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When assertiveness is a taboo: Women in the business world

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Jun 16

Indra Nooyi, Chairperson and CEO, PepsiCo

Statistics have revealed that the majority prefer male bosses to female ones. The argument is that female bosses are domineering, overly assertive, demanding and they micro-manage employees. Ironically, male professionals are not penalized for exhibiting similar traits in the office.

According to a recent leadership study by Larissa Tiedens of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and Dr Melissa J. Williams, assistant professor at Goizueta Business School, it has been found that women were particularly penalized for dominance that took on a verbal form. For example, women who negotiated for higher salaries were disparaged more than men who asked for similar privileges.

Nonverbal behavior for assertiveness

In spite of these unfavourable limitations, women are still required rise to the task and take up meaningful leadership and managerial positions. While it is certainly not fair that women have to work to become effective leaders without being penalized for being effective leaders; according to the study, women can assert themselves through non-verbal cues and sidestep the prejudices that make it hard to do so.

Nonverbal cues such as maintaining eye-contact, standing tall and speaking loudly, helped women assert themselves without being viewed unfairly.

This is because nonverbal behaviors work on a non-conscious level, helping women overcome the challenges of direct verbal communication. The study also found that positive nonverbal behaviours enhanced influence and created feelings of “likability” and “warmth”. The process of figuring out who is a leader in a group happens so rapidly that it is often outside of conscious awareness, says the study.

Similarly, when colleagues see women keep a relaxed posture during interactions, lean in, maintain eye contact, place fingertips together, and stand straight, they tell others you’re assertive, confident and in control.

Women should feel free to drape an arm over a colleague’s chair, touch a colleague’s arm when talking, speak loudly and not hesitate to speak first, or even interrupt when it’s needed. The study finds that these nonverbal gestures will be interrupted as friendliness and congeniality, but not assertiveness which is a put-off for many.

Until professional spaces accept that women can display direct assertive behaviors and not always get their work done through nonverbal signals, women must tap into the resource of nonverbal communication to achieve results.

By Dorcas Addo

Posted by : Sharmila Gautama

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