Can women be powerful and likeable?

Famous powerful women garner admiration, curiosity and perhaps even envy. Yet, they are saddled not only with major responsibilities but also with the struggle to be viewed fairly and favorably. Non-famous powerful women also face the same challenges. How can a powerful woman command respect and affirmation for her abilities as well as for her appealing nature?

Highly accomplished women in the corporate world, the media, politics and other institutions seem to receive very different feedback about their performance than do their male counterparts.

Though women comprise 46% of America’s workforce, fewer than 8 percent are Senior Managers. Currently there are only 12 FORTUNE 500 companies that are run by women. These powerful females have earned their highly sought-after jobs through documented competence, hard work and exceptional talents. Yet, they are still publicly described in disrespectful and/or demeaning terms.

For example, Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett Packard stated, “In chat rooms around Silicon valley, from the time I arrived until long after I left HP, I was referred to as either a ‘bimbo’ or a ‘bitch’. Male CEOs who fired people were hailed as ‘decisive’, I was labeled ‘vindictive’.”

David Bianculli of the New York Daily News, was impressed by Katie Couric’s performance as a journalist, but noted that she wore a “smart, crisp, white jacket over a black top and skirt.” “… leaning against the edge of her desk, showing her famous legs.”

Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to hold the position of the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and the highest-ranking female politician in American history, was labeled in a Newspaper headline as “Armani suited, one of the world’s most powerful grandmothers.”

Portraying powerful women in the above ways is demeaning, insulting and disrespectful. It trivializes women’s accomplishments, sexualizes and berates their gender while creating doubts about their competencies. These attributions would never be used to describe powerful male colleagues.

Even women’s talents as communicators are restricted. Victoria Brescoll, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management reported, “When women get power, talking a lot is seen negatively by other people. They’re seen as domineering and controlling and were rated as significantly less competent and less suitable for leadership than a male CEO who was reported as speaking for the same amount.”

Powerful women who are not in the public eye may also be misperceived and underappreciated. Some men express fears about being controlled by their accomplished, dynamic women.

Powerful females can best counter these misperceptions by combining their talents with their compassionate skills. By being present, attentive, curious and patient, they can couple their success with a greater emotional connection.

Stay powerful and be likeable:

  •  Disallow the sexual and gender stereotyping to discredit your competence or nature.
  • Model respect for others through compassionate listening and a caring attitude.
  • Allow your ideas and endearing essence to shine by speaking freely, concisely and in a calm, secure voice.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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