which college-aged participants were given this Barry Manilow t-shirt, which was considered a pretty embarrassing thing to wear. The participants were asked to go interact with others and then come back and rate how likely it was that these other people recognized what they were wearing. Of course, they all thought everyone noticed their Manilow shirts and judged them harshly for it, when, in fact, most people didn’t even notice what they were wearing and if they did, they certainly didn’t judge them because of it. So we tend to think that everyone’s looking at us, noticing our bad hair days, noticing our bad outfits, noticing when we trip. But most of the time, people are much more interested in themselves than anything you are doing.

Wofford: So I shouldn’t worry about wearing this outfit again tomorrow?

Bohns: Exactly, no one is going to notice.

The spotlight effect is very related to another egocentric bias that’s called the illusion of transparency, which is this idea that our emotions sort of leak out of our skin and everyone can see how anxious we are when we’re giving a talk, for example. The truth is that people in the audience usually say they had no idea that the speaker was anxious. Our emotions don’t leak out to the extent that we think they do.

Another egocentric bias is the illusion of courage and this is one of my particular favorites. The illusion of courage is this idea that other people are less affected by self-consciousness, embarrassment, and awkwardness than we are ourselves. A classic study on this entailed playing the song ‘Super Freak’ by Rick James really loudly in a big auditorium full of students. The students were told that a number of them would be brought up to dance in front of the entire audience, so naturally a lot of people get nervous and worried that they’d be the ones picked. As part of the experiment, the students were asked to write down how much money they’d need to be paid in order to get up on stage and dance. They were also asked how much they thought other people would need to be paid to do the same.

On average, the students said that they would need more than $50 before they would actually consider dancing up on stage but when they judged other people, they thought that they would take less than $20 to do it. They thought that other people just wouldn’t be as embarrassed or feel as concerned about doing this as they themselves would. This is the illusion of courage.

Wofford: So when when you take all these egocentric biases together, they sort of suggest that we think that other people would judge us more harshly than they actually do?

Bohns: Exactly. We think that they’re paying attention to our mistakes, that they’re remembering them and that they’re making all sorts of judgments based on them.

So that’s why if we ask for something, we think people are going to judge us. If we say no to something, people are going to judge us. We simply don’t realize the extent to which other people also have feelings of anxiety and self-consciousness. We’re so worried about how people view us that we’re not paying attention to how other people feel in a lot of situations.

This goes beyond our personal interactions. Just recognizing the extent to which self-conscious concerns affect us and the decisions we make on a daily basis as managers, as employees, as bosses—and the extent to which our employees are making similar decisions based on self-conscious concerns—is a really important thing when it comes to organizational behavior.

Wofford: Let’s turn to another big question: why is it so hard for people to say no?

Bohns: In part, people are just mindlessly following a social norm that we say yes to people. So when someone comes up to you and asks for something, you just go along with it without really thinking. That’s part of it. Another big factor is that we don’t want to impolite. If you say no, there’s something that you could be insinuating about the other person that there’s something wrong with what they’re asking.

At the end of the day, it’s just really awkward to say no. And so it’s often just easier and more comfortable to say yes, and just go along with whatever somebody is asking you.

Wofford: Am I wrong to feel encouraged by this? I feel like people are generally good.

Bohns: I think there’s something to be said for the fact that our mindless default is to agree, to just go along with helping other people. The takeaway is that people are often much more willing to help us than we think—and that we have a certain degree of influence.

But there can be a dark side to this. There’s the phenomenon of social engineering that can be used to get people to do things that they should say no to. That can be used by nefarious people who understand this and who want, for example, to gain access to sensitive information by exploiting psychological vulnerabilities. So instead of technically hacking into someone’s computer, you call them up and say, “Hey, I know so-and-so and he said that maybe you’d be willing to give me this, and I just need your password to log on.” One of the reasons this is so effective is that people feel so awkward challenging what someone is saying to them.

The last thing I want to talk about is how this idea that we don’t recognize other people’s feelings of discomfort can affect the ways in which we can encourage them to ask us for things. When we are the ones who can actually help others, do we recognize the barriers that prevent people from seeking our help? Do we realize how awkward they might feel and can we better encourage people to actually come ask for help when they need it?

You can imagine a situation where you have an employee who’s struggling with a project but just too nervous or self-conscious to ask you, the boss, for help. You might not realize that the reason he’s not asking is because he feels awkward, not necessarily because he doesn’t have any questions related to the project.

