What does “Abrasive” Mean when Describing Professional Women?

Devil-woman-in-hell A few days ago, I met with a professional female coaching client whom I have worked with for the past 12 months. She, like several other women at her investment bank, had been identified as a woman the company wanted to develop and eventually promote. When we initially met, it became clear that confidence and being taken seriously by her male colleagues were key issues for her – as they are for many of my clients. Fast forward a year and she had received her appraisal from two male colleagues who said they now found her “abrasive” – when pushed for examples, they couldn’t give any – but obtusely said it was just her “new manner”. She told me she definitely felt more confident than she had a year previously, and was much better at questioning anything she thought was amiss in meetings. The funny thing was, when she compared notes with two other women also working with other coaches, she found that they too had now been labelled “abrasive”. It strikes me that some companies want to develop strength and fortitude in their women, but when they do – they often don’t like the result. A man may be “Forthright” but a woman is “Abrasive”. When it comes to developing backbone in the workplace, all I know is that you may be “damned if you do”, but one thing is for certain, you will definitely be “damned if you don’t”.Let me know if you have had any similar experiences.

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  • http://reflectwomenset.blogspot.com/ Esther Haines

    This woman is cerainly not alone, see Heilman et al, ‘Penalties for success: Reactions to women who succeed at male gender-typed tasks’, Journal of Applied Psychology, 89, 416-427 (2004). This research showed that observers rate a man as more competent than a woman unless there is evidence that the woman is exceptionally competent in which case they rate the man and woman as equally competent but the woman as less likeable. So where exactly is that elusive point between lacking confidence and being too aggressive?