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Smart, Strong Women: Teach Others How to Treat Us

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I am amazed at how many articles today still portray women as all alike and that we need to change in order to be successful. I contend that the people who write these articles and those that make management decisions based on women as a subset of humanity need to be educated.

If you feel the person in front of you doesn't see you, hear you and honor you as an individual, you must teach this person who you are and what you need.

A recent Harvard Business Review blog post by Jeffrey Pfeffer, a Stanford professor, claimed that women want to be liked more than they want to lead, that they don't understand the trade-offs between family and career and that they need to get tougher. If you click on the research Pfeffer uses to support his claims, you'll find that all but one of the studies were done before 1990.

Shame on this professor for using such old data to define who women are today. If this is what he teaches at Stanford, it's no wonder that business leaders have no clue how to manage today's smart, strong, goal-driven women.

Then there was Kathleen Parker's article in the Washington Post titled, Obama: Our first female president. Although she starts out by saying this doesn't imply deficiency, she goes on to reprimand him for his indirect communication style and his inability to take immediate, commanding action, which she said reflects his feminine side. Whether or not she has characterized Obama well, she discredits all assertive and decisive women.

These old-fashioned, harmful views of women will continue for many reasons including fear of a change in power structures and the lack of updated research. When I completed my doctoral research that laid out the foundation of my book, "Wander Woman," I found little research that differentiated the nature of high-achieving women in today's workplace from past studies or from non high-achievers. The studies clumped all women into one as if all women are the same.

It's time for smart, strong women to teach their managers and professors who we are and what we need to feel inspired and valued so we will tolerate staying with any company long enough to be a leader. I also found in my research that many top talent women leave organizations before reaching executive positions due to their frustration or boredom. They are not the ones that passively stay behind that Pfeffer talks about in his article.

If you are a smart, strong woman, teach people to reset their expectations. Consider these statements as you plan your own:

  1. I need to feel heard and seen for who I am as an individual. Quit making assumptions. Ask me what I think and want. And when I get passionate about a subject, don't turn away. I will listen to your point of view if you listen and acknowledge mine.
  2. I need frequent, new challenges to stay engaged. Don't assume I want to play it safe. I love to learn and to apply my skills and knowledge in new ways.
  3. At work, don't think that I am not focused on the bottom line. I know the importance of profit. I also think that creating collaborative environments that honor the individuals who participate is the best way to increase profits. I have difficulties committing to a monetary goal or a drive solely focused on beating our competitors. I think people want to buy from companies that care about them and the world. We have the same goals for success. We just see different ways of getting there.
  4. I want recognition for my efforts even if I consistently perform. And don't just tell me I did a good job, let me know the value of my work in the bigger picture. I like knowing that I make a significant contribution and I want to know that you know I do this as well.
  5. I want to work on the major issues facing the organization. I am not afraid. I have a lot to offer. You might even get a fresh and needed perspective from me.
  6. I want to be asked about opportunities that might impact my social life. Don't assume that because I have a family or that I'm a woman that I don't want an assignment that includes travel or long hours. Ask me and let me decide. I can make choices for myself.
  7. On the other hand, don't dump projects on me because you know I will take on more than most people. Help me to see if the goals of the project are attainable and totally relevant to my job and my career aspirations. If not, give them to someone else.

I hope this article provides a good starting point for you to articulate your needs. Be clear about how you want people to treat you and what you need to feel valued and inspired. If you want to go one step further and create an environment that supports all smart, strong women, consider sending a letter to your CEO or direct manager. You can find a letter you can copy to send or work with on my website at the top of the Social Media column.

It's time we come together in what I call a "positive conspiracy of change" to educate the public and our leaders about who we are as smart, strong women. Please join me in this call to action.

Marcia Reynolds, Psy.D. is the author of Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, June 2010). She is a professional coach and leadership trainer who works within a variety of industries and around the world.

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