Being seen as dominant is worse for women than men

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Of the behaviors that can most keep a woman away from a promotion at work, being seen as a dominant or bossy person is the most negative of them, according to research from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business in the United States.

“Overall being dominant, while seen as a typical leadership trait, is perceived negatively by both men and women, but we found that for women it is different and significantly worse,” says Professor Ashleigh Shelby Rosette, research co-author.

And it’s not about having a bossy personality or not, it’s about being seen as such. The study, currently under review for publication in the Journal Of Applied Psychology, reviewed more than 1,100 articles published in the last 45 years to try to understand what types of behaviors or initiatives –”agency”, in the English term- influence the perception of how “promotable ” a female lead is.

Rosette says the research worked with concepts of prescription and proscription, something like the recommended and the forbidden. “We found that the negative reaction is much greater to outlawing women, and that’s what they shouldn’t do, they shouldn’t behave in a dominant way,” she says.

The negative reaction is worse even in environments that encourage peer competition.

For Rosette, in addition to making the message on the issue of dominance clear (and how negative it is), the research allows us to look at the contradictions in the approaches to men and women facing the same behaviors.

“We see the nuances that women are subjected to as they try to get positions. It’s not about managing their confidence or hard work, it’s more about managing the way they are violating shared stereotypes,” she says.

Research has also shown that being perceived as competent, independent or diligent is seen as a positive aspect of a woman’s promotion perspective. In the case of being seen as self-confident or ambitious, the data review did not allow concluding whether the perception of these characteristics is more favorable or unfavorable.

“Arrogant or dominant behaviors are stereotypes reserved for men. When women act like that, they are often described as crossing the line. And that’s a bit hypocritical when we know that men can end up not being evaluated as negatively, and for the same reason. “

For lawyer Márcia Cicarelli, taking a more aggressive stance is both a reflection of the lack of female references in leadership positions and a tactic of self-preservation.

“Women had to look for references and they were almost always masculine. We are masculinizing ourselves to be part of the men’s club”, he says.

“That’s why it’s so important to have more and more women in leadership roles, to create a reference”, says the lawyer, a partner in the insurance and reinsurance area of ​​Demarest, one of the largest law firms in Brazil.

“I’m 48 years old. I come from a generation that normalized a lot of things, like objectification and being snatched up. Today there is space to talk about the subject”, he says.

The reactive position, says the executive, was undone with time and experience, but it also came after counseling. “An older executive found me one day and said I wouldn’t be heard if I didn’t build consensus.”

Cicarelli currently coordinates a diversity project at Demarest that seeks to keep women on staff over the years. Today, they are 30% among partners, and 54% among juniors and interns.

For the lawyer, when creating programs of this type, companies “put the goat in the room”, and make room for annoyances and anxieties to be dealt with openly.

In the mentoring program, men and women guide professionals (those, yes, only women) so that they increase their chances of improving their positions in the company.

Male lawyers also participate because, according to her, they also need to understand that there is no single box that houses all women. From the most recent mentorship, six women became partners.

For the Duke University researcher, diversity policies are good strategies, but they depend mainly on well-conducted processes, especially when it comes to preparing men to deal with rebalancing.

“When we put a woman in a predominantly male environment and these men don’t even know how to relate or are even unaware of how much stereotypes negatively affect these women, companies end up not getting this policy to be effective.”

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