There’s a well-known phenomenon in business, whereby a man who is bold and asserts himself is seen as a leader, and a woman who is bold and asserts herself is seen as a bitch. Women get caught in a Catch-22 – either you’re a weakling or a bitch. Research established that about a decade ago.
Here are three other killer moves in business that work for men but in my experience can backfire for women – not always, but often.
- Be humble and give credit where it’s due. A few months ago, as I was in a studious frame of mind bent on making a successful transition from business journalist to author and CEO, I was looking at the tweets issued by my co-author Seth Levine. He was typically humble (He is a humble and fair person, so entirely authentic). I sent out a few humble tweets myself. But whereas his got a lot of love, mine lay there like dead fish. My theory: Being humble or self-deprecating makes men look good. The problem for women is that people believe it when you say you couldn’t have done it alone.
- Opportunity knocks. Reach out and grab it. This is a particularly pernicious one. But I believe there’s a mating rule that leeches over into the business world. If you reach at an opportunity as a woman, you’re seen as desperate. My biggest deals have come when I inadvertently played hard to get: I was too busy to take a call. That doesn’t mean women should fake being busy, but maybe be more open about how busy you are.
- Create a sense of urgency. This one, came up in a recent conversation with Allison Long Pettine, an investor and founder of Ad Astra, which focuses on helping and funding women entrepreneurs. “Create a sense of urgency by telling investors you are about to close the round” is classic pitching advice that works for men, not so much for women. We hardly ever believe we’ll be able to close a round (this is entirely rational, given the miniscule amount of investment women get). Pretending we are closing a round comes across as just that: a pretense. VCs, sensing inauthenticity, back away.
So what’s the answer? I don’t have one. The only thing I know for sure that helps is when women share these lessons with each other, and men listen. The root of the word “gossip,” is the same as “gospel.” I often wonder if gossip came to be maligned because it was primarily a grassroots, female form of communication. Pass it on, sister.