Wofford: And that might directly affect the outcome of the project.

Bohns: Yes. On the other hand, you can imagine a more nefarious situation in which a supervisor asks a subordinate to do something that she’s uncomfortable with. She feels awkward saying no and the supervisor, because he’s not aware of this discomfort, assumes that she was fine with it. He assumes that if she didn’t want to do what he was asking, she would just say no. A lot of us make this assumption because we’re in our own egocentric world.

Wofford: You’ve shared some really interesting examples. What are some of the conclusions and takeaways you want our audience to leave with?

Bohns: One major conclusion that should be completely evident from all these studies is that self-consciousness drives much of human behavior. We usually think that embarrassment is this trivial emotion but it actually drives so much of behavior that we should take it seriously. We should be aware of the extent to which we are likely to overlook embarrassment in others and the extent to which it drives our own behavior.

So part of the takeaway is to manage the control that self-consciousness has over you. You might think that you’re the only one who is affected by embarrassment, but actually everybody is. Also, be aware of how it might affect others’ behaviors and prevent them from doing things like asking for help.

When it comes to asking for things that you actually need, the first thing is to just ask. People are much more likely to say yes than you think.

Finally, don’t worry about the way people will interpret a request. Be direct. People tend to think that they should be indirect and sort of beat around the bush, when in fact people are much less likely to respond positively to these kinds of subtle hints. They are much more likely to respond positively to a direct request.

You might think that if people are saying yes out of awkwardness or because they feel they can’t say no, that means they’re going to interpret this as being pressured into it. But actually we have actually found that, afterwards, people re-interpret why they did something in a way that makes them feel good.


Want to hear more? This interview is based on Vanessa Bohns’ live eCornell WebSeries event, Your Power of Persuasion: Getting Others To Say “Yes,” and Why It Is So Hard To Say “No.” Subscribe now to gain access to a recording of this event and other Human Resources topics. 

Three Reasons Men Should Care About “Women’s Issues”

There are three reasons that men should care about the double bind, which happens when women are evaluated against a “masculine” style of leadership. Effective leaders have to take charge and take care, but women leaders trying to be bold and assertive can be labeled (by both both women and men) as unlikeable and bossy. On the other hand, when women leaders show their caring side, they may be perceived as “too soft.” The double bind is often seen as a “women’s issue,” but men should care as well about the impact of the unconscious bias that results from gender stereotyping.

#1. Be a “He for She”

First, men’s lives are deeply connected to the women that surround them: mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, friends, partners, co-workers and leaders.  For professional and personal reasons, the females in men’s lives will likely experience the realities of the double bind. To be an effective “he for she”, men can educate themselves to recognize the causes and effects of the phenomenon. Accordingly, they can help the women in their lives analyze and strategize more effectively when the double bind impacts them.

#2. Change the Culture to Maximize Team Performance

Any person in a leadership position is focused on ways to create high-functioning teams and good outcomes for their institution. Men in leadership need to empower and embolden all the members of their teams and they are in a unique position to keep double bind consequences from hobbling the females from achieving their best performance. As the leader, by paying attention to and addressing the subtle (and not so subtle) ways women are diminished in the workplace, a male leader can start to help everyone understand the consequences of the double bind. He can also use quantitative data to help highlight and evaluate accomplishments so that “hunches” and vague characterizations do not hinder females. Imagine a conversation like this with two people, Bill and Anya, being reviewed for promotion.

Leader: Let’s review these candidates.

Commenter: I find Anya a bit abrasive, so I think Bill would be the right person to promote. He seems to get along with everyone.

Leader: Let’s talk about this. Does Anya’s behavior impact her performance? Her sales team has been performing really well – even better than Bill’s.

Commenter: That may be so, but she is abrupt and too direct. I just have more of a sense that Bill is the right fit and he is smart and aggressive.

Leader: Well, it seems to me that Anya has also been aggressive and smart. And it doesn’t make sense to me to overlook her accomplishments just because you may have a personality conflict with a woman who has been aggressive, but not with a man. I really think we should stick to the data we have on performance.

