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专栏 - 向Anne提问

职场女性沾上“强势”标签怎么办

Anne Fisher 2014年05月04日

Anne Fisher为《财富》杂志《向Anne提问》的专栏作者,这个职场专栏始于1996年,帮助读者适应经济的兴衰起落、行业转换,以及工作中面临的各种困惑。
同样的表现,如果是男人,人们会夸他坚决果断;但如果是女人,人们却可能批她强势专横。到底是人们对女性存在偏见,还是女强人们的领导风格出了问题?职场女性到底应该怎么处理这个难题?

    亲爱的安妮:谢丽尔•桑德伯格发起运动,号召人们不要在女性表现出男性身上备受推崇的领导特质时给她们贴上“强势”的标签。我们办公室的一小群女士(包括我)就这个话题展开了讨论,我们很好奇您和您的读者是怎么想的。从我还是小孩时开始,一直到上个老板对我进行绩效评估,别人一直说我“强势”。

    也许是我对这个问题太敏感了,因为我并不觉得自己强势,只是意志坚定、要求严格罢了,跟我的那些男同事没什么区别。现在,我女儿也被她的排球队队友形容为强势了,这一点确实让我很困扰。另一方面,办公室的一些女同事说,被称作强势只是又一种我们需要学着忽略和克服的刻板偏见罢了。我想请问您对这个问题怎么看?——并不强势的老板

    亲爱的“并不强势的老板”:你的签名听起来很像碧昂斯在她为桑德伯格的活动拍的电视广告中用的口号(“我是老板,我不强势。”),康多莉扎•赖斯(美国前国务卿——译注)和女演员詹妮弗•加纳也参与拍摄了这一系列广告。上个月,这组广告在新闻界引发了不小的争议。禁用“强势”一词活动背后的想法以及美国女童子军协助承办这项活动的理由是,人们用“专横”这个词来形容女孩(比如自己的女儿),会妨碍她们发展自己的领导才能,而这是她们长大后获得成功所必需的素质。

    这个观点或许有一定道理。伦敦商学院(London Business School)教授组织行为学的加布里埃尔•亚当斯反问:“‘专横’这个词为什么不好?难道因为它总是用在女性身上,所以带上了负面的涵义?还是因为它有着负面涵义,才被用于形容强势的女性?”她表示,无论是哪种,这个词都在暗示:“有人接受或行使着他们无权享有的权力。他们已经踩过界了。”

    伦敦商学院对2,218名女经理进行了调查,询问是否有人用这个词形容过她们。结果有54%的受访者表示她们在工作中有至少一次被人称作“专横”的经历。

    亚当斯说:“拥有同样特质的男性可能会被形容为果断或者强势。”她指出,普林斯顿大学(Princeton University)的心理学教授苏珊•菲斯克经过多年调查,发现男性可以同时获得讨人喜欢和能干的印象,而女性越能干就会越不讨人喜欢。

    亚当斯说:“铁腕女性违背了人们认为的‘正常’女性的举止——顺从和谦逊,这一点可能会令人不安,甚至对人产生威胁,这就是为什么‘专横’带上了这么多的敌意。”

    那么女性应当如何应对呢?亚当斯说:“如果有人这么说你,你当然可以去他们解释,为什么你会有(给你赢得这种名声)想法或行动。但这就意味着女性需要比男性花上更多时间和精力去进行自我保护,为自己的行为辩护。”

    事实果真如此吗?这点就远没有那么明显了。职业生涯规划公司Career Leverage的总裁南希•弗雷德伯格长期为高管提供培训,她经常被邀请去大公司和男性高管打交道,那些人“不会被人说成‘专横’,但他们的同事确实会抱怨他们‘粗鲁’、‘傲慢’甚至‘恃强凌弱’。这是同样的行为,只是用了不同的词语来形容。”(对于那些专横跋扈的男老板,她最喜欢的委婉形容是“不近人情”。)

    弗雷德伯格表示,无论这个难以相处的人是男是女,培训方式都是一样的:搞清这个领导是为什么,怎么会惹怒同事的,然后帮助他或她改变这些冒犯性的行为。

    弗雷德伯格说:“最高效的那些领导不论男女,都可以在独断和强势的同时受到人们的尊敬。他们可以指出问题和错误,同时不伤害别人的自尊。反之,无论你是男是女,表现出很强的控制欲或者非常挑剔,都会被认为是‘专横’和‘粗鲁’——对任何人来说,这都不是一种合适的领导风格。”

    Dear Annie: A little band of women in my office (including me) have been talking about Sheryl Sandberg's campaign to get people to stop calling girls "bossy" when they show leadership traits that would be praised for boys, and we're curious about what you and your readers think. I have been called "bossy" all my life, starting when I was just a kid, right up through performance evaluations at my last employer.

    Maybe I'm super sensitive about this, because I don't see myself as bossy, just firm and demanding, the same as my male colleagues. Now, my daughter is getting called bossy by her volleyball teammates, which really bugs me. On the other hand, some women here say that being called bossy is just one of those negative stereotypes we should learn to ignore and rise above. Your thoughts, please? -- Not Bossy, Just the Boss

    Dear N.B.J.B.: Your signature sounds like what Beyonce said in her TV ads for Sandberg's crusade ("I'm not bossy. I'm the boss."), a series of spots that also featured Condoleezza Rice and actress Jennifer Garner and kicked off a brief storm of controversy in the press last month. The thinking behind banning "bossy" -- and the reason the effort is co-sponsored by the Girl Scouts of the United States -- is that calling girls like your daughter, but not boys, "bossy" discourages female kids from developing the leadership skills they'll need to succeed as adults.

    There's probably some truth to that. "Why is 'bossy' always bad?" asks Gabrielle Adams, who teaches organizational behavior at the London Business School. "Does it have a negative connotation because it's always applied to women? Or is 'bossiness' ascribed to strong women because it's negative?" Either way, she says, the word implies that "someone is assuming, or exercising, authority they're not entitled to. They're overstepping their bounds."

    When London Business School asked 2,218 women managers if the word had ever been applied to them, 54% said they'd been called bossy at some point, or at more than one point, in their careers.

    "A man showing the same traits would probably be called decisive or powerful instead," Adams notes. She points to years of research by Princeton University psychology professor Susan Fiske showing that, while men can be considered both likable and competent, women are perceived as less likable the more competent they are.

    "A woman who is a strong leader is violating what people may regard as 'normal' feminine behavior, which is submissive and self-effacing," says Adams. "That can be unsettling or even threatening, which is why 'bossy' carries such a load of hostility."

    So how should women respond? "You can certainly call someone on it if they call you that, and explain why you hold the opinion or take the approach" that earned you the epithet, Adams says. "But that just means that women have to spend more time and energy defending themselves, and justifying their behavior, than men do."

    Or do they? Here's where it gets a lot less clear. Nancy Friedberg, a longtime executive coach and president of Career Leverage, often gets called in to large companies to work with male senior managers who "don't get called 'bossy,' but their colleagues do complain that they're 'abrasive' or 'arrogant' or even 'bullying.' It's the same behavior, just described in different terms." (Her favorite HR euphemism for domineering male bosses is "rough around the edges.")

    Whether the difficult person in question is male or female, Friedberg says, the coaching method is the same: Figure out how and why this manager has gotten co-workers' hackles up, and help him or her to alter the offending behavior.

    "The most effective leaders of either sex can be assertive and strong while still being respectful," Friedberg says. "They can point out problems and mistakes while still leaving others' dignity intact. Whether you're male or female, being highly controlling or judgmental is what's seen as 'bossy' or 'abrasive' -- and it's not a leadership style that works well for anybody."

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