The Confidence Factor for Women: Gender Labels Are Harmful

The professional & social impact of gender labels for qualified, high achieving women

We live in an ever changing world that is dominated by gender labels and roles. Although my passion is gender diversity and inclusion, it is a fancy way of creating a narrative for the masses that we need to stop focusing on gender before considering the value of the expertise in the market.

I am optimistic that the tides are turning when it comes to full professional neutrality by 2025, but I cannot ignore the fact that gender labels often segregate women, who are seeking to elevate professionally. Women have the potential to be power brokers, executives, high power leaders, leaders of countries and more. However, nothing says “The expectation is different” quite like adding the word “woman” before the role. Somehow, the emphasis becomes gender, instead of qualified leader.

A “woman” president, “woman”leader, “woman” VP, etc seems to change the definition of the role when we shift the role to focus on gender before the profession. Although we are consistently bringing much needed attention to the inclusive efforts of women, there are 3 factors which may be preventing women from progressing -

  • Being labeled as a woman before recognized as a leader
  • Focusing on the gender-normative expectation(s)
  • Self-segregation within leadership

Could gender “labeling” be the cause of professional gender bias?

The perceived value of a leader -vs- a “woman” leader changes the expectation of role. Although our goal is to close the value gap, how we affix gender to our tenure is a personal accomplishment that has a different professional stigma.

More importantly, are we self-segregating ourselves from the efforts of creating a blind talent pool, which seeks to select the most qualified candidate, over gender? In addition, are we creating another professional gap by gender identification before qualification?

These are questions that are part of a broader issue of value. Recently, I was asked to be part of a very popular international blog for real estate builders, simply because I was a woman. No mention of all of the work and publications that have referenced my work in the real estate market, it was simply a gender play of creating a diverse “shadow” in an industry which tends to negate the contributions of the participating 6% of women. “Thanks, but no thanks,” as I did not want to be the “token” woman on the site, I wanted to be equally valued.

However, I am one of a few that could see the disrespect in the request, rather than being the “face” of a staged effort to show change. If we want change, we must eliminate the normative behavior of being a “token” woman that is the face of an inclusive leadership pool, and focus on being recognized as an equal contributor before celebrating the label of a “woman” leader. If you are the best, it is label-less. We can celebrate our contributions as a collective after we are recognized as valued leaders first, women leader next, which will have a greater impact on closing the gender gap.

Can women be leaders without being “women” leaders? It depends on which label means the most to you.

Carol Sankar is a high level business consultant and the founder of The Confidence Factor for Women in Leadership, which is a global executive leadership firm focused on diversity and inclusion initiatives for high level women. Carol has been featured at TEDx, The Steve Harvey Show, Bounce TV, Inroads, The Society for Diversity, SHRM, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, Forbes and more. For more details, visit www.carolsankar.com

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