#3. Free Yourself

Finally, a male leader should care about the deeper sources of gender-bias dynamics because these forces also impact his life. The truth is, unconscious bias can impact anyone who does not fit the stereotype for the gender the person identifies with. Let’s face it, the “hyper masculine” stereotype (aggressive, relentlessly competitive, void of emotional expression) probably does not fit the majority of men in the real workplace even though television (think: Axelrod in Billions) and movies (think: Gekko in in Wallstreet) would have us think otherwise. If we feminize the expression of emotion and masculinize violence and power, everyone is trapped.

Entering a more enlightened and informed understanding of the double bind can help men in the workplace extend the framework to see where gender stereotypes actually might be holding they themselves back. It is critical that the double bind discussion not be seen as a male vs. female debate. Instead, we should be re-crafting the dialogue to understand how each of us can escape the traps created by gender bias.

(For an excellent discussion and many practical steps, I highly recommend a study called Anatomy of Change, by Catalyst researchers Sarah Dinolfo, Jeanine Prime, and Heather Foust-Cummings.) #IWD2017 #BeBoldforChange

New Cornell Certificate Provides Women Essential Framework and Negotiation Tools to Break Through Barriers to Leadership Success

Groundbreaking online program combats unconscious bias with a new approach to help women advance and organizations address gender dynamics —

January 18, 2017 (Ithaca, NY) – Women today are half of the workforce at the beginning of the corporate talent pipeline, yet barely 19 percent at the CEO level—and underrepresented everywhere in between. To help organizations everywhere close this gap, eCornell is now offering a unique online program that provides women with a highly personalized approach to achieving their leadership goals. Designed by award-winning Cornell University professor Deborah Streeter, the new Women in Leadership certificate gives professional women in every industry and function actionable tools and influencing tactics to transform unseen barriers to success into open doors.

“Professional women today have access to lots of leadership materials, but few consider how gender interacts with organizational culture to block advancement. This certificate is a rare resource for women, giving them a private space for self-reflection paired with research and real-world insights. And, it can also help all organizational leaders, including men, better understand the gender dimensions of leadership,” said Deborah Streeter, Ph.D., faculty author and the Bruce F. Failing, Sr. Professor of Personal Enterprise and Small Business Management at Cornell’s Dyson School.

The five courses comprising the Women in Leadership certificate examine the core determinants of leadership success in the context of “the double bind”, a pervasive cultural bias involving assumptions about how women should look, think, and act. Streeter starts by exploring research on how women are often penalized for using stereotypically masculine leadership behaviors but seen as weak if their behavior is deemed too feminine.  For example, according to LeanIn.org and McKinsey, women today are “leaning in” more—by negotiating for raises, promotions, and challenging assignments nearly as much as men—but are 30 percent more likely to get negative feedback that they’re “bossy” or “too aggressive,” and still lag men in promotion rates.[1]

The remaining courses cover essential negotiation skills, emotional intelligence, performance feedback, and work/life balance—all giving women tactics they can quickly apply to influence positive outcomes in conversations at work. Throughout, students use self-assessments and targeted activities to build confidence, become more aware of their individual tendencies, and gain new perspectives through video interviews with women leaders from a cross-section of industries—a small sampling of the thousands of interviews Professor Streeter has collected to bring authentic voices from the workforce to her classrooms.

Designed to be completed in 3 months, eCornell’s Women in Leadership program is relevant to women at any career level, but especially valuable for those in early management roles—where studies show the greatest gender disparity in promotion rates—as well as those who aspire to leadership positions and have at least three to five years of professional experience. The program also offers organizations an applied, personalized learning and development option to fill a gap in gender diversity efforts at a price point usually seen for generic one-day programs.

Students who successfully complete this certificate program receive a Women in Leadership Certificate from Cornell University’s College of Business, one of 11 Leadership and Strategic Management certificates offered by Cornell Universityin partnership with eCornell.


About Cornell College of Business
Cornell University has created a reimagined model for business education that reflects the future of business itself: flexible, collaborative, and cross-disciplinary. The Cornell College of Business unites the strengths of three business schools—The Hotel School, Dyson, and Johnson—so that every student can benefit from the combined power of business at Cornell: more degrees, faculty, resources, and expertise. Whether your focus is creating great customer experiences, solving real-world challenges, or deeply immersing yourself in a particular industry, each of Cornell College of Business’ schools offers something unique and meaningful to help you achieve greater impact sooner in your career.

