Is The Workplace Ready For Outspoken Women?

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How can women speak up more in the workplace without suffering from backlash?

There's been a lot of talk about "leaning in" and women taking charge of their career. However, is the workplace really ready for outspoken women? Recent studies still show that women who negotiate or ask for a raise for themselves are not thought about favorably, by either men or women. In other words, women are encouraged to speak up, and basically act more like men do in the office, but they are right to be concerned about their reputation when they do. How can women negotiate for themselves and speak up more in the workplace without suffering from backlash? For women in the workplace perhaps more than men, effective communication is important, presenting an important women's rights issue.

Traditionally in the business world, many feminine characteristics are thought as undesirable (for example, being emotional). Traditionally masculine characteristics are usually admired (like competitiveness), when it's a man displaying them. Outspoken and strong women run into this problem when they try to speak up for themselves in the workplace: when a man seeks a raise he may seem appropriately aggressive and competitive, but a woman with the same skill set and same requested salary may come across as pushy and bitchy.

Well, maybe women shouldn't be trying to act exactly like the men do. According to InformationWeek, Professor Joan C. Williams suggests a kind of compromise she calls "gender judo." She suggests using communal language to advocate for a raise as opposed to women praising themselves outright (for example, emphasizing importance in your team). She also advocates using mentors, and not apologizing when you first start negotiating. Professor Williams acknowledges that women are expected to respond to emotions, so therefore, making a connection with your boss can help you. However, confidence is always important, just like it is for men.

Women should not try to be men, in most workplaces. (Some, however, do call for the women to act like men as much as possible.) Women have distinct characteristics that can bring a lot of value to an organization. After all, there have been studies showing that companies with women executives are more successful. Workplaces should welcome outspoken women, but maybe we need to ease them into it by using some "gender judo!"


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