Posted by: elizabethjoseph13 | January 28, 2016

Gendered Characteristics

Imagine these two scenarios:

You are sitting at a conference table at a weekly staff meeting. Your boss is standing at the head of the table, talking rather loudly about how everyone needed to complete their assigned tasks because upper level management was expecting to see results soon. “We are behind schedule and this NEEDS to be finished this week,” your boss says.

You are getting coffee with your mentor. As you two are talking, your mentor is leaning, arms crossed, on the table. You talk about how you received an offer to work with another group in the company and, soft-spokenly, almost at a whisper, your mentor says, “Wow, I am so proud of you.”

For each of these situations, did you imagine a man or a woman?

When picturing leaders, especially in business, many people tend to ascribe the characteristics of assertiveness and aggressiveness to male leaders and soft-spokenness and nurturing to female leaders. This stereotype, however, is not always the case. Both of the scenarios mentioned above were ones I experienced in my job over the summer. The first was with my boss, a woman and the second was with my mentor, a man. These gender norms we have ingrained into our thinking dictate how we see the world. In each of these situations, when I was in them, I was relying too much on my mental image of what a male leader or what a female leader should look or act like. I was taken aback and it was almost off-putting in each of them to try and change what my perceptions of gendered characteristics looked like. Because of this, I don’t rely as much on gender biases in as many situations. This idea of remodeling how women, and men, are viewed, could be what we need to see a difference in not only how women are treated, but how women are seen and perceived as leaders. To do this, we need more strong, assertive women leaders to help adjust society’s view that women can’t do everything, and anything, that men can do.


  1. In my experience, I have had a similar situation happen to me at my job. I had an assertive manager and very assertive co-workers who were not afraid to speak their mind especially when it came to ideas and needs for the store I worked at. They were aggressive but not disrespectful. They were honest but not hurtful. They balanced well the need to explain how tasks should be done and also the way that customers should be treated. Being new to retail, I valued their leadership in the store and respected the way they customers and myself. Being women in leadership/managerial roles in a fairly stereotypical feminine card/gift store, they understood the prejudice of femininity and what people might have thought they didn’t know about “actual business.” It was a great learning experience for me, both for retail purposes but also seeing women in leadership roles.

  2. I do find it interesting that we picture leaders in our head based on experiences that we have. Many of us have very similar experiences, partly because these two stereotypes of male and female leaders are widespread across society. However, there are some that have had different experiences, and maybe the most aggressive boss they have ever had was a woman, so this is where their mind goes to when reading scenario one.

    However, I would argue that your last point should be phrased a little differently. I don’t believe we necessarily need more strong, assertive women leaders to change the viewpoint, as I believe that if we set this as the expectation for our gender, we are doing just as much harm as we do when we say we only want nurturing women. I believe instead of saying we need more strong assertive women in these roles, that we need women who are confident to be themselves and lead in whatever way is natural for them. They need to be in an environment that they can be well received, whether they are strong and assertive, or whether they are cooperative and encouraging. When we say that we need assertive women in leadership positions, we are discounting those women that do not have that trait in their personality. There is no one type of women we need in leadership, no one prototype. We instead need to create an environment where no matter what your gender is, what your natural leadership style is, that you will be respected and acknowledged equally as a leader.

  3. This reminds me of my summer job at a restaurant where the owner of this very successful restaurant was a woman.
    First of all, when people would leave the restaurant, they would always say, “tell your boss he’s done a great job with this place!” or something along those lines. The owner’s brother (a server), in fact, was mistaken more often as the owner than she was.
    She is also a wonderful, incredible, woman who is running a booming business alone as a single mother. The people who work there often make remarks insinuating that she is incompetent or disorganized and they walk all over her.
    I often wonder if this is simply because she is a woman. People are not afraid of her or intimidated by her in the least bit which can be good in leadership roles, but at some point you do have to demand respect. I’m wondering if this lack of intimidation is due to the characteristics that women stereotypically portray or due to the idea that women are submissive to men… or both…

  4. The activity at the start of your post is really interesting; it is even more interesting to see how each person interpreted the two scenarios so differently. However, I am with Abbey on this one, when it comes to the end of your post. It isn’t about making more aggressive women, because that sounds like your going to mug male CEO’s for their positions. Instead, and what I think you were trying to say is that we need more women in leadership roles. That is a period. Just like each male leader has a different style and is a leader in a different context, women leaders should be the same. There are some situations where one woman leader might excel and another crash/burn, but in the end, I would hope women continue to push their ways into more of those positions. They don’t need to be aggressive, they simply need to be themselves. When men and women can truly be themselves and succeed in the workplace equally, then I believe our world will be in a better place.

  5. Who did I picture in the two scenarios? I saw the first as a man and the second being a women. Those are the stereotypical roles that are ingrained in our societies minds. It is almost a trick question. It is the equivalent to being asked you see a baby in head to toe pink, is it a boy or girl? There is no right of wrong way to answer, but the odds are heavily in favor of the baby being a girl. There is nothing wrong with stereotyping, the problem comes when we treat people wrong based on those stereotypes. It makes me happy that you have a soft spoken male mentor. He alone could change that stereotype for several people. It makes me a little less happy that you had a loud demanding female boss who yelled at you, but I am glad she is also challenging our societies gender stereotypes. However, I do not think women necessarily need to be loud ans assertive to be success leaders. I think a group stereotypical women could change the game of leadership using the skills they already posses.

  6. For both of the situations I actually pictured women. This may be due to personal bias however because during the summer I worked under a female boss who was very vocal. She was the head of the department and had a very loud and dominating demeanor about her, yet she treated all employees fairly. There were both men and women who worked beneath her and they were treated similarly to each other. All had the same amount of vacation days, were expected to work the same hours, had the same pay, and all were extremely family oriented. Our boss was task oriented, but was not as pushy as some female leaders are portrayed to be.

    I also thought about how personality while reading the two scenarios. The first one could have been coming from an extrovert. Someone who likes having all eyes in the room on them. The second scenario could have been a quiet conversation between two introverts. I think personality plays a large role in leadership in addition to gender.

  7. Everyone lives through different experience and runs into individuals with different leading tactics and traits. Though I am hesitant to say it, I have always been in work situations where the man is the dominant, aggressive, and loud leader, and the woman is the gentle mentor. So in reading your contrasting situations, I naturally thought of a large man with a vein popping out of his forehead, and a petite, well-groomed woman in the second situation. I follow the gender norms that are present in our society because that is what I have always seen and been around in leadership situations. It’s so interesting how my mind is conditioned to gender those adjectives that you used within the two situations you laid out earlier in your blog post. Dr. Shollen always says how she has always seen life through a gendered lens, and this blog post is the perfect example of her idea of viewing life through a gendered lens.

  8. I wish I could say that I didn’t see a man in scenario one and a woman for scenario two. However I’m not surprised that I mistook them wrong. Our society has taught us to see women as caring and quiet and see men as independent, assertive, and confident. The two scenarios could be interpreted as a person (man or woman) who is hard-pressed for time and the second scenario could be an intimate conversation between two coworkers. These scenarios just show how our society has ingrained in us to expect women to make themselves smaller and men to be bigger, and more of a leader.

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