About eCornell
As Cornell University’s online learning platform, eCornell delivers online professional certificate courses to individuals and organizations around the world. Courses are personally developed by Cornell faculty with expertise in a wide range of topics, including hospitality, management, marketing, human resources and leadership.  Students learn in an interactive, small cohort format to gain skills they can immediately apply in their organizations, ultimately earning a professional certificate from Cornell University. eCornell has offered online learning courses and certificate programs for 15 years to over 130,000 students at more than 2,000 companies.

[1]  2016 Women in the Workplace survey

Can We Really Have it All? Work-Life Balance Your Success

We have three HR webinars on the calendar already. On Friday, 6/24/16, you’ll learn what makes a productive and meaningful collaboration and how teams work best across boundaries and organizational silos with Professor Michele Williams. Professor Williams teaches courses on negotiation, organizational behavior and women in leadership at the graduate and undergraduate levels at Cornell University. She has led numerous executive workshops on high performance work relationships with an emphasis on communication, trust, and conflict.

On Thursday, 7/14/16, Cornell’s Associate Professor John Hausknect will discuss analytics in HR, including what leading companies are doing to strengthen the impact and reach of workforce analytics. He’ll discuss how “big data” will shape the field in years to come as it can reveal deep insights that help improve retention, efficiency, and productivity.

On Tuesday, 8/16/16, Cornell Associate Professor Beth Livingston talks about what does means to “balance” work and life. Though we often hear this term used in relation to the management of work and non-work responsibilities, it is also a source of consternation for many employees. Is it achievable? Should we change the way we think about work and life to better reflect the realities of today’s employees?

 Click here to preview this Webinar. Watch Professor Livingston discuss work/life balance above and sign up for the HR WebSeries channel here.

Test drive our new Human Resources WebSeries Channel with a 30 day free trial.  Click ‘Register Now’ to learn more. Channel subscriptions start at $39/month and $279/year.



Do Women Lead Differently? Should They Lead Differently?

Most of us have seen it firsthand: The “double bind” that professional women face at work. They are derided for being forceful or assertive, but when they show compassion or lend support, they may be seen as soft or unfit to lead. Women are set up to face a no-win situation.

In our upcoming Women in Leadership WebCast on April 20 at 1:00PM (EDT), I will sit down with Professor Allison Elias from Cornell’s ILR School to learn about her research in this area and to explore potential solutions to this frustrating dilemma. I interviewed Allison this week to learn more about her research into the behavior, in women and men, around the “double bind”.

Chris: Tell me a bit about the “double bind”. How does it affect women who are aspiring or in leadership positions? Where did it come from?

Allison: The term “double bind” emerged from academic research in the 1950s; now the term has morphed into a way to describe a “no-win situation”. Scholars of women in leadership utilize this term to refer to the dilemma that emerging and current women leaders face at work. Research has shown that often women are penalized for behavior that seems assertive or forceful but also they are dismissed as weak or even incompetent if they display a warm and supportive leadership style. This body of research about the double bind reinforces two important points: tackling implicit bias and engaging men as allies, both of which will be explained further during the WebCast.

Chris: When we spoke the other day, you mentioned the idea of “creating your own definition of success?” If you’re doubly bound, how do you do that?

Allison: Research surrounding the double bind suggests that women are encountering unexpected obstacles—some interpersonal and some structural—in their quest for workplace equality. In fact, some scholars have referred to the movement of women into the workforce as a “stalled revolution”. In other words, the corporate policies, cultural norms, and state regulations that push for equality as sameness (women wanting the same treatment and the same opportunities as men) have severe limitations when moving towards more inclusive workplaces. Although we will explore these ideas in greater depth during the WebCast, women should honor themselves by pursuing a life path that fulfills their own values. And in turn, employers should move towards restructuring work and workplaces to accomodate a wider array of personal values.

Chris: Can social networks help advance the cause or play a role here?

Allison: Women should use interpersonal relationships to learn more about themselves when determining their ideal life paths. Having candid conversations with close friends or partners allows us to gain greater insight into our own talents and limitations. Asking for feedback can elucidate potential incongruities between our own self-perception and how others view us. Having information about our own strengths and weaknesses can help us to craft a personal and professional path that aligns with the value others see in us.

Chris: We have lots to discuss on April 20. See you then, Allison.

Allison:  I look forward to it.

GO HERE to register and to take advantage of our free 30-day trial subscription to the Women in Leadership Channel.


