To create an inclusive culture where both men and women can succeed, leaders must uproot some unconscious mind-sets. These unintentional and invisible habits of thought cause barriers for women as they try to reach the upper levels of business. As a result, they deprive businesses of the clear business value of gender diversity in leadership. One of these mind-sets is the “double bind.”
In a nutshell, the double bind means that women who operate in a feminine way may be liked but not respected; if they operate in a masculine way, they may succeed, but not be liked. If a woman is direct, confident, assertive or competitive, for example, she may be called a word rhyming with “rich.”
What can we DO about the double bind? An unconscious mind-set is like the blind spot in your car. If you know about it, you can manage it and avoid danger. If the double bind is news to you (it just came to conscious awareness for you), I am thrilled. Being aware of this dilemma that women face can enable you to monitor your automatic mental reactions and alter them. If the knee-jerk response to a confident woman is “What a tough woman,” stop. Would you think the same thing about the identical behavior in a man? Or is there a double standard? You can consciously choose to widen the range of acceptable behavior for women.
What can women trapped in the double bind do? Women can whine about the double bind. Indeed, it is not “fair.” Women can give up, even quit. I think the double bind is just a reality – today. We can accept it and practice shifting consciously between masculine and feminine styles. According to a Stanford study, women who can do this get more promotions than either women or men who cannot. As you move up the corporate ladder, you may find more freedom from the double bind.
Women can try to make others aware of this obstacle. We must do so without judgment or blame, by noting that it is not intentional or malicious. Or we can respond to “coaching moments,” like when my boss told me I had an “edge.” I worked in a group of very tough men. I calmly asked him, “Compared to whom?” I was respectfully asking him if he would apply the term “edge” to my much “edgier” male colleagues.