Office Politics for Strong Women: How to Be Assertive and Liked

Last Updated Mar 16, 2011 8:49 AM EDT

If the world were fair, women and men would be judged equally for the same behavior. But research shows that, in this respect at least, the world is not fair -- when female businesspeople are confrontational, confident or aggressive, they are often disliked while men are usually respected.

Need proof? Linda Babcock, an economist at Carnegie Mellon University, had women and men use the exact same script to ask for a raise and then showed videos of the conversations to others, asking for their opinions of what they had seen. Viewers thought the man deserved the raise and liked his style, but the woman? Babcock told NPR that, "people found that to be way too aggressive. She was successful in getting the money, but people did not like her. They thought she was too demanding."

Well, that's depressing. So, short of the obviously untenable solution of never being assertive, what can strong women do to advocate for themselves and their companies without being judged harshly for it? New research out of Stanford offers ideas and even hope that women can turn this double standard to their advantage. Stanford Knowledgebase reports:

The research suggests that for women to be successful they must simultaneously present themselves as selfâ€"confident and dominant while tempering these qualities with displays of communal characteristics. "Women may have a ways to go, but their ability to be flexible in how they behave is leading to some extraordinary results. Some women are starting to go very high in the managerial ranks using this strategic approach," concludes Olivia O'Neill.
O'Neill, of George Mason University, along with her co-author, Stanford business professor Frank E. Buck, analyzed data following more than 100 business school students for eight years after graduation and found that women who could "self-monitor" and regulate their so-called "masculine" behavior -- changing chameleon-like from being aggressive and confident to using a more traditionally feminine approach -- fared the best. Better even than hard-charging macho guys:
Masculine women who were high self-monitors did quite well professionally, according to the study. They received 1.5 times more promotions than masculine men, and about two times as many promotions as feminine men, regardless of whether the men were high or low self-monitors. They also received three times as many promotions as masculine women who were low self-monitors, affirming that masculine behavior alone does not garner success.
The findings may be of particular interest to young women just starting to make their way in the workplace as the researchers found that getting this mix of masculine and feminine right directly out of school had a snowball effect, paying big dividends over time. "Managing 'masculine' traits... can have a noticeable effect on success early in women's careers. Even small differences in success rates at the beginning of one's career have large longâ€"term effects," says Knowledgebase.

Ladies, do you "self-monitor" and consciously regulate your level of aggressiveness at work?

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(Image courtesy of Flickr user tibchris, CC 2.0)
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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.