In her Ted Talk, “Lead Like A Girl,” Dr. Shelly Prevost, CEO of Torch, argues that female leaders can be empathetic and bad ass.
As a young woman, I see that one of the biggest challenges we, as women, face in breaking the glass ceiling is overcoming negative stereotypes associated with being female, such as a lack of assertiveness. I, personally, have experienced the negative effect of this false stereotype as a leader in a system with the management hierarchy similar to that of a corporate business.
In 11th grade, I interviewed to lead a regional Model United Nations conference serving more than 600 students. I interviewed for this position because I honestly loved participating in Model UN, had attended several Model UN conferences, had been a committee chair the previous year, was a strong writer, and enjoyed exploring the complexities of global conflicts. As a junior with the background experience of being a committee chair, I applied to be the Secretary General, the top most leadership position with the most responsibility in overseeing the conference. For the last five years, this position was awarded to a young man. However, I was denied this position that was, yet again, given to my male peer. Although I was initially disappointed, I worked very hard as the Under-Secretary-General of the Conference, pouring hundreds of hours into ensuring its success.
After the conference was over, however, I did question why I hadn’t been given the position. Initially, I began to question myself and was consumed by the imposter syndrome. Was I not good enough? I even chided myself for daring to dream that I could even think about being a leader.
After the conference, however, I was told that I was not selected because the deciding panel feared that I was “too nice” and couldn’t handle conflict – two incorrect stereotypes that didn’t apply to my leadership style. This hasty generalization angered me because rather than sharing their concern with me, the panel had simply assumed I would fail to be an assertive leader.
We, as students and executives, can come together to combat this phenomenon by explicitly talking about false gender stereotyping. This experience taught me to always proactively address common stereotypes associated with being a female leader. Since then, in interviews for top leadership positions, I stress that although I am friendly and empathetic, I also value accountability and can make difficult decisions to address complex situations. Now, I challenge you to do the same because yes, you can be both empathetic and bad ass.