Six Paradoxes Women Leaders Face in 2013

Posted January 18, 2013 by Marcy Twete in On the Ladder

If I’m being honest, I’d tell you that I’m not much of a math person. In fact, in college, I believe I only took one math class simply to fulfill the requirement. But thinking back on that math class, I do remember learning and writing a paper on one specific thing – paradoxes. Of course, at the time, we were studying mathematical paradoxes, but the concept of a paradox always stuck with me, even if the math part didn’t. A paradox, to paraphrase its meaning, is a statement or believe that is completely against common sense or logic, but still remains true.

Harvard Business Review’s Blog writers Jill Flynn, Kathryn Heath, and Mary Davis Holt addressed the subject of paradoxes recently, and specifically those that affect women in the workplace. It’s fascinating stuff, and truly mind-boggling that some of these paradoxes still exist.

The paradox Flynn, Heath, and Holt call the “Double Bind Paradox” is one I’ve come to struggle with recently:

The Double-Bind Paradox. Women must project gravitas in order to advance at work, yet they also need to retain their “feminine mystique” in order to be liked. Perhaps surprisingly, of all the stereotypes that women encounter, this is the one that most women tell us about in coaching situations. Research by Catalyst confirms that gender stereotypes make it difficult for female leaders to feel comfortable taking a commanding stance because they are perceived as either competent or liked — but rarely both. As Forbes recently noted, “Studies show that assertive women are more likely to be perceived as aggressive; that women usually don’t ask for what they deserve but when they do, they risk being branded as domineering or, worse even, “ambitious.” These are the double-bind dilemmas that we as a society need to banish before women can contribute fully within organizations.

This paradox effects all of us. It manifests daily in my own life. I believe women need not be overtly feminine nor masculine to be successful. Yet I carry an iPhone case with a quote from Diane Von Furstenberg on it, “Feel like a woman. Wear a dress.” Why? Because I personally love a good skirt! But I certainly don’t think all women need to wear them.

Want more brain hurting paradoxes? Check out the rest of the HBR article here. It might not solve anything, but it will certainly make you think.

About the Author

Marcy Twete

Marcy Twete is a career fundraiser turned corporate responsibility executive, a career and networking expert and the author of the book "You Know Everybody! A Career Girl’s Guide to Building a Network That Works."