As one of the greatest tennis players in history, Serena Williams faced extraordinary pressure and intense scrutiny throughout her career. Until her retirement in 2022 and in spite of her exceptional talent, she was often  criticised for her assertiveness on the court. You may recall the famous incident when she exchanged words with the umpire during a tennis match as she was unhappy with the caution she was given. Some labelled her as demanding,  “too aggressive” and lacking in sportsmanship however her male counterparts in the same situation would be hailed for their boldness, assertiveness and tenacity. The trouble with being not just a strong woman but a strong BLACK WOMAN in a male dominated field.

This is just one of many examples of the double standards faced by women who exhibit qualities traditionally associated with strong leadership.

Societal expectations often place an undue burden on women to be nurturing, accommodating, and “nice.” Have you ever been told you are too nice in the workplace  or do your colleagues think you are so nice so they don’t take you seriously yet you are only being considerate and accommodate but it gets taken for granted by the same people you are trying to help.However when women don’t play up to the societal standards to be nice , names like the B word are whispered in places.

The detrimental impact of the “be nice” culture on women in leadership position, advocacy for a paradigm shift to overcome gender bias and promote equal opportunities.

The Burden of Nicenes disproportionately affects young girls

From a young age, we have seen that  girls are often raised and encouraged to be polite, accommodating, and likable. As they grow into adulthood and enter leadership positions, this societal expectation to be “nice” can unfortunately become a burden. Women in leadership roles may feel pressured to prioritise the comfort and approval of others over their own needs and assertiveness. Does this happen to you or a colleague you know. This undue burden as in the case of Serena Williams and many others, can hinder their ability to effectively lead, communicate their ideas, and make tough decisions.

Bias Towards Women in Leadership:

Despite advancements in gender equality, women continue to face significant challenges when it comes to reaching leadership positions. Gender bias manifests in various ways, such as a lack of representation, unequal pay, and stereotypes that associate leadership traits with masculinity. These biases perpetuate a system where women are often overlooked for promotions, given fewer opportunities to lead, and face higher scrutiny compared to their male counterparts.

Thinking Differently: Overcoming Leadership Gender Bias:

Challenging Stereotypes: It is crucial to challenge and debunk stereotypes that limit women’s leadership potential. Recognising the fact that leadership qualities are not inherently gendered, but rather depend on a range of individual attributes and skills, helps break down bias. Emphasising diverse leadership styles and valuing different perspectives can lead to more inclusive and effective decision-making.

Promoting Equality and Inclusion: Organisations should actively foster a culture of equality, equity and inclusion, ensuring that women have equal access to leadership opportunities. This involves implementing fair hiring and promotion practices, establishing mentorship programs, and providing leadership development opportunities that address gender bias.

Addressing Unconscious Bias: Implementation of Training programs on unconscious bias can raise awareness and help individuals recognise their own biases. This is particularly important because it is only by understanding how biases influence decision-making, leaders can consciously counteract them and promote a more inclusive and equitable environment.

Encouraging Authenticity: Women in the workplace should be encouraged to embrace their authentic selves and bring their unique qualities and perspectives to their leadership roles. This includes allowing women to express a full range of emotions, not forcing them to conform to societal expectations of displaying constant positivity or smiling for corporate photoshoots.