To the Women Who Are “Too Nice”

Dear woman leader who is “too nice”,

Do you think we should be less nice? Or is it an asset to our leadership style? I don’t know the answer myself.

Have you heard of the identity crisis working women get trapped in? I learned it in social psychology class, and my insides boil with rage and disappointment to this day. Women, as leaders are expected to project communal qualities: self-sacrifice, concern for others, emotional expressiveness. Men, on the other hand, are expected to display agentic qualities: power, self-confidence, assertiveness, independence – qualities frequently attributed to successful leaders. When women exude these more agentic and leader-like qualities, they are viewed as “too bossy” or “too loud,” while men are freer and more accepted to carry them out.

 

Practices that equate leadership with behaviors considered more common in men suggest that women are simply not cut out to be leaders. – HBR

 

Women are punished for exhibiting “leader-like” traits. But if they do not show these traits, they are also seen as “too soft” or “not assertive enough” to fit in leadership positions. Trapped. Caught in a tangle.

That sucks.

Picture from sites.psu.edu.
Picture from sites.psu.edu.

Have you felt the same way? I think I have. I wind up feeling the need to be more empathetic and “softer” than my male counterparts.

It manifests itself in subtle ways. In a large meeting, I’ll unexplainably be afraid to suggest that “We should have had an agenda for this meeting, and for meetings to come so it’s a productive use of everyone’s time.” I don’t want to come off as too rigid. Later on, someone else will suggest it and I’ll feel stupid for being too shy to speak up.

When establishing the cadence of important meetings, instead of outrightly saying “We are going to have this every week,” I resort to meekly asking “How often do you all think it would be a good time to schedule these meetings?” to which everyone will say weekly meetings are necessary anyway.

When sending a Slack message critiquing punctuation and content in one of our social media postings, instead of saying “we should use appropriate punctuations and spaces on all our social media posts,” I feel the need to curb the straight-forward approach with a “my inner ocd is coming out! haha :sweaty-smile:”

Am I too “nice”? Are we too “nice”?

It’s ironic how being “nice” has to be so negative. But… does it have to be? There is strength in “nice”-ness and empathy and in being other-oriented. There’s power in being less assertive with one’s own opinions so others have the chance to be heard, in recognizing the need to ask others for help when things get too tough, in expressing emotion to teammates, in being more personable and building a sense of trust.

There’s a balance I can strike. I’m sure of it. I haven’t quite uncovered it yet but I’ll get there. Have you?

Here to listen,
Mika, fellow woman in tech

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