To Get Ahead, Women Should Act Like Men But Also Like Women

by Vault Education Editors | April 13, 2011

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In business, women who act like men are seen as capable. At the same time, their mannish-ness also makes them seem like social maladroits, unlikeable. At least they get the promotions over their more ladylike, less competent-seeming fellow females. Actually, no, new research suggests.

"Working women face a real dilemma: if they are seen to behave in a stereotypically male way, they may damage their chances of promotion, even though these traits are synonymous with successful managers,” [said Olivia O'Neill, co-author of "Reducing the backlash effect: Self-monitoring and women’s promotions"]

O’Neill, a professor at George Mason School of Management, and Charles O’Reilly, a Stanford GSB professor, studied 80 MBA graduates (48 percent were women) from one institution over eight years. They found that of that admittedly small sample, “masculine” women with high social flexibility were promoted more often than men and three times more often than man-like women with poor self-monitoring abilities. With men, it didn’t seem to matter whether they were good self-monitors or not.

Women who conform to masculine stereotypes of confidence, tough-mindedness, self-assurance and aggressiveness, but display a knack for self-monitoring may have the best shot at promotions. So, ladies, here’s the takeaway: Act like a man to show you have skills, but know when to rein it in and be all womanly to avoid the backlash that will come from your violation of culturally ascribed gender roles. Didn’t you know you would be sanctioned for such trespasses!

[Science Daily, CNN]

[Photo Credit: AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast]

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