It seems like everyone is arguing about whether feminine traits are a strength or weakness for executives.
Sheryl Sandberg says in her controversial book that women should embrace their "feminine emotions" even if this means crying at work . She says women need to stop pretending that they're not human at the office.
Ashleigh Shelby Rosette, an associate professor at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, writes in The New York Times that the skills women naturally posses, such as "demonstrating respect and sensitivity" and "taking an interest in employees" elicit trust from employees, creating a more productive work environment.
But Alan Goldman, a professor of management at Arizona State University West disagrees in another Times articles called "Tough Guys Win For A Reason." Goldman, who consults Fortune 500 companies, says that "[d]espite current attempts at demonizing old-school male behavior, it continues to rule" and that the "veneer of male dominance" is what's going to earn you respect in the end. In short, women need to be more assertive and self-promoting because "distasteful male leadership works."
So what's the answer? Should women at the office behave like men or like women?
We think this obsession with characterizing traits as "male" or "female" is getting absurd.
First of all, anyone who has taken a gender studies course in college will tell you that these terms are problematic. Calling assertiveness a male trait, for instance, references thousands of years of human history when women were not granted equal rights and were discouraged from asserting themselves. Thinking in these terms is not only meaningless, but it also reinforces sexist assumptions.
Second, it's ridiculous to think that anyone should choose between two positive traits. You don't have to decide whether to be a compassionate person or an aggressive person. A good executive, or person, exhibits a wide range of positive traits.
While the rise of women to the board room is a major opportunity to shake up old ways of doing things, it helps no one to cling to unenlightened gender norms.
Speaking of which, Google's Sergey Brin needs to stop calling smartphones emasculating. That's just stupid.
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