Are Women Leaders Expected to Behave in a Certain Way?

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I have watched the movie The Devil Wears Prada several times and of course read the book by Lauren Weisberger. I don’t watch it so many times for the fashion insights (as much as my fashionable side is really wanting), but because it is a great movie providing basis for discussing the topic of women and leadership. The movie revolves around Miranda, the CEO if a fictional Runway Magazine (there has been speculation that this character was based on Anna Wintour the editor-in-chief of Vogue), and a young assistant who is now at the job (Andy) who feels harassed while working under Miranda.

She’s such a terrible boss

It seems as if the main aim of the movie is to show how much of a terrible boss Miranda is; the movie title seems to tell it all. Miranda is tough and has extreme high standards and high expectations of her employees. She can be very bossy and domineering. On the other hand, Miranda has worked her way to the top of the chain and is very well respected by others in the fashion industry. They seek her advice and opinions and she acts as an influence to many young people in this industry.

Women should be caring and empathetic

Women in leadership positions are expected to be caring, homely, motherly and understanding. They’re expected to be calm and collected, mellow, sympathetic and communal. Should a women display some authoritative leadership style, they are termed as unlikable and to the extreme of being labeled negatively.

What if she was a man?

Miranda for example, is termed as evil due to her toughness and autocratic nature. This is because she uses a lot of masculine traits to get work done such as toughness and dictatorship. In this movie for example, after Christian points out how tough Miranda is and how tough it must be to work for her, Andy points out: “Okay, she’s tough, but if Miranda were a man…….no one would notice anything about her, except how great she is at her job”. If she were a man, they would admire her tenacity, strength and grit.

Though a little exaggerated, Miranda represents what women leaders are like at the work place. They have to be tough, set high standards and create a highly productive environment to be respected. However, such women are not a favorite with their employees and other stakeholders. They seem to have deviated from stereotypes and ‘behaving like men’. When they are too mellow on the other hand, they don’t seem fit for leadership.

Under the microscope

Women in leadership positions are always under observation on matters such as their families, their parenting, how they dress; matters that are irrelevant to their positions. Yet the same questions are not posed towards men. At the work place, a boss lady has to behave and talk in a way that it does not seem they are emasculating men, yet it seems perfectly alright for men to shout and patronize others when they are in charge.

An ideal leadership world

An ideal world for women in leadership is not to be reminded that leadership is not a place for women so many times. This does not have to be said directly, but a mention on how a woman dresses or makes her hair and as to whether it is masculine or feminine enough and fit for the boardroom. Next time you get to a leadership meeting, and heard yourself comment that there were too many women in there, ask yourself, would you have said the same had it been too many men in there?

 

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