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Is leadership still a men’s club?

Geraleine Yap talks about how women who want to reach the top still have to play by men's rules.

Female bosses always get the short end of the stick from society. And everyone knows the stereotypes. There’s the mother. She treats her staff like young chicks, spoon-feeding them throughout their tenure in the company. Then, there’s the clueless boss who doesn’t know what’s going on half the time and the cool supervisor who goes for Happy Hour with you. But the most toxic stereotypical female boss is the bitchy one, depicted brilliantly by Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. In the film, she had unrealistic expectations, a short fuse and incredulous demands.

When I was fresh out of university and desperate for my first full-time job, I sent out dozens of resumes and received only a handful of interview opportunities. I received an offer to be an executive at a boutique public relations firm and immediately jumped at the chance. Little did I know of the horror that awaited me. My boss was the personification of Miranda Priestly. She often raised her voice, set unattainable targets and expected all of us to work overtime. She once called me into her office, berated me about a press release I had written and then tore the printed hard copy right in front of me.

I cried on the Grab ride home that night. A few weeks later, I tendered without any pending job offers. Looking back, I realised that she had prepared me for the real world. I knew that if I could survive that, I could survive anywhere, and this mentality stuck with me. It took years for me to settle down in a career where I thrived and worked hard not because of fear, but because of the respect I had for my superior. There is a fine line between leadership and dictatorship. Being a female leader in a patriarchal society is an uphill battle.

We’re challenged every day and are not only constantly compared to our male counterparts, but pitted against each other, too. While ruling through fear gets the job done fast, the long-term repercussions can be severe. My first boss was constantly stuck with a high turnover rate and unhappy workers. Her company has remained small despite her talent and connections.
It begs the question: would you rather choose the easy route or try to adapt?

Beyonce was prominently featured in a video for the Ban Bossy campaign, mentioning that “girls are less interested in leadership than boys” because we are afraid of being called bossy. We still are. Most leadership roles are held by men; a 2019 Women in the Workplace study found that at the C-suite level, only 21 per cent are female. We regularly have to do more to demonstrate that we deserve a leadership role.

Having grown up and worked in a system created and run by men, it made sense that my first boss behaved the way she did. She thought she had to shout louder to have her voice heard. They say well-behaved women rarely make history. I say it’s high time for society to embrace a different kind of behavior and leadership.

Photo by Hunters Race on Unsplash

 

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