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Her behaviour isn’t the problem: the messages you send to female colleagues

Her behaviour isn’t the problem: the messages you send to female colleagues

Nicola Hopes

8 March 2022

I had the absolute pleasure of hearing Jenny Garett OBE speak at the Association for Coaching conference early in February. She was inspiring. 

There was so much to take away from her talk, but one fact left me reeling… 

In a recent Lean In survey, a jaw dropping 66% of women and (an equally shocking)

1% of men had received feedback on their personal style in performance reviews. 

Let’s let that sink in for a minute… For every 66 women we talk to about their personal style, we talk to 1 man about theirs. 

In 2022 we still seem utterly obsessed with how women behave. 

And before all the men reading this go to hit ‘close’ – I’m not picking on you. Because astonishingly, female leaders do this to their teams too. 

As a society, we’re still trying to nudge the women we work with towards the behaviour that we think is normal. And good luck to you if you’re an outlier.  

And I’ve seen this in my coaching and consultancy work time and time again. 

I coach a few female leaders in global organisations and have witnessed first-hand the messages they’ve received on their route to coaching. They’ve been told to ‘change their style’, so they have a better relationship with that ‘difficult, but important stakeholder’.  

Yes, you guessed it. The ‘difficult’ character is a guy. And nobody’s telling him to be less of an arse. 

Chances are that for most leaders, this behavioural focus is unintentional. A consequence of unconscious bias. At least, I hope. 

But let’s make the unconscious conscious. 

Next time your find yourself feeding back to a woman, (or someone who identifies as female) watch out for the following messages you could be sending: 

  • If she doesn’t worry about being liked = she’s abrasive
  • If she has an opinion = she’s too assertive / domineering
  • If she’s passionate about an issue = she’s angry
  • If she doesn’t feel the need to be a robot at work = she’s emotional

Obviously, I’m not saying that women shouldn’t receive feedback on their behaviour. We all know the values of the organisations we work in, and we all know that some behaviour is more effective than others in achieving a goal. 

I’m just kindly (female characteristic?!) prompting you to ask yourself why you’re giving that feedback to her and what you’d be focussed on with any other gender in the same role. 

If the feedback still holds up, then share it. It’s legit. She needs to hear it. 

If not, don’t. 

So, on International Women’s Day this year – take 5 minutes to think about the messages you send to the women you work with. Every message counts. 

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