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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Minnikin

How Rude! Stop Judging Women in the Workplace!

In today's workplaces, the dynamics of communication and professional interactions have shifted slightly. However, amidst this progress, an issue persists - the tendency to unfairly label assertive women as "rude." 

But think about it - are these women truly rude, or are we unknowingly imposing our social expectations on them?

During one of my recent Good Girl Deprogramming workshops, I asked participants to engage in an exercise where we compared lists of words associated with a powerful woman versus those linked to a complete bitch. As we were sharing our lists, a participant added the word "rude" to the list describing the complete bitch.

This was so interesting.

The notion of rudeness is completely subjective and influenced by societal norms. For generations, women have been expected to embody qualities such as being nurturing, accommodating, and polite. Any deviation from these expectations can trigger discomfort or resistance.

What's the difference between assertiveness and rudeness? Your gender.

A boatload of research shows that assertive behaviour and speech are valued in men but criticised in women. 

Research shows that men tend to show more assertive behaviours than women overall, such as stating their opinions or refusing an unreasonable request. But when women behave in similar ways, they are seen as being too dominant or too masculine, and this is viewed negatively. 

When women violate female stereotypes in this way, they are more likely to be then called a "bitch" or to be seen as "aggressive."

It goes further: "ideal" leadership traits for women emphasise social skills, sensitivity, and emotional availability for others. So, as a society, we actively discourage women from asserting themselves, setting boundaries, or leaning into their expertise, instead preferring them to tip-toe nicely around, keep the peace, be nice, and encourage others. 

Consider a scenario where a male and female colleague dissent during a team meeting. While the male colleague is praised for his "strong leadership," the female colleague is often branded as "difficult" or "unpleasant." This discrepancy underscores the gender bias ingrained in our perceptions of workplace behaviour.

Unsurprisingly, women devise strategies to navigate these exhausting structures. In research and interviews, women talk about having to consciously tread carefully to deploy their assertiveness while carefully weighing up gender expectations strategically.

But this isn't helpful! If anything, it's making it even worse, again asking women to bend, shape-shift and contort themselves so they don't rock the boat or upset the status quo. 

Instead, we must focus on creating workplaces where women are safe to be their whole selves, assertive or direct, to take up space, and to exist without fear.

Assertiveness does not equal rudeness.

Assertive communication involves expressing one's needs, opinions, and boundaries with respect and empathy. When a woman speaks up in the workplace, she's exercising her right to be heard and respected—not being rude.

So, the next time you're tempted to label a woman as rude for asserting herself, pause and reflect on your own biases. Are you judging her behaviour objectively or projecting societal expectations onto her? 

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