Vanessa, I share your concern that women have limited workplace stereotypes from which to choose: We’re either the nurturing pushover or the demanding bitch. We’re not the only group, though, struggling with how to present ourselves in the workplace. A study out last week found that, among black men, having a “babyface” helps you climb the career ladder. While white CEOs are hurt by being all chubby and kid-like, black CEOs benefit from the “disarming” qualities of a babyface. As Robert Livingston, co-author of the study, said, “anything that conveys to whites ‘I’m not the typical black man’ can be helpful.”
The same, it seems, goes for women. Be too much the typical woman-too busty, too high-voiced, too sensitive-and you’re deemed by your underlings and superiors, whether consciously and verbally or not, unfit to lead. Both blacks and women in the workplace must fight against the perception of being too harsh, either because it makes us “bitchy” or because it makes us “scary.” But a good boss is demanding, critical, and stern. How can anyone pull off such a delicate balance?