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Oxford Uni gives assertiveness coaching to female undergrads to boost career prospects

27 Apr

Female undergraduates at Oxford University are to benefit from assertiveness coaching to make sure they don’t lag behind men when it comes to negotiating in the jobs marketplace.

The Oxford Student reports that 45 women will take part in four days of classes – carried out by the Springboard Women Development Programme – to boost their self-confidence and give them the tools and belief to pitch for high-powered jobs once they graduate. It will teach them how to handle conflict, negotiation, and surviving in challenging environments.

With female graduates typically earning £3,000 less than their male counterparts, this programme has come at a good time for the women – whether they choose to opt for top-notch jobs in the City or not.

Quoted in the Telegraph on this story, Jenny Daisley, chief executive of the Springboard Consultancy, said the skills learned would be valuable whatever choices the women make. “The undergraduate sitting quiet as a mouse in supervision, giving the impression that they have not got anything to say, may have lots to say but needs positive advice so that they are not invisible.”

Women need to be ‘more pushy’ to succeed in legal careers

10 Nov

Women need to be “more demanding and pushy” and ignore stereotypes forced on them if they want to forge a high-level legal career, according to a report in the Law Society Gazette.

The magazine quotes a panel of senior judges and barristers at the Bar Conference 2011 saying that more needed to be done to support women to apply  for Queen’s Counsel and senior judicial roles, although for some outstanding women not “even a ceiling of reinforced concrete would prevent their rise”.

One female QC, Nirmal Shant, is quoted in the report as saying that women needed to change their “attitude and spirit” and become more “demanding and pushy”.

However, while the likes of fictional female QCs appear always to be clever and formidable like the wonderful Julie Walters in ITV1 series The Jury, being pushy does not endear female lawyers to their legal secretaries, according to a separate report.

A survey of legal secretaries by law professor Felice Batlan – as reported in – revealed that 95% would prefer to work for a male partner rather than a woman. Their reasons? Because women get too emotional and stressed, they’re passive-aggressive, often act above themselves, and are perceived as too independent.

Analysis in the ABA Journal says: “Batlan suggests that women lawyers may be ‘in a double-bind situation’. If they don’t behave like men, they are perceived as too emotional, and if they do act like men, they are perceived as putting on airs.”

Seems like this is one case the female lawyers are destined not to win.

Women get a better salary deal when negotiating for someone else

29 Sep

Women will back down in salary negotiations and settle for much less than they deserve because they fear they’ll give off the wrong impression if they come across as too assertive and independent. In other words, they conform to stereotypical gender expectations, according to research from Colombia Business School.

It’s not that women can’t bargain as well as men in salary negotiations, or set their sights lower. It’s that they fear a “social backlash” when negotiating for themselves, according to the report. However, women are much more effective at negotiating when doing it on behalf of someone else, such as for the family or the team. This is “a context where assertive negotiation reads as caring and therefore consistent with the feminine gender role”, said the report.

Professor Michael Morris, Chavkin-Chang professor of leadership at Colombia Business School, said: “The research has uncovered a missing link in the effect of gender on negotiations. Though women seemingly fare worse than men in most distributive negotiations, they are not less capable bargainers. Rather, women are savvy impression managers who consciously negotiate gender role expectations.”

He suggests that rather than training women to be more assertive negotiators, they should be coached in a way of negotiating that is framed as bargaining on behalf of the team. He said that gender pay inequality would be improved if women were not obliged to negotiate their salaries, and instead for salaries and pay rises to be awarded by the organisation on the basis of objective performance criteria.

Why do qualified women feel they need to qualify themselves in the boardroom?

27 Jun

Do you verbally hold yourself back? (pic credit: istockphoto)

Fascinating report about women’s language patterns letting them down in the boardroom: the study from linguistics expert Dr Judith Baxter, from Aston University, found that women put themselves down, apologised and used humour when facing conflict in the boardroom.

This type of language is called ‘double voice discourse’ and often makes women sound weak and non-assertive by prefacing what they’re about to say with phrases such as ‘I’m sure this won’t go down well but’ and ‘sorry for talking so much’. Instead of just saying what they want to say – and mean it – they feel they have to qualify themselves somehow.

