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Natasha Koifman

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Does Being 'Feminine' Make it Harder to Be a Leader?

Posted: 10/04/2013 10:44 am

For women in business, there's always a fine line to be walked between being persistent and being tough. People tend to say, for a woman to make it to the top, she has to be ruthless...but then she gets judged harshly for being too aggressive. A Stanford School of Business study called this the 'double bind': an unwritten rule that women who act in feminine ways are unlikely to be seen as leaders, and women who operate like men are often judged as unladylike and disliked.

I believe it is possible to be feminine and successful without being too tough, but I agree that this is a balancing act that can be challenging. It's not about conforming to men's or society's labels, although being aware of them can be useful in understanding relationships or expectations. What's important is making the most of what -- and who -- you are, and being true to yourself.

Femininity is not passivity; it is confidence and empathy.
Like Jackie O once said, "I am a woman above everything else." And with being a woman comes a sense of femininity. Softness in manners or in the way you approach a situation can be a good thing. Everyone knows the saying that you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar! ...which is a bit of a weird saying I know...because who wants flies anyway...but I digress. Anyway, I believe in being kind, caring, confident and nurturing; you don't have to be crude or cruel to exert authority or be a successful leader.

You can still be 'girlish' and lead like a lady.
In the Forbes article, "Can 'Feminine' Women Make it to the Top?", the author writes about ways to be 'feminine': through looks, behaviour and actions. She negatively associates 'acting girlish' with seduction: being flirtatious or cute. However, I prefer to embrace this side of my personality; I never want to lose it. It's not about dumbing yourself down; I see women do this around men too often. You can be feminine and still be smart, and you'll gain much more respect this way. In a recent interview with Women's Post, I described myself as having the maturity of a woman but the playfulness of a girl; it's a frame of mind that helps me work hard and have fun doing it.

The 'Erotic Capital' debate: is this a tool we should be using?
A few years ago, British author Catherine Hakim released a controversial text called Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital. It created a divide between supporters and opponents, and I was part of a debate on the topic with Carrie Kirkman, CEO of Jones Group Canada, and Carolyn Lawrence, CEO of Women of Influence, on CBC's The Current. Hakim defined this 'sexual' asset as similar to economic, social and cultural characteristics, and as something that we should be using to get ahead. As I stated in the CBC discussion, I was actually against Hakim's theory. When I first started out in my career, I remember going out of my way to downplay my femininity by wearing masculine pant suits, turtlenecks...sure it was trendy at the time but I think that style came as a result of women rejecting the 1950s-esque 'housewife' limitations. I wanted to ensure my success was about my brains not anything else. The flipside of this position is that old adage: 'if you look good, you feel good; if you feel good, you do good.' Hakim says men use our sexuality to hold us down, so why shouldn't we use it to raise us up? I think it's a fine line but her basic argument is...if you've got it, use it.

Embrace femininity; it provides a unique skillset for women.
When you think of 'feminine' characteristics in the workplace, other than our appearance, what comes to mind? Collaboration, support, sharing, encouragement, caring... all positives. Even using emoticons in texting and emails has been shown to be an effective use of 'feminine' behaviour. I personally love using emoticons! I feel it helps me keep that girly playfulness in my correspondence, and allows me to be more expressive. McKinsey & Company actually calls these feminine behaviours 'centered leadership'; but it's a success model meant for both men and women to follow. It may be a 'man's world' out there, but as emotional women we bring unique skills to the table; let's embrace them.

Big girls don't cry...but sometimes we get hurt.
The downside to being an empathetic woman is we're also sensitive creatures. And unfortunately there are people out there who will use this against us. Recently, I found myself in a situation where I was being judged and treated in a way that a male counterpart would not be subjected to. I was hit where it hurt, on a very personal matter, and that was the intent. It's not that I wish I behaved in a tougher way -- to be honest, the man who set out to hurt me is the one who should be changing his behaviour -- but there I was in the midst of that 'double bind'! It's hard to balance being sensitive and 'feminine' with having a thick skin sometimes. But being able to -- and knowing when to -- turn on and off those 'masculine' and 'feminine' qualities is what will get us ahead.

