How Female Leaders Should Handle Double-Standards
"IMF head Christine Lagarde tells a story about a woman leader she met who took over at a tough moment in her country’s history and resolved to be different. They had to cut the deficit and she wanted to set standards by personal example. When she travelled around the country, she took a small entourage of five cars. But the women she met in the villages asked her why only five cars when the men before her travelled with twenty-five. Stereotypes have been set and cast in stone, explained Lagarde, making women feel they have to act like men to be heard. "Keep your five cars," Lagarde advised her, "dare the difference. Sometimes our five cars are better than their twenty-five."
While women are likely no more susceptible than men to such diversions, subtle (and not so subtle) cultural biases can easily turn women’s attention inward as they try to reconcile conflicting messages about how to behave as leaders. What to do then, in a world when image and perceptions matter, and gender stereotypes remain firmly entrenched? My conclusions are:
-Understand how you are perceived and what role gender stereotypes play in those perceptions. Get informed about the research; don’t be naive.
-Have clarity of purpose. Know why you are doing what you are doing, and how it will advance the collective good.
-Be yourself. “Dare the difference,” as Lagarde advises. But do so skillfully. Don’t just let it all hang out; and never confuse “being authentic” with “fatal flaws” such as treating people poorly….”