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Can women succeed in business without being a bitch?

 I had thought that the whole having to pretend to be a man to get ahead in a male world thing was old hat, gone, over. 

Trouble is that looking around at the generation of women ahead of me, the women that I should be looking at as role models, it seems that the best way to get ahead is, quite frankly, to be a bit of a bitch.

Power dressing is a definite must, as is throwing your weight around when it’s really not needed and generally making sure that every knows that you are the boss. 

It all seems rather tragic to me. 

Tragic that it appears that the only way I am going to rise to the top is by acting mean.  And I’m not sure I want to do that.
Part of the reason behind my move to a more diverse workplace was to get away from the rat race and the associated aggression and testosterone.  Trouble is that it is looking like the only way women are still succeeding is by being more masculine than men.

Whatever happened to appreciating the different skills that women have?  Whatever happened to accepting that you can get things done as effectively even if you have a different style?  Whatever happened to this wave of feminism meaning that we could accept and embrace the differences between the sexes and the fact that both can bring strengths to play?

I’ve been criticised at work for not being aggressive enough in the past but I’ve still managed to get my point across and negotiate as hard as my male colleagues, I just do it differently.  A bit quieter which means that people have to actually stop talking to hear what you are saying, a bit less aggressive which can seem weak but mostly disguises the fact that when I say I’m not changing my position I’m not.  And I’ve had experience in negotiating with two strong willed toddlers, I am used to saying something and sticking by it in the face of fairly determined opposition!

So what do we think?  Can we reach the top by being nice and feminine or are we still having to channel the bitch to get ahead?

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10 comments to Can women succeed in business without being a bitch?

  • As a retail buyer, who negotiates for a living, I am absolutely certain that the best deals are struck talking not shouting. And toddler taming techniques are what you need to cope with a particularly belligerent manager…

    As long as there are enough of us juggling work and home and trying to deal with our colleagues like grown-ups, then some of us will rise to the top and we can change things. I am very lucky that my first boss in retail was one of those people leading by example and she still supports and inspires me today. Unfortunately, and it pains me to say it, I feel sometimes because people know she will listen to a reasonable argument, she has to fight harder to stick to her guns when she needs to and keeping a work life balance is very hard indeed.

    • It’s nice to hear that you can succeed on our own terms and without having to emuluate men – and you are right, toddler taming techniques are very useful in the workplace (although perhaps not insisting people say please before handing them the biscuits… ooops)

  • This is a subject that is very close to my heart. I hate nasty bitchy women in the workplace and a lot of people feel they need to be that way to succeed. It is absolutely not true. Nice people get what they want with respect, nasty people achieve what they need with fear but it’s not sustainable and you can get unpredictable results

  • Muddling, your post titles are positively brilliant. Best thing toddlers taught me is to choose my battles, a lesson that has been absolutely priceless in the workplace. Any my new business woman heroine is Hilary from Dragon’s Den. She looks so fierce but is unashamedly female. She talks rather than shouts, is never rude but rules with absolute conviction. Love her.

  • Oh thank you, I thought it was just in our workplace.

    Unluckily for me as a non academic (I’m in admin) member of staff you could be blue with yellow spots and no matter how hard you bend over backwards to help am sure you will never get to the higher places.

    And why is it that the other women in admin (or in my job anyway) can have nervous breakdowns, panic attacks and decide that work load is far too much (oh lah!) and get us (or me to feel sorry for them) and still achieve high things.

    I better get off high horse now

    Thanks as always for your wise words!!


    • Ah that’s because we are strong people so need less help and have to do more for some reason – no idea how it gets decided but that’s the way of the world…

      And you aren’t alone – it’s all over the place apparantly

  • Anonymous

    I think it depends on the industry, to a large extent. In my first company (recruitment, so v sales-driven), the most senior women were, almost to a woman, power-dressing harpies. Vile.

    My current employer (software house) has four women at the highest level, two of whom are lovely, one I don’t know well but seems nice, and one who can be a bit of a bitch at times, but I think that’s just how she is anyway rather than a deliberate attempt to ape the men.

    However, I’ve encountered women in senior positions at our clients (financial industry) who are brash, loud and unnecessarily forthright. For all that, I don’t particularly dislike them, I just don’t want to be like them. I’m not a confrontational sort, I don’t need to be in order to do my job, and I don’t see why I should have to pretend to be something I’m not.

    • I think it may be worse in the financial industry – we certainly don’t really reward people for playing nicely

      And you are right, I don’t want to be them and I don’t want to pretend that I am like that – guess this may be the feminist leap forward of our generation that we can move on from these behaviours

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