Women Leaders and the Ongoing Debate Over Hard vs. Soft Skills

Yes, there’s an ongoing debate about whether or not women leaders should busy themselves with non-leadership-related tasks, ones that involve using “occupational” or “hard” skills (generating reports, statistical analysis, research). The argument goes that these tasks are best left to subordinate teams. This may be partially true.

At the same time, women leaders are expected to demonstrate competence and authority when working with others, hold others accountable, make difficult decisions and encourage collaboration across teams—what some might call “behavioral” or “soft” skills. Ask anyone who’s ever held a leadership position and they’ll assure you there’s nothing “soft” about leading people in an organization.

Conventional wisdom suggests that a healthy and considered balance of hard and soft skills is what really makes a good leader great. This makes sense and sounds like it’s more in line with what I hear from Cornell faculty I work with everyday. And it seems more based in reality. The truth is, most organizational leaders use all manner of soft and hard skills, each day, every day.

Since we launched back in February, the Women in Leadership WebSeries Channel has covered themes like gender bias, stereotypes and strategies for navigating them, crisis communication and the women’s leadership profile. In this post’s context, they scan like the softer side of the skills spectrum.

I thought we’d switch gears a bit for this next one to see if we can insert some hard skills education into the mix, to bring balance to the Women in Leadership Channel.

Last week I sat down with Mary MacAusland, CPA, PhD, a senior lecturer at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. Mary and I discussed how important it is for organizational leaders to understand financial statements. The financial statement is one of the primary tools that can help a leader make sound business decisions. For many, it’s the go-to data set for determining organizational strategy.

Whether you’re unfamiliar with financial statement interpretation or someone who’s seen many a financial statement in your day, I think you might benefit nonetheless from Mary’s insight. As a woman leader, understanding basic financials can do nothing but benefit your career.

We’ll go through an insightful case-study review of Starbucks statements from 2012-2015 as a platform for understanding how these reports work. I invite you to join Prof. MacAusland and me on Friday May 6 at 1:00PM for our next Women in Leadership event, Leadership Hard Skills: Understanding Financial Statements (navigate to the Women in Leadership Channel listings and you can enjoy a 30-day free trial subscription).


Do Women Lead Differently? Should They Lead Differently?

Here is a 5-minute excerpt from our recent WebCast for women leaders, Do Women Lead Differently? Should They Lead Differently?. Professor Allison Elias from Cornell’s ILR School introduces us to the “double bind” that professional women face at work. This session can help you identify and use your strengths and talents—whether those are masculine or feminine attributes—to have power and influence in your organization while also crafting your own definition of success. check it out:

If this excerpt has piqued your interest, I recommend you sign up for your free 30-day trial subscription here and enroll through the Women in Leadership Channel.

3 Simple Truths for CEOs from Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook

At the second “fireside” chat at Dreamforce 2013, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff was actually left speechless and blushing by a few statements from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg as she covered topics from aggression in the workplace to gender bias and even a tip for improving your sex life (hint for the men, do more laundry).

The top takeaways from the evening:

Girls Aren’t Bossy, They Just Have Executive Leadership Skills

“When a boy leads, we don’t call him bossy because he is expected to lead. When a little girl does it, she is called bossy and told from an early age that she is not meant to lead.” – Sheryl Sandberg

From an early age, professional ambition is expected of men, but is often thought of as optional, or even negatively for women. “She is so ambitious” isn’t exactly seen as a compliment in most countries. The same “ambitious” behaviors from men are often labeled “aggressive” when coming from women.

More Women Leaders Makes You as a CEO Look Better

Studies show that more diversity leads to more innovation and productivity. If as a CEO, you are willing to talk about and address gender bias directly and work better with 50% of the population, it’s a huge advantage for everyone in your company.

“I want to have more women leaders at Salesforce and have more balance between my men and women leaders. It’s selfish because I know it will create a better company and that reflects on me.” – Marc Benioff

Women May be the Answer to World Peace

If we had more women at the political tables around the world, who knows how different the decisions would be. Benioff asked Sandberg if she thought the world would be more peaceful if women were in charge. Her answer: “I say let’s try it. It couldn’t get any worse!”

Despite friendly encouragement from Benioff, Sandberg denies any desire to run for president. She says despite it being a landmark milestone, having a female president in the US won’t erase the major issues. “We need to see [women] represented in all parts of leadership, in corporations and government” before we start to see a real change.

“Real change will come when powerful women are less of an exception.” – Sheryl Sandberg