The research suggests that women may use other tactics to avoid confrontation and get their own way, but that these linguistic behaviours weren’t doing women any favours. However, they are apparently limited to when women are outnumbered by men, which suggests to me that’s why there’s such a huge growth in the number and effectiveness of women-only associations and networking groups.

Six ways women can banish self-doubt and stop feeling they’re the weakest link

1 Mar

Women should play to their strengths.

I never thought I’d be taking assertiveness tips from Anne Robinson, the acerbic presenter of The Weakest Link, with a reputation for being the Queen of Mean. She has made a career out of her formidable demeanour and her ferocious putdowns –and she was delighted when, a decade ago, she was voted the rudest woman on TV.

I’ve never been sure whether to admire or abhor her. However, I will admit that I’m fascinated by her complete disregard for what people think of her. Apologetically adapting our opinions and behaviours to suit other people can lead to personal and professional paralysis for women – and I think there’s a lot to learn from women like Anne who are confident and unrepentant about the choices they’ve made in life.

That’s why I have identified six behaviours that she discussed in her interview on Mark Lawson talks to… Anne Robinson on BBC4 that may be helpful to women in their quest to be more assertive:

1. Stand up for yourself: Whatever you do, don’t run crying to the loos every time someone says something you don’t like. Whether it’s mild sexual innuendo, covert criticism, or overt bullying, Anne says ridicule is the best form of defence. She said: “I despair of women who don’t accept that the workplace is treacherous, and who don’t handle themselves very well. If I come back in another life, I’ll do classes for clever women so they don’t constantly feel hurt and upset.” Referring to her experience working in the male-dominated world of journalism in the 1960s, when they used to say ‘we’re sending the bird down’ (and Anne was ‘the bird’), she said: “I didn’t spend a lot of time being upset, and I didn’t spend any time crying… Women have got to be ready to cope with someone being a bully, and say: ‘Don’t speak to me like that.’ Or ridicule them; ridicule is by far the best weapon.”

2. Put yourself first: Advice from Anne’s mother was to ‘have a facial once a month’. What Anne interpreted this to mean is to look after yourself and look the best you possibly can. It’s sometimes far too easy to believe that, with the weight of many responsibilities on our shoulders, that taking some ‘me-time’ is somehow selfish and self-indulgent. The other side of this particular coin is that, without taking time to cater for your own needs, then how can you possibly have anything to give in a personal or professional environment. This can just lead to resentment – or, in Anne’s words: “Put yourself first. If you don’t, you become a victim.”

3. Be honest with yourself: This particular trait may be unique to Anne Robinson, who talks candidly and unashamedly about her alcoholism, her failed marriages, and how she lost custody of her daughter. For someone in the public eye, it can be helpful to have any dirty linen aired outside, to make it pointless for people to come snooping inside. She referenced the infamous quote ‘you’re only as sick as your secrets’ – but I take it to mean that it’s better to take an honest inventory of yourself, rather than pretending to be, say and do something you’re not.

4. Believe in your talents: Seek out people who will affirm and support you, not people who belittle, ignore or override you. Anne was blessed with a mother who always told her she could achieve whatever she wanted. “If someone says ‘you are the most talented person in the world’ every day until you’re 16, it’s quite effective,” said Anne. Today, that’s more likely to be known as the power of positive affirmation. Whether you believe in affirmations or not, thinking positively and constructively about what you can achieve has to be more effective than putting yourself down (or allowing others to do so).

5. Don’t automatically agree with people’s assumptions: On two occasions in the BBC4 interview, Anne asked the interviewer to qualify his question. The first was when he questioned her about having had “a lot” of cosmetic surgery. She replied: “What do you mean by a lot?” And when asked whether she’d been subject to any sexual harassment while working with Robert Maxwell, she asked: “How would you define that?” She refused to be bowed by someone else’s judgement of her, didn’t get jittery or answer nervously to a presumptuous line of questioning, and stood her ground assertively.

6. Don’t take yourself too seriously: Anne may have a fierce persona on TV, but she has made that work for her. She can laugh at her early TV performances on Question Time, where she wasn’t as forthright as she is today, and admit that being good on TV is something she worked on over time (by being on TV, not by running away and hiding because one of her first performances wasn’t that great). And she kept her now infamous wink, which she had initially been advised to ditch, and which is now as recognisable as her catchphrase: “You’re the weakest link. Goodbye.”

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