If you haven’t been following all the news in Asia you might not know about the current territorial spat between Japan and China over an uninhabited island chain in the East China Sea. Prime Minister Noda, in a weak effort to save his job, reshuffled his cabinet advisors. One of the new appointments was a female politician, Makiko Tanaka. Female politicians are rare here in Japan, and are almost never in cabinet positions, so I immediately looked her up. Based on her backstory I felt this was another case of a woman leader balancing on the edge of a glass cliff. How depressing. She was previously fired from her last cabinet position 10 years ago for “being difficult.” I guess she’s not much of a sweet-talker.
Her first day as a cabinet minister she was decried all around the internet and in the press as being incompetent. Videos of her emotional and tearful resignation played on an endless embarrassing loop. The appointment was basically a sacrificial offering mainly to invoke fond memories of her father’s work at strengthening bilateral ties with China during his days as Prime Minister. Iphigenia, anyone? Can’t we just get back to making and selling cars in China peacefully??
Where are we supposed to look these days for icons of female leadership? Rosie the Riveter and the famous “I can do it” poster popped into my mind. I love Rosie, but really?? She’s a WWII era role model of feminism and female strength. Surely there is someone a bit…fresher? I took to the internet and googled “feminist icon.” The top hit was Peggy Olsen from the openly sexist 50’s era show Mad Men. *facepalm*
We haven’t come a long way, baby.
Women in leadership roles are always on my mind, I consider myself to be a women who has spent the majority my working career in leadership roles or being groomed to be in leadership roles. I had to do my fair share of fighting the system to get the opportunities I wanted as a stage director, and today as the only woman in a team of men at my current job. I’ve had to learn on my feet how to navigate or remove the roadblocks in my way with some successes and more than a few failures. Other women in fields typically dominated by men have it just as rough.
Last week I read a number of articles about a recent Yale study proving implicit bias against women in the sciences. Here is one of them, with charts and such if you are into that sort of factual evidence. Funnily enough, it reminded me of a Princeton University economics student’s thesis about gender discrimination against female playwrights which made waves back in 2009. Around the same time I got annoyed by some guys on twitter joking about how you don’t see women lining up for construction jobs, which probably primed me to notice this excellent read on women in skilled trade jobs. I guess Rosie and her friends *are* lining up after all, fellas, if you wouldn’t mind stepping out of the way…
Notable similarities on bias against women in the science and arts fields is that both women and men in decision making positions were equally guilty of implicit bias against women. The women-in-skilled-trade article specifically was slanted to cover women helping other women out so it’s not a good source to judge if successful women in trade jobs actually throw other ladies under the bus or not. But if its happening in the arts, in the sciences, it must be happening elsewhere…like politics and business.
This all brings us back to the question, is gender equality even possible? And if it’s not possible because of our implicit biases, how can we make up for that? Are women really just bad negotiators? Are women really just window-dressing in the boardroom along with minorities to play lip-service to diversity quotas?
This question lead me to a 2001 paper on gender and influence, which goes into a fascinating detail under what circumstances and conditions women can gain influence over others. Here is a bullet list of what I learned:
- Your grandmother was right, you do catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
- You know how you keep feeling it’s harder for you to get ahead, you’re right, it is.
- Men respond badly to a woman who they think is protecting her own interests over helping others.
- Be warm and friendly, like a beauty pageant contestant hugging her mortal enemy in front of the judges.
- That group of guys you think are ignoring you? They are, but you can win them over with your expertise.
- Be democratic, not autocratic. How many woman dictators have you heard of?
- Focus on leading socially like a queen bee, men are better at task based work.
- Do your homework, and check it twice.
- You are incompetent until proven competent. Yes, that sucks.
- Aggressive communication works against women, be assertive and emotionally neutral.
- If you make it to the top, don’t throw your fellow ladies under the bus.
- The rules aren’t the same for men and women, at least not yet.
What do you think? Does this list make your blood boil? Do you secretly use these communication/leadership tactics? Have you ever been accused of being too aggressive? Have you ever passed over a qualified woman in favor of a man for a job?