The Gender Trap

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The Gender Trap, an article published in the European Business Review in 2013, ably outlines the double bind women in leadership positions face.  It’s recommended reading for anyone struggling with the dilemma of how strong, smart women in the workplace can emerge as effective leaders.  The article points out the heart of the problem bluntly:

“A woman who adopts a command-and-control style or behaves in an overly assertive way is vulnerable to being labeled a “bitch”. As Penelope Trunk, a columnist for Business 2.0 magazine notes acerbically: “There is no male counterpart to this term, because men who exhibit such traits are promoted.””

Key for women leaders is to balance competence and likability, in a way that works within cultural norms.  As the authors note, the self-aware, self-monitoring female leader can make great strides in increasing her influence on both counts by avoiding extremes of both ends of the behavioral spectrum, illustrated in the magazine’s first table:


Self-awareness and self-monitoring, often aided by personal and small group coaching, pay off in another way.  They help female leaders overcome another challenge that seems to come with the territory:  self-doubt.  As the authors note:  “Ambitious women certainly face barriers that their male colleagues do not, but some of those barriers are in their heads.”