Women in contemporary professional fields have come a long way where inherently gendered workplace perceptions are concerned. Today, women can have corner offices, high-paying salaries, and entire teams of people working for them. But in reality, what is the cost of these well-deserved, yet hard-won benefits? A critical sociological aspect of any professional setting — one not often talked about — is the necessity for, “feminine niceness.” How many times have many women been made to feel they must smile, ply their co-workers and superiors with well-timed compliments, and rein in their passions to not appear over-eager and hard-headed? In simpler and more familiar terms, how common is it today for many of the women in workplaces to be told to ‘be nice’?
Despite the gradual progress of gender equality in professional industries, a stubborn characteristic of office culture is the enforced notion of female sociability; when career advancement is on the line, ‘niceness’ can often come to mean more for a woman’s chances of promotion than hours of overtime or exceptional work ethic.
It is important to note that despite the turbulent and long-standing history of inequality (and inequity) among women, there exists no scientific or qualitative proof that women somehow deserve or have earned this required sociability. As Andie Kramer states in an article for Forbes Magazine:
“I do not believe women’s difficulties in advancing in their careers on terms comparable to men are because women are doing something wrong or lack some essential quality needed for business or professional success. There is no empirical evidence that women lack confidence, are poor negotiators, are risk-averse, are overly burdened by domestic responsibilities or are mean to other women.”
Such an admission becomes crucial when examining how and why current, prevailing social attitudes toward women in the workplace have settled in the way that they have: it isn’t because of a lack of effort that some professional women are gate-kept, roadblocked, and typecast into often inferior positions. This crisis emerged as a result of antiquated but hierarchically enforced notions of how women should behave while at work, be that as supervisors, general employees, or as executives.
The Harvard Business Review attempted to define a framework of the conditions that a variety of women often face while attempting to do their jobs. In listing a spectrum of paradoxes, which include “demanding yet caring” and “self-advocacy versus serving others'', it is made all too clear that the root of this persistent, sociological problem lies in the fact that most women must battle outdated perceptions of gender. At the same time, they must also make an unfortunate effort to curb their authentic selves to meet the so-called “preferred” amount of displayed ambition.
In outlining these harmful, sad realities that some women must face every day, authors Wei Zeng, Ronit Kark, and Alyson Meister illuminate an often forgotten aspect of what “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” branches should always focus on within companies and corporations: women today shouldn’t be valued or appreciated in businesses while simultaneously having irrelevant factors like maternal qualities, or unattractive and overly intense work ethic, count against them.
Rather, the spectrum for “niceness” should be set with an entirely different benchmark, where paradoxical dead ends give way to adaptability. In this respect, women who currently struggle today to find a balance with their co-workers can hope to benefit from the flexibility that should be essential to workplace conditions.