“Fall down*Stand up*Straighten crown*Carry on”
Women who want to be professionally successful are increasingly being given lists of recommended behaviour and tactics that they need to observe in order to hold their own and assert themselves against the competition. The advice is based on verbal and non-verbal strategies that are considered to be more male (such as taking up space, claiming speaking time, using status symbols, sometimes interrupting others, making and communicating uncomfortable decisions, speaking about one’s own success, taking a seat at the top of the table, etc.) – and it is effective!
When women try out this type of behaviour, they are often surprised by just how effective it is. In most cases, there is no need to shine with extensive specialist knowledge or to spend yet more time fine-tuning things. Instead – assuming adequate knowledge and competence – the solution lies in packaging the performance, appearance, and a good network. Unfortunately however, unlike their male colleagues, successful women nowadays gain not only respect and recognition, but also, as the flip side of the coin, envy, spiteful comments, and negative attributions. They are accused of being hard, disagreeable, “career women”, inflexible, unable to work in a team, devoid of social skills. They are feared, rejected and often ostracised by female colleagues. Various studies have shown identical ambitious CVs to have been assessed completely differently if one of them was designated as coming from a woman rather than a man: whereas the putative man was described as being energetic, decisive, and possessing strong leadership skills, the woman was assessed as cold, disagreeable, and career-minded in a negative way. Many women struggle with this kind of assessment as – owing to their socialisation – they rely more strongly than their male colleagues on being perceived as kind, friendly and likeable.
So what is the way out of the dilemma? There are no positive role models for women. To be successful, they don’t want to “become a man”, but be allowed to maintain their femininity. However, at a subconscious level, there are inadequate strong female role models available to them in a professional context. Women often use, or have forced upon them, role models for their professional life borrowed from their personal sphere. Depending on age and status, such role models may be based on a daughter, student, kind colleague, seductress, or mother. All these roles conceal pitfalls of their own: the daughter and student are not really taken seriously; the kind colleague is given the dull, routine tasks; the seductress falls off her pedestal at some point; the mother may be extremely powerful, but she will never rise any higher than rank 2 in the power structure. As opposed to women, men hardly ever have family or other personal roles imposed on them at work; at most they are designated as a patriarch or protégé, but these roles can easily be fitted into the official hierarchical structure.
The most effective role model for a woman aiming to achieve a position of power is the queen. She is fundamentally powerful – the strongest piece on the chessboard! – yet feminine at the same time. She radiates dignity and calm, uses all available status symbols as a matter of course, while remaining elegantly feminine. In non-verbal terms, she has mastered direct eye contact and an upright posture, strides about confidently, and uses clear gestures. She maintains a physical distance, and the space immediately surrounding her belongs to her alone. In verbal terms, she tends to speak slowly, uses pauses and, thanks to her status, has no issues speaking about her excellence, experience and good connections. She also smiles – but, unlike a princess, not because she is embarrassed, but because she is gracious. And if she ever stumbles, she takes it in a sporting manner like a queen: fall down – stand up – straighten crown – carry on!
Film tips: “The Queen” starring Helen Mirren, Netflix series “The Crown”