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The 10 Worst Stereotypes About Powerful Women - the worst part was that she was often right

The 10 Worst Stereotypes About Powerful Women-the worst part was that she was often right

The 10 Worst Stereotypes About
Powerful Women
"I've been in this field for more than 30 years," said co-anchor of Today Ann Curry. "I've
heard a lot of stereotypes."
Women continue climbing the rungs of power--building their ranks as heads of state,
corporate leaders and media influencers--but their minority status means they still face
harsh, limiting assessments based on their gender. "Women are being judged more,
even by other women," said Valerie Young, Ed.D., author of The Secret Thoughts of
Successful Women. While male leaders are allowed to have complex personalities,
powerful women are often summed up by hackneyed stereotypes that undermine them
and their power.
ForbesWoman tracked down many of the world's most powerful women, from IMF chief
Christine Lagarde to Jill Abramson of the New York Times, to ask: What is your least
favorite stereotype about powerful women? Gender and career experts also weighed in
on the dangerous notions about female success and how they seep into the collective
subconscious. The following represent the 10 most hated and pervasive stereotypes.
No. 1: Ice Queen
Halley Bock, CEO of leadership and development training company
Fierce, notes that the ruthless "ice queen" stereotype is rampant.
Cultural depictions, like frigid magazine editor Miranda Priestly in
The Devil Wears Prada (and her real-world counterpart Anna
Wintour of Vogue) and back-stabbing boss Patty Hewes on
Damages, paint successful women as unsympathetic power-
mongers. It is, of course, a Catch-22. "A woman who shows
emotion in the workplace is often cast as too fragile or unstable to
lead," Bock said. "A woman who shows no emotion and keeps it
hyper-professional is icy and unfeminine. For many women, it can
be a no-win situation."
No. 2: Single and Lonely
Harvard lecturer Olivia Fox Cabane notes that the strong
perception that powerful women are intimidating to men and will
need to sacrifice their personal lives may stop women from going
after power. Even those women who aren't interested in marrying,
face harsh judgments. Men get to be "bachelors" while women are
reduced to "spinsters" and "old-maids." In fact, when Janet
Napolitano was nominated Secretary of Homeland Security, critics
said her being single would allow her to "spend more time on the
No. 3: Tough
The first female Executive Editor of The New York Times, Jill
Abramson is anything but stereotypical. She had a hard-charging
career as an investigative reporter at The Wall Street Journal and
edited her way to the top of the Times masthead. She's also a true-
blood New Yorker and is writing a book about puppies. Despite her
complexities, she must contend with being called "tough" and
"brusque," making the "she's-tough stereotype" her least favorite. Said
Abramson: "As an investigative reporter, I had tough standards and a
formidable way of framing and reporting stories, but I don't think of
myself as a tough person."
No. 4: Weak
Costa Rica President Laura Chinchilla, the country's first female leader, told me that
successful women face typecasting largely because society is still adjusting to women's
recent decision-making power. Chinchilla believes the most pervasive stereotype is that
women are "weak," a perception that may stem from women's greater desire to build a
consensus. "We understand success not as the result of just one person but as the
result of a team," she said. "[It's a] different way of dealing with power [that] is
misunderstood as a kind of weakness."
No. 5: Masculine
The notion that powerful women must be, lead and look like a man
really aggravates Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the
International Monetary Fund. In a video interview with FORBES
she said-pumping her fist-she hates the idea that "you have to
look like a businessman." She admitted she sometimes feels the
pressure to look the "right" way, but tries to resist not being "overly
No. 6: Conniving
When NBC's Curry first started her career, she was told she couldn't
be a news reporter because women had "no news judgment." Now,
she's at the top of her game and says the stereotype that most offends
her is "the idea that a woman can only be successful because she
somehow connived or engineered her rise-that she could not rise
simply because she was too good to be denied." She has experienced
it herself, saying that she gets asked if she "forced" NBC to give her the
anchor job or if there was a "backroom deal." Curry told me, "I find it
really annoying."
No. 7: Emotional
Ellen Lubin-Sherman, executive coach and author of business guide The Essentials of
Fabulous, believes one the most dangerous stereotypes female leaders will face is that
they are prone to emotional outbursts. Despite Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's
consistent cool-headed demeanor, when she teared up on the campaign trail, the media
pounced. Similarly, former Yahoo Chief Carol Bartz is frequently cited for her "salty
language," which has been used as evidence that she is "emotional" and a "loose
No. 8: Angry
"Anger is a sign of status in men, but when women show
anger they are viewed as less competent," said Young.
First Lady Michelle Obama was condemned as an
"angry black woman" when she was campaigning for her
husband in the 2008 presidential election. The Harvard-
trained lawyer conscientiously softened her image and
speeches in order to be more "likable," becoming better
known for her fashion and her unending support of her
husband than for her stance on political issues.
No. 9: A Token
Women hold just 16% of corporate board seats. But instead of focusing on balancing
things out, they are often devalued as being a "token"
of diversity rather than having earned the post. Former
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was often
the only woman in the room, but her gender didn't get
her there. "While companies take their diversity goals
seriously, they are not going to settle for less than the
best person for the job," said Lynne Sarikas, director
of the MBA career center at Northeastern University.
"Women are hired because of their education and
experience and what they can do for the company."
No. 10: A Cheerleader
Billie Blair, president and CEO of Change Strategists, notes
that prominent women who are considered feminine and
warm may be dismissed as "cheerleaders" rather than the
strong leaders that they are. When former Alaska Governor
Sarah Palin was running for VP, Blair was amazed to hear a
male client describe her as "a cheerleader, not a coach nor
a quarterback."
Jenna Goudreau Forbes Staff
I write about business and women's leadership. Follow Jenna Goudreau on
Twitter and Facebook