I am a big believer in female mentorship and in helping women succeed. We can all use some support as we evolve and grow and learn to embrace our true selves. In the end, it does take a bit of brawn in addition to brains to get ahead in this life, but knowing the difference between 'necessary roughness' and commitment to be one's best is an integral part of achieving success. This great quote from Estee Lauder sums it up perfectly: "Toughness is not dependent on being crude or cruel. You can be feminine and tough. I love my femininity as much as I rely on my toughness. What others call tough, I call persistence."

xo Natasha

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  • Anne Hutchinson On Trial, Circa 1637

    <strong></strong><a href="http://www.pbs.org/godinamerica/people/anne-hutchinson.html">Anne Hutchinson</a> (1591-1643) was a reformer in the Massachusetts Bay Colony who accused Puritan ministers of making salvation dependent on good works rather than divine grace. She alleged that God communicated directly to her -- an allegation that resulted in her being put on trial, convicted for blasphemy and banished from the colony. In challenging the religious hierarchy, Hutchinson also <a href="http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/today/jul20.html">challenged traditional gender roles</a>.

  • Harriet Tubman, circa 1890

    <a href="http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p1535.htmlhttp://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p1535.html">Harriet Tubman</a> (c1820-1913) was a former slave and "conductor" of the Underground Railroad who helped escort over 300 slaves to freedom.

  • Susan B. Anthony, 1900

    <a href="http://www.nps.gov/wori/historyculture/susan-b-anthony.htm">Susan B. Anthony</a> (1820 - 1906) was an early leader in the Women's Suffrage Movement and co-founder of the National Woman Suffrage Association. She played a pivotal role in <a href="http://www.nwhm.org/education-resources/biography/biographies/susan-brownell-anthony/">women gaining the right to vote</a>.

  • Tess Billington, 1906

    <a href="http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/tess-billington-carries-a-banner-enscribed-with-the-news-photo/3281570">Tess Billington</a>, a British suffragette, during a protest at the House of Commons.

  • Emmeline Parkhurst, 1914

    <a href="http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/english-suffragette-emmeline-pankhurst-is-arrested-at-a-news-photo/2716338">Emmeline Pankhurst</a> (1858 - 1928), a British suffragette, is arrested during a protest outside Buckingham Palace.

  • Four women at a convention of former slaves, Washington D.C., circa 1916

    The women pictured are <a href="http://ghostsofdc.org/2012/07/06/ex-slave-convention-1916/">Annie Parram, 104, Anna Angales, 105, Elizabeth Berkeley, 125 and Sadie Thompson, 110. <a href="http://ghostsofdc.org/2012/07/06/ex-slave-convention-1916/"></a> According to a <em>Washington Post</em></a> article, the 1916 convention was the fifty-fourth gathering of former slaves and ran from October 22nd to November 6th. President Wilson is listed among the invited speakers.

  • Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, circa 1925

    <a href="http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/stein-gertrude">Gertrude Stein</a> (1874 - 1946) was an American expatriate writer, famous both for her avante-garde prose and for her Parisian salons. She is photographed here with her partner Alice B Toklas (1877 - 1967).

  • Suffragettes, 1913

    <a href="http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/the-first-women-suffragettes-arrested-in-london-news-photo/3292182" target="_blank">Suffragettes in London</a> march to protest the first arrest of a suffragette.

  • Margaret Sanger, 1920s

    <a href="http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/pill/peopleevents/p_sanger.html">Margaret Sanger </a>(1879 – 1966) was an early advocate of legalizing birth control. She was the founder of the first North American family planning center and was instrumental in the genesis of the first oral contraceptive, or "Magic Pill."

  • Amelia Earhart, 1928

    <a href="http://www.ameliaearhart.com/">Amelia Earhart</a> (1897 – disappeared July 2, 1937) was an American aviator and the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic. She disappeared during an attempt to circumnavigate the globe in 1937.

  • Eleanor Roosevelt, 1933

    <a href="http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/eleanor/">Eleanor Roosevelt</a> (1884 – 1962) was the wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt ad the longest serving First Lady in U.S. history. During her time as First Lady, she broke precedent by giving speeches and writing a newspaper column. After FDR's death, she championed human and women's rights.

  • Hattie McDaniel, circa 1940

    <a href="http://www.lasentinel.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=6357:black-women-and-the-academy-awards-winners-nominees&catid=79&Itemid=169" target="_blank">Hattie McDaniel</a> became the first African American to win an Academy Award when she took the Best Supporting Actress statuette home for her portrayal of Mammy in <em>Gone With The Wind</em>.

  • Rosie the Riveter, 1942

    <a href="http://www.nps.gov/pwro/collection/website/rosie.htm">Rosie the Riveter</a> is a fictional icon created during World War II and meant to represent the women who took over factory work -- typically a male domain -- while men were fighting overseas.

  • Rosalind Franklin, 1950s

    Rosalind Franklin (1920 – 1958) was a British biophysicist and X-ray crystallographer who was instrumental in the discovery of DNA.

  • Rosa Parks, 1955

    <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/28/us/politics/statue-of-rosa-parks-is-unveiled-at-the-capitol.html?_r=0" target="_blank">Rosa Parks</a> (1913-2005) was an American Civil Rights activist, most famous for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955.

