Women are less likely to negotiate their salaries, earn less than men, and are underrepresented at the highest levels of business. Narratives that explain these problems often focus on what women can do differently – to “lean in”, to negotiate harder, to stop apologising, to be more assertive, and so on.
Stefanie O’Connell explains how these narratives, problematic in themselves in the way that they blame women for problems they have little control over, can also have unpleasant side effects. Women who adopt these more assertive behaviours, and show their ambition clearly, often face a backlash for doing so:
“A 2020 study linked this backlash directly to ambition: when women were arbitrarily assigned leadership positions, they were less likely to be found unlikeable. It was only when a woman was actively pursuing a leadership position that she encountered penalties. This suggests that more than power, influence or success, women are penalized for the pursuit of those things. This shows up in tangible outcomes, like the denial of job opportunities, raises and promotions – all of which can make building wealth harder.”