It’s good to be the Queen . . . but it’s easier being the King

This was the title of a book excerpt at the McKinsey Quarterly a few weeks ago.   While the piece was meant to offer insight and guidance to corporations on how to make progress in challenging gender discrimination, the excerpt is very relevant and applicable to every woman  in whatever we do.

The authors argue that the main difference between genders is not related to biology; it is the amount of power women and men have in societies.  Power drives behaviour and so it impacts everything; from wage and salary gaps, representation in STEM fields, to the number of women in top leadership positions and even infidelity rates.

The lack of power women have, also creates a double-bind that punishes women leaders for being assertive, strong and self-promoting vs. the stereotype that we must be collaborative, caring, submissive.  The interesting fact is that not only men punish women.  Women punish women, too.

This is true and is true, again, for every woman.  Day after day we are faced with other women that judge, censor and decide not to support what we do.

Take the recent exchange between Hillary Clinton and Anne-Marie Slaughter regarding the article “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All”.  The disagreement received more coverage than any policy disagreement.  The same with “Hollywood Reporter” deciding to end the annual index of powerful women in entertainment “if you’re number 39 on this list, for example, everyone on top of you is a threat. You need to jump over those people” Janice Min, President of the publication shares of how the list was perceived by successful executives.

Is it painful? YES.  Is it short-sighted? YES.  Does it hurt us all women, considering that we have a long way to achieve equality and representation? YES.  However, I challenge the assumption that this is something that only women do.

I am myself very competitive and agree that do not conform to the prescriptive stereotype of being incredibly soft, nurturing and sweet.  I have take  especial heat because of that and I don’t consider myself powerful at all.  Often times I have been told that “I don’t work hard enough to be liked by people”, that I am too logical to be a woman, that I am “too straight-forward” when I talk, too business-oriented, etc.   As a young professional, in my 20’s,  I was told (by both men and women) that I did not behaved like a women because I chose to carry a calculator and a pen instead of a lipstick and a mirror in my purse.

I consider myself a woman, no question about it, I simply challenge the notion that is natural that all women collaborate and work together.   Yes, it would be great and we would accomplish a lot advocating for “us” and yes, I try to do it and many women I know are trying their best to be supportive and stand for other women.

However, there is only one market and is a jungle.  We do the best we can with what we have in hand.  Some of us choose how to behave by looking at the bigger picture, some of us are more focused on the task at hand.

What I believe that is we have simply not seen enough powerful women at the top and so we really don’t know how powerful women look.  Assuming that we are doing some wrong by not collaborating is falling again into the stereotype that we must collaborate.

Do men do that?

Perhaps powerful women are not acting different than men.  Perhaps men also compete and feel threatened and don’t help each other.  They are just not judged and given a label of a “King Henry VIII-effect” when they are egotistical, insecure and “kill” everybody around.  Because this is how powerful men act and that is alright.

“But perhaps no woman is as punishing to other women as a queen bee” – the excerpt reads- women in leadership positions don’t cooperate, we compete

Yes, it is good to be Queen Bee but it is easier to be King Henry VIII

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