  • Ruby Bridges, 1960

    <a href="http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/social_issues/jan-june97/bridges_2-18.html" target="_blank">Ruby Bridges</a> (born 1954) was the first African American child to desegregate an elementary school when she walked into William Frantz Elementary school in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1960.

  • Wilma Rudolph, 1960

    Wilma Rudolph (1940 - 1994) was an American runner and Olympian. She became the <a href="http://espn.go.com/sportscentury/features/00016444.html" target="_blank">first American woman</a> to win three Gold medals at the 1960 Rome Olympics.

  • Rachel Carson, 1962

    <a href="http://www.rachelcarson.org/Biography.aspx#.UUjHA1s6VTE" target="_blank">Rachel Carson</a> (1907 - 1964) was a biologist, ecologist and writer. She authored <em>Silent Spring</em> which examined the effects of pesticides on the environment. She is credited with <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/28/business/rachel-carsons-lessons-50-years-after-silent-spring.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0" target="_blank">helping to launch the environmental movement.</a>

  • Betty Friedan, 1970

    <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/19/books/betty-friedans-feminine-mystique-50-years-later.html?pagewanted=all" target="_blank">Betty Friedan</a> (1921 - 2006) was a leader in the second-wave feminist movement. She authored <em>The Feminine Mystique</em> in 1963 and founded the <em>National Organization for Women (NOW)</em> in 1966.

  • Women's Liberation Demonstration, 1970

    The <a href="http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/scriptorium/wlm/blkmanif/" target="_blank">Third World Women's Alliance</a> was formed to highlight the problems faced by women of color, particularly the destructive connection between race, sex and exploitation.

  • Gloria Steinem, 1972

    <a href="http://www.gloriasteinem.com/who-is-gloria/" target="_blank">Gloria Steinem</a> (b. 1934) is a journalist, activist and feminist icon. She was a leader of the feminist movement of the late 1960s and 1970s and co-founded <em>Ms.</em> Magazine. <strong><em>CORRECTION</strong>: An earlier version of this caption listed Steinem's birth year as 1954. She was born in 1934. </em>

  • Billie Jean King, 1973

    <a href="http://espn.go.com/sportscentury/features/00016060.html" target="_blank">Billie Jean King</a> (b. 1943) ranked number one in the world in women's tennis for five years, wining six Wimbledon championships and four U.S. opens. She is perhaps most glorified for beating Bobby Riggs in the "Battle of the Sexes" in 9173.

  • Julia Child, 1978

    <a href="http://www.pbs.org/food/julia-child/" target="_blank">Julia Child</a> (1912 - 2004) was a chef, cookbook author and television host. She pioneered cooking shows on TV and brought French cooking into American kitchens.

  • Sandra Day O'Connor, 1981

    When <a href="http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/justices/oconnor.bio.html" target="_blank">Sandra Day O'Connor</a> (b. 1930) was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, she became the first female Justice. She served on the Court until 2006.

  • Maya Lin , 1981

    <a href="http://www.pbs.org/art21/artists/maya-lin" target="_blank">Maya Lin</a> (born 1959) is an architect and artist, best-known for designing the Vietnam Memorial after she won a national competition at just 21.

  • Sally Ride, 1983

    <a href="https://sallyridescience.com/sallyride" target="_blank">Sally Ride</a> (1951 – 2012) was an astronaut and broke barriers in 1983 when she became the first American woman to fly in space.

  • Maya Angelou, 1993

    Maya Angelou (born 1928) is a poet and author. She recited her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1993.

  • Ellen Degeneres, 1997

    When Ellen Degeneres (born 1958) came out to TIME Magazine in 1997, she made history by becoming the<a href="http://www.people.com/people/ellen_degeneres/biography/" target="_blank"> first openly gay star on TV</a>.

  • Madeleine Albright, 1999

    <a href="http://secretary.state.gov/www/albright/albright.html" target="_blank">Madeleine Albright</a> (born 1937) became the first female Secretary of State when she joined the Clinton administration in 1997.

  • Condoleeza Rice, 2008

    <a href="http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/r/condoleezza_rice/index.html" target="_blank">Condoleeza Rice</a> (born 1954) served as the first female National Security Advisor and then the first African American woman Secretary of State during the George W. Bush administration.

  • Hillary Clinton, 2008

    In her 2008 candidacy for President, <a href="http://www.hillaryclinton.com/" target="_blank">Hillary Clinton</a> (born 1947 ) In the won more primaries and delegates than any other female candidate in history, though she ended up losing the primary to now-President Barack Obama. She went on to become Secretary of State.


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