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Study says women leaders need to stop smiling. Huh?

March 14, 2013

The following story that recently ran on The Huffington Post makes some interesting points about women in leadership.―Ed.

“If you’re a woman in the workplace, you need to stop smiling,” writes Huffpost blogger Alison A. Quirk.

“Why? Because according to a just-released study from economic researchers at Technische Universität München (TUM) in Germany, ‘women [leaders] who looked cheerful were judged to be less willing to lead’ than men who displayed similar emotions―by both men and women. That bit of management ‘insight’ comes hot on last week’s news from a study from the Pew Research Center which had conservative pundits on Fox Business decrying breadwinner moms as representatives of ‘something going terribly wrong in our society.’

“What’s actually representative of something going terribly wrong in our society, is the fact that we’re still discussing, debating, and dissecting research on stereotypically masculine or feminine behaviors of people in leadership. A few years ago, Catalyst, a leading research and advisory organization, released a report that covered much of the same ground as the TUM researchers. They found that perceptions about stereotypically masculine behaviors, such as assertiveness and taking charge, left women in a bind. According to their findings, women were ‘too soft, too tough, and never just right.’ ‘Competent or likeable, but rarely both,’ and that female leaders faced ‘higher standards and lower rewards than male leaders.’

“While this research is interesting, it hasn’t moved the discussion forward or solved the problem. If we’re truly interested in ensuring that women have a stronger platform from which to lead, there are steps we can all take today.”

Click here to read the full story.

Abri Brickner Holden, Director of Linkage’s Women in Leadership Institute , agrees: “The recent commentary on women leaders being ‘cheery’ or not seems to be nothing more than a media fad,” she writes. “And while I think there’s value in understanding what qualities and traits are valued in a leader, I agree that it’s time to stop dissecting research on stereotypically masculine or feminine behaviors that only further the dialogue about our differences.

“We create more innovative and lasting solutions for customers when we have diversity at every level of leadership. When it comes to stereotypical research, I think it’s helpful to learn about diverse populations, and I worry that we do more damage by talking about our differences rather than leveraging them. It’s time to stop the “feminine” vs. “masculine” and start redefining what good leadership and teams look like. We need well-rounded leaders who can provide a variety of leadership qualities, regardless of gender.”

What do you think? Is good leadership truly gender neutral?

More about Abri
Abri Holden is the Director of Linkage’s Women in Leadership Institute and a Consultant at Linkage. As a practitioner, researcher, and facilitator, she works with organizations across a number of industries to create innovative strategies that accelerate their high-potential female leaders. Follow her on Twitter @abribrickner.


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Women in Leadership Institute

NOV. 13–16, 2023 | Orlando, Florida, or Virtual
A 4-day immersive learning experience designed to equip women leaders with actionable strategies to overcome the hurdles women often face in the workplace.

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