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Why don’t you smile more? Assertive women in the workforce

I absolutely hate this dance

Photo by Daniel Monteiro on Unsplash

We are women in tech. We are marketers. We are designers. We are UX analysts. We are Python developers. We are Information Architects. We are front-end developers. We are CTIOs. We are content marketers. We are CEOs. We are copywriters. We are project managers. We are thought leaders. We are many, many things.

However, women cannot be everything to everyone. We cannot exist in both the assertive/dominant space, and the sensitive/passive space in perpetuity.

Do you know how friggin’ exhausting it is displaying performative male-centric confidence and then having to provide a matronly smile so male coworkers don’t call you condescending, difficult, or bitchy?

Heaven forbid they take the smile as a ‘mating signal’.

We’re screwed, either way.

Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

Something as simple as “Please read this proposal by the end of the day” turns into a roundabout conversation with pigeon-like cooing.

I ask more times over the course of many days, in many different forms. I feel like a grade school teacher.

I contemplate doing an interpretive dance to get the damn proposal read.

Then, a month later, it’s still not read. I ask more forcefully — I’m called condescending.

The line between ‘get shit done’ and ‘doormat’ is completely obscured.

To command our autonomy and career-related needs, how firm must we, as women, be?

Photo by Keenan Constance on Unsplash

As a woman, I have no problem performing the stereotype of male confidence. As I am staunchly, brazenly confident — confident enough to write, source, and post this piece of work without worrying about reprisal from keyboard wielding neanderthals.

Is my autonomy and necessity for direct communication ruining my chances of gaining new opportunities?

Does every female techworker ask themselves: did I not smile enough?

I’ve been told it’s my attitude, and yet I see plenty of successful (and not so successful) men with far more swagger than myself.

Swagger that sometimes not only nudges into the asshole bar, but clears over it until their egos rocket into outer space.

It’s very disheartening.

No more can we shuck off the whore/madonna complex in our waking life, than can we slink off the snake skin from our bodies in our corporate front-facing personas.

This is what is required of us, after all. Don’t believe me? Read actual words instead of blasting my comments section.

“… it was more difficult for high performing women than men to influence others in their organization, unless in addition to their high performance the women had others’ interests at heart, as it is stereotypically expected from women.” (Eagly, Wood, & Diekman, 2000)

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Assertive women in the workforce have an added layer of emotional baggage to carry, in order to succeed, it seems.

We have to be so, very, pleasant.

I have no trouble being pleasant.

I can, and have often, been a very agreeable, friendly person.

But I don’t want performative passivity to be a requirement for the success of high performing women. And I don’t want our appearance of confidence to be rooted in the male archetypal expression of that trait.

There is this pervasive entitlement that other people seem to have about a woman’s body, her mind, her agency, her skills, her emotional labor, her decisions (check out the comments section, it’s a salt mine), her time and her behavior.

It’s like women are a giant jigsaw puzzle and everyone gets to move pieces around where they see fit. Too this, not enough that? We get judged on the merit of a smile, not on the merit of a task.

Do you understand how annoying this is?

Women are compartmentalized pieces, up for scrutiny, at any given moment. And do you want to know the worst part? It’s both genders that do this. It also, doesn’t end — at all — when we enter the workplace.

Photo by Daniel Apodaca on Unsplash

I want to thrive and succeed. But I want to succeed based on my productivity, my creativity, and with my mind.

I do not want my success to be contingent on just my soft-skills.

That of which I have in spades.

But smiles shouldn’t be the defining factor for success for women.

Promotions and raises are a thing, apparently.

Maybe this is the problem.

Maybe women don’t ask for raises enough!

But, do you want to know something that’s wicked fun?

Women in Australia ask for the same amount of raises as men do. But, they don’t get them. Read the entire study, or don’t bother responding below.

“Adjusting for all the variables available to us, females are less likely to be in a job where they say that pay is negotiated. They are also less successful in getting a pay raise during their time with the employer. However, when explaining the reasons they did not ask for a pay raise, there are almost no detectable differences between males and females.” (Artz, Goodall, Oswald, 2016)

Is it because assertive women are seen as difficult when they don’t provide a softened persona? Is it because some women have a really hard time performing the smiling matron?

What about Women of Color, specifically?

Photo by Zulmaury Saavedra on Unsplash

Women of Color clock in at 3% of C-Suite players, and White Women are at 18%! That’s 6x less representation for Women of Color.

This begs the question: what do WoC have to ‘perform’, specifically, in order to reach the highest level?

“In the words of talent management research firm Catalyst, they are “double outsiders”. They’re neither white, nor men. As a result they’re often shut out from the informal networks that help other people find jobs, mentors, and sponsors.”

Newsflash: Men of color make up only 12% at the highest rungs of employment.

As a marketer, I notice trends. And damn is this ever a trend.

Let me be clear: I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on the lives of People of Color. That’s just disingenuous and straight up rude.

However, I’m also not going to pretend that some of us aren’t carrying more baggage on our backs than others, as we try to pull ourselves up the corporate ladder.

Clearly, upwards momentum in work is specifically a non-white-guy problem.

“In a similar vein, the achievement orientation men are expected to have implies that people see them in control of their goal accomplishment and professional future, thus being entirely responsible of their own successes and failures (“self-made men”). In contrast, women are typically seen as “reactive” (Fiske, Xu, Cuddy, & Glick, 1999), less committed to work objectives (Mockler, 2015), and less credible (Kulich et al., 2007). These processes similarly suggest that in contrast to men, women’s job performance is less likely to be attributed to their personal ability.” (Artz, Goodall, Oswald, 2016)

Photo by Ahmed Carter on Unsplash

Somehow, women being pleasant is what defines our success — and we can’t be pleasant all the time.

But it also seems, and please correct me if I’m wrong (I’m not), that the glass ceiling has a People of Color filter.

I know a great many trolls on the internet want to argue that somehow work-success requirements aren’t sexist, and aren’t racist.

But how long are you going to keep the blinders of bigotry over your eyes?

How long are you going to come up with anecdotes about your hard life, without even bothering to think that someone else’s life may be needlessly hard based on race or gender (or sexual orientation)?

Does it hurt your ego too much to admit, publicly, that you can brazenly be the biggest jerk in the room, and still succeed?

While others, apparently, can’t even get things done without cooing like a pigeon, and are also penalized for their skin color? How ridiculous is that?

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Can you now see that tackling the lack of diversity in the workplace is a huge issue that we have to address and solve?

Can you now see that being required to be ‘businessmom’ is insulting and sexist?

Assertive women in the workforce, why don’t you smile more? …because we shouldn’t have to.

For those of you who love your “take no bullshit ladies” and actively address the diversity issue — bless you.

For the rest of you? It’s time for some self-reflection.

Kira Leigh is a marketing consultant, last time she checked.
Catch her here and send her a line if you want to work together.

Or join her on Discord like the giant nerd you are: windows95toasteroven#3745