Must a woman behave like a man to succeed? Or even "dumb-down"? These are some of the questions addressed in a new study by three universities that asked 105 men what they thought of women who were smarter than they were. While the researchers found that the men admired such women, they didn't want to date them. "Men are intimidated by women who outperform them -- that it somehow dims their masculinity," gender expert Andrea Syrtash told Good Morning America.
This research revealed interesting attitudes when it came to men and dating, but it also got me thinking about how women might --sadly -- be transforming themselves, dumbing themselves down, and/or behaving more like men in order to succeed in the workplace. Outsiders, after all, have long used assimilation strategies to fit in with a new group, gain competence and even earn leadership positions. But when does this effort to fit in go too far?
I’ve written before about the need for authenticity -- being one’s genuine or real self. Authentic people lead more effectively and are freer to create and innovate. Yet, despite the proven benefits of authenticity, I still encounter many women who think they must behave like a man to achieve professional success. This is a waste of women’s natural talent. It also deprives their employers of the full value of their contribution to the business.
How can we effectively address this issue and encourage women to be true to themselves? To hear another perspective, I turned to Tanja Rueckert, who leads a newly formed unit at SAP that works with the Internet of Things (IoT) and customer innovation. As a female technology executive in a male-dominated field, she is well positioned to offer suggestions on helping women executives understand the true power of being authentic.
1. You be you.
The most important principle is: Be yourself. Don’t try to play a role, and don’t try to be somebody you are not. Being anything but your true self costs energy, is not sustainable and will not help you win over the long run, in the marathon that is your career.
Relatively early in my own career, I was offered and accepted a position that was going to be a little challenging, to say the least. It was a job in a male-dominated environment, and a really good "stretch" opportunity for me. I was thinking how I should best handle it, and for a moment wondered if I should act differently -- by pretending I knew more, being more outspoken or trying to seem tougher. Would these strategies help me succeed?
I realized quickly that trying to be anything other than who I am would require a lot of energy: wasted energy that would be better diverted to my contributions to the company. Moreover, changing who I was would have been pointless. I was, after all, good at what I did, I worked really hard and had a strong desire to contribute to a growing company.
2. Stop apologizing for choices that you make.
Sometimes we all feel it is necessary to apologize for attending a family event that takes place during the working day. For example, you want to take time to be with your child when he or she has a big event, like the first day of kindergarten, even if that event means that you can’t make a meeting with your boss. So, you think it’s just better to take a half-day vacation, even though you know you have already put in more than your allocated hours that week and that you will work as soon as you get home from the event.
This needs to stop. We should not feel obliged to apologize for taking time off for an important family event. After all, isn’t this the meaning of “work-life balance"?
3. Empathy and respect for people is an important trait for all leaders.
For a manager, the ability to understand and empathize with staff can be a great advantage in terms of keeping people engaged and productive. For this reason, empathy should never be viewed as a weakness in either female or male executives. Women who neutralize their feelings so they can seem more "masculine" operate at a disadvantage. Instead of using their empathy as an additional strength, they mask it, wasting natural talent because they worry what people might think.
4. Pay it forward: Encourage other women to be themselves.
Women tend to be more successful when they let their true selves emerge, both in their personal and professional lives. We help them and our businesses when we promote every opportunity for women to be themselves.
I try to never miss an opportunity to engage with people who work on my team. It’s not as if we’re chatting constantly, but I do care when someone has an ill family member or a personal crisis. I hope they are willing to share that with me. I also want them to be the people they truly are -- with me and the rest of the organization. Because authentic people feel more comfortable, they are happier, and our company receives their best contributions. In that sense, everyone wins.