Criticizing female behavior in the workplace without addressing the reasons for that behavior is unhelpful.
It takes years as a woman to unlearn what you have been taught to be sorry for. - Amy Poehler
The top three: Using minimizing language, apologizing and asking permission.
We use "belittling" words like "just" to "minimize [our] impact," we apologize for no reason "[e]ven in our voice mail," and we ask questions, the answers to which we already know because "we don't want to be too overpowering." Also included on this list of self-sabotaging behavior: Focusing on cooperation rather than competition; questioning ourselves; and worrying too much about relationships.
These behaviors are often cited as reasons women fail to reach the c-suite (what Capland and others refer to as "sticky-floor syndrome") and I don't disagree with any of them (I'm guilty of some of these). What I do disagree with is the seemingly endless focus on the need for women to modify their personalities and thought processes without an equally close inspection of the reasons women exhibit such behavior in the first place. Not to mention, the (mostly negative) reaction by society (read: coworkers) when they don't engage in this behavior.
The fact that these "self-sabotaging" behaviors are so common amongst women so as to merit a generalized "list of grievances" from consultants who've made it their life's work to eradicate the glass ceiling one female executive at a time, is indicative of a larger problem. One that should be addressed much earlier than in the middle of a woman's professional career.
Could our use of minimizing language, our constant need to apologize and to ask permission, as well as our crippling habit of questioning ourselves have something to do with the fact that exhibiting such strong, and traditionally masculine, behavior has generally not served us well in the past? You've heard it before and you'll hear it again: Men are bosses, women are bossy. Aggressive men are ambitious go-getters, aggressive women are angry bitches.
After years of schooling where boys are routinely rewarded for yelling out the correct answers during class, while girls are routinely scolded for doing so, would it come as a surprise that we've internalized the implicit belief that our voices, and therefore our ideas, are not as important as those of men? If it was true during childhood, why would we expect it to be any different now? You can't just flip a switch and think, "Okay, now my opinion matters."
Also cited is our too-heavy focus on cooperation rather than competition:
Yes, there are a thousand business articles that tell us collaboration is the more effective approach. The problem with that? 'It's not the structure of Corporate America,' Capland says. 'Corporate America has a hierarchical structure. It's not set up for collaboration to be effective long-term - I don't care what people say.
This begs the question really, of what (or who) in corporate America really needs to change. But that is a conversation for another day. This goes back to the social and professional backlash women experience when they fail to live up to the traditional expectation of the helpful and cooperative female. These violations of traditional gender norms have consequences. We expect women to be group-oriented and group-focused, and when one of them decides that she's going to get her own, she's labeled as selfish and not a team player.
Capland also expresses frustration with women who "feel like they need to be fully skilled" before taking on a new opportunity, as well as women who get "too hung up on details for too long, versus seeing the bigger picture." This inability to delegate, she argues, "prevents [women] from having the freedom to take on the next challenge."
Why do we wait until we're experts before taking on a new role? And why, oh, why do we spend so much time on those pesky details? Perhaps it's because women have to work twice as hard to achieve the same recognition and praise as men. Perhaps it's because women are primarily judged on their achievements, while men are hired and promoted on their potential. JoanWilliams calls this the "prove it again" pattern:
[w]omen have to provide more evidence of their competence to be considered as competent as their male colleagues...women's mistakes tend to be noticed more and remembered longer, but women's successes tend to be attributed to luck. Women literally need to prove themselves over and over again, where a similarly situated male colleague does not.
Delegation, in other words, is a option many women don't feel they can afford. Because if someone on the team screws up, she will bear a disproportionate amount of criticism and blame than would a male colleague in the same situation.
This pattern of women needing to meet a higher standard to achieve the same status of men starts as early as the college admissions process, where talented girls are routinely rejected from their choice universities in favor of less qualified boys. It goes even further back than that. Even though boys on average spend less time doing chores than girls, boys are paid more and make more money overall than girls.
Women (and men) should of course take all efforts to better themselves to accomplish their personal and professional goals. But this constant microscope under which we analyze women's behavior as if it occurs in a vacuum is unhelpful at best, and at worst, it risks perpetuating the very biases women are trying to combat.