On the Forbes List’s Ladies and Professional Aggression

The latest Forbes’s list of global billionaires welcomes more newcomers than ever. The additions include moguls hailing from the US, China, Germany and Brazil. With a combined worth of US$510 billion, the group are currently worth more than the GDP of Norway.

Another record has been set with 42 new women appearing on the list. This brings the total number of loaded ladies to 172.

The lady who leans in

Sheryl Sandberg, social media giant Facebook’s COO and the author of Lean In  – Women, Work and the Will to Lead, is a welcome member to the billionaires club. Sandberg is famed for speaking out about the lack of women in business leadership. Being one of the youngest female self-made billionaires in Forbes’ history, she has been a proud role model for businesswomen since her days as Google’s Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations.

According to Sandberg, the lack of female leaders is a direct product of gender inequality in corporate standards, as well as a lack of entitlement displayed by women in the business world. In an interview with TED Women, following the release of her publication, she explains how leadership behaviour is interpreted differently dependant on gender.

During the interview Sandberg turns to the audience with a query: “Raise your hand if you’ve ever been called too aggressive at work.” The result – a show of hands running around 5% in men, and an alarming majority of raised hands amongst women.

“Now, do we think women are more aggressive than men?” Sandberg asked. “Of course not. It’s just that we judge them through a different lens, and a lot of the character traits that you must exhibit to perform at work, to get results, to lead, are ones that we think, in a man, he’s a boss, and in a woman, she’s bossy.”

Aggression vs. leadership

In Lean In, Sandberg is hesitant to call the business world a boys-club. Although men in corporate positions tend to dominate, it is up to women to step-up and lead. She refers to tendencies women display in not wanting to “sit at the table”, or to “leave before they leave”.

Although overly aggressive behaviour in the workplace does exist, and conflict management training is an essential part of dealing with employee relations, it is important not to confuse aggression with leadership ambition. This is especially true when considering the bias of women being soft-spoken and helpful.

During the interview Sandberg explains the problem as manifesting first with how we raise our children. “If a little boy leads, there’s no negative word for it, it’s expected. But if a little girl leads, she’s bossy.” Instead of reprimanding our daughters for being bossy, Sandberg urges parents to compliment strong-willed girls for their corporate management skills.



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