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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Minnikin

Breaking Free: Navigating the Good Girl Double Bind

A women dressed professionally with heels on on a rope tightrope. The background has grey clouds

The Good Girl double bind is a concept that highlights the societal expectations and challenges faced by women in the workplace, particularly in professional settings. It refers to the often conflicting expectations that women face when it comes to our behaviour and demeanour.

On one hand, we are often expected to be "likeable" in the workplace. This means being friendly, approachable, nurturing, and accommodating. This expectation stems from traditional gender roles and stereotypes that associate women with warmth, empathy, and social harmony. Women are praised for displaying these traits, and they may face backlash or negative perceptions if they deviate from this expectation.

On the other hand, women are also expected to be "credible" and competent in their professional roles. They are expected to demonstrate expertise, assertiveness, confidence, and leadership skills. This expectation aligns with the qualities traditionally associated with successful professionals, which have been historically associated with masculinity.

The double bind arises from the difficulty of navigating these two sets of expectations simultaneously. Women may find themselves in a challenging position where they need to strike a delicate balance between being perceived as likeable and being taken seriously as credible professionals. If they lean too heavily towards being likeable, they may be seen as lacking in authority or competence. Conversely, if they focus too much on being credible, they may be perceived as too assertive, aggressive, or even unlikeable. God forbid if someone thinks we're being a bitch!

This whole mess can create a challenging dynamic for women in the workplace, as we often have to carefully manage our behaviour and communication styles to navigate these conflicting expectations. It can also lead to a phenomenon known as the "tightrope effect," where women feel pressured to walk a fine line between being assertive enough to command respect and being accommodating enough to avoid backlash.

The emotional weight of navigating the Good Girl double bind is a lot. The constant back-and-forth that can lead to moments of self-doubt and anxiety. We've all felt that pressure, that fear of being labelled as 'too much' or 'not enough.' We're spending time and energy trying to find that sweet spot between being ourselves and fitting into what's expected. It's a silent struggle, a challenge we face without always talking about it or always thinking about it.

But it adds to the mountain of shit we have to think about and deal with each and every day at work. So painful.

So what do we do about it?

Navigating the Good Girl double bind can be challenging, but there are strategies that women can use to help mitigate its impact and advocate for themselves in the workplace.

Here are some tips:

1. Self-awareness: Recognise and understand the societal expectations and biases that may be at play. Being aware of the Good Girl double bind can help you navigate it more effectively.

2. Advocate for Yourself: Take credit for your achievements and contributions. Make sure your accomplishments are recognised and acknowledged, both within your organisation and to those outside of it.

3. Set Boundaries: It's crucial to establish and communicate your boundaries, especially when it comes to taking on additional tasks or responsibilities. This helps prevent burnout and ensures that you are not unfairly burdened.

4. Seek Community: Connect with other women in your field who have navigated similar challenges. Seek out mentors and supporters who can provide guidance and support, and build a professional network that can offer valuable advice and opportunities.

5. Clear Communication: Pay attention to your communication style. Be clear and concise, in your interactions. Ask for what you need and avoid using language that undermines or minimises you.

7. Lead by Example: If you hold a leadership position, lead with authenticity and demonstrate that leadership qualities are not bound by gender. Encourage diverse leadership styles and celebrate the strengths that everyone brings to the table.

In the face of the Good Girl double bind, it's essential to remember that we are not alone in this struggle. Together, we can challenge these deeply ingrained societal expectations and create a workplace where women can thrive authentically and unapologetically. By supporting one another, advocating for our achievements, and leading with confidence, we can shatter the confines of the Good Girl image and pave the way for a more inclusive, empowering future.


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