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Will Young College Women Have to Walk the Gender Tightrope?

By Eileen Zhou

February 27, 2018

In the professional fields of business, technology, healthcare, and education, women have made great strides in increasing their visibility and representation. But with each hard fought triumph comes another barrier to entry. Women in the corporate world and in college classrooms increasingly feel that they are walking the gender tightrope. 

So what exactly is this phenomenon? Well first, think about a time when you had to assume a leadership position and assert yourself. You most likely had to be strong, confident, and driven. That being said, women, in the process of gender socialization, are not taught or expected to be ambitious, assertive, or even the slightest bit aggressive. They are taught to be communal and caring, having the exceptional ability to read into micro expressions and accommodate others accordingly. As a result, when women take on leadership roles and exude characteristics that make up a great leader, they often act in direct violation with their generally accepted “roles.” And experience shows that this does not always sit well in the workplace. This “violation” can often paint women as rude, self-centered, and unsympathetic. 

Now that we have established this underlying phenomenon, what can women, especially young college women, do to navigate this seemingly impossible situation? 

Think critically about your qualities and contributions as a leader or team member

Identifying and addressing the gender tightrope does not inherently mean that all women must feel the need to be assertive and overtly powerful. It is instead important to assess your brand as an individual and the value proposition you offer to those you are working with. If you are a soft-spoken but analytical and considerate individual, those are equally important characteristics that make a great leader. Above else, feeling a sense of comfort with who you are and what you offer are essential to the framework of feminism. 

Rather than only learning how to walk the tightrope, engage in active dialogue about the double standard women face

While a highly progressive period is certainly upon us, the reality is that women function by very different standards still. Rather than teaching young women how to tread carefully so as to not step on toes, it is more important to ask the hard questions. Why do organizations feel that women only become suitable leaders when companies are sinking ships, a position that makes it impossible to succeed? Why is the act of anger expressed by women viewed so starkly different than when expressed by men? These are the conversations that are to be had in order to forge a better tomorrow for all individuals in the work place.

Try to avoid committing woman on woman hate

In a society where the workplace is still an uphill battle for women, the last thing we want is for women to be their own downfall. Rather than tearing other women down and feeling the need to vie for certain positions, we should instead build each other up and encourage women to take up leadership in any way that they can. Building success requires a mutual understanding of respect. 

Eileen Zhou is a Maryland native currently attending Cornell University. She is a sophomore in the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management concentrating in finance and strategy. Through her major and campus involvements, Eileen has a keen interest in strategic thinking and a future in management consulting. Although business is her central passion, she tries to foster an eclectic and interdisciplinary approach to her coursework and career aspirations!

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