These challenges are perhaps more psychological than professional. While researching female leaders from Europe, Russia, and the US in different professional industries, I have discovered that it’s sometimes easier to build a successful career and grow up professionally than to grow up personally. Professional success doesn’t necessarily mean that you are successful personally. Many people who are successful in the workplace can’t express themselves fully, maintain their femininity while in a power position, or enjoy the achievement process.
For a deeper understanding of female leadership, I went to the Women’s Forum Global meeting in Paris, where I met professional women from different cultures that were sharing their experience with me. They told me how they manage to remain a feminine leader in both style and behavior, and why it’s sometimes harder to find your true self than to become a CEO.
1. People assume femininity means submissiveness
Talking to women from Russian and Mexico, I found similarities in how women have been raised in these cultures. Women play a more submissive role where machismo is highly developed. Mothers raise daughters and teach them how to be a good wife. Growing up, they know very well how to be feminine at home, but when they go to work, they don’t necessarily know how to dress professionally. Comparatively, it seems that other, especially Northern European women, prefer a more unisex fashion and masculine type of leading.
2. Attractiveness might write off one’s intelligence
Stereotypically beautiful and feminine women are sometimes perceived as being less intelligent since the focus is so much on their looks. Michelle Miller has written about the Perfect Seven theory, where she describes that to be successful as a woman in business, one should not be so attractive as to intimidate or have one’s intelligence written off. She wrote that an undeniably gorgeous girl sometimes won’t get a job because the men would not be able to get anything done with her around.1
What if you are in fact an attractive woman? I believe it might be really hard then to stay yourself not trying to look less attractive, not trying to become comfortable for others and learn how to express feminine attractiveness dressing professionally.
3. Powerful women rarely appear looking feminine
We have a lot of articles and books written that empower women to express their femininity while holding positions of power, but the questions remain – do we have enough role models in this area? Do we have the recipe on how to accomplish this? While interviewing speakers at the Women’s Forum, I realized that we don’t always have enough successful women role models in this area, ones who retain and cultivate their femininity. Those women I have spoken to are mothers that are learning how to note lose their feminine identity while working in male-dominated industries.
I have experienced myself how a lack of confidence, especially being alone in a new environment, for example at a large conference, throws me into a defensive position. I’ll wear dark clothing and stay under the radar so nobody pays attention and I can check the situation first before any actions from my side are done.
Think of what is challenging your feminine identity. Do you find yourself too busy climbing the ladder and trying to achieve your wildest dreams and not finding enough time to be emotional and caring about your feminine soul?
1 Michelle Miller Perfect seven/ Theory http://www.michellemillerproductions.com/perfect-seven-theory/