Women at Work Walk This Fine Line Every Single Day
Women at Work Walk This Fine Line Every Single Day

Women at work walk a fine line every single day. It’s the line between likeability and promotability. In this post, Mel Butcher explores a real-life case study of the double bind and issues a timely call to action for leaders to address the systemic issues that prevent women at work from reaching their full potential.

This post first appeared on

I have a friend who has grown up, professionally speaking, in the software consulting space. As you might imagine, the majority of her readily available role models and leaders over the years have been men.

You Need to Be More Compassionate

Her reputation is exemplary, both internally and externally with clients. Specifically, she has a reputation for an ability to come in and clean up messy, difficult projects that have ended up on shaky ground.

In recent reviews, however, she’s been given some feedback:

“You need to be more compassionate.”

That so-called feedback is coming from men.

The men whom she has inadvertently modeled her work style after aren’t receiving that feedback.

Somehow, I doubt any of her male predecessors or current male leadership have dedicated time to “compassion training” or reading books about compassion.

Working Women Are Labelled

Women at Work Walk This Fine Line Every Single Day
Source: Sarah Cooper

Why is she getting labeled this way?

This is the classic Double Bind that women can face as they ascend the ranks of corporate leadership.

The Double Bind is essentially this – as a woman makes it into a role with higher levels of authority, she can run into societal expectations based on gender – namely, that she “should be” kind, gentle, nurturing, etc. These expectations can be in conflict with getting her job done as a leader.

If she leads in a way that is perceived as not nurturing enough, she can be labeled in all sorts of negative ways.

“There’s just something about her I don’t like.”

“She’s aggressive.”

“She’s not compassionate enough…”

The double bind is substantially exacerbated for Women of Color, who can face additional, compounding biases.

My friend is learning that there’s a bit of a tight rope she has to walk to do her job well, but also to be perceived as “compassionate enough” by her leadership.

What Leaders Must Do for Women at Work

My message today is for leaders:

It is our responsibility to raise our awareness about these biases. It is our responsibility to call them out when we see it happening inside our organizations.

And it is our responsibility to do what we can with our power and influence to make the way smoother for hard-working women and underrepresented minorities to advance – free from such double standards.

About Mel Butcher

Women at Work Walk This Fine Line Every Single Day

Mel is an engineer at Carollo Engineers, is a partner in A Career that Soars!, and is the Producer of the Lead to Soar podcast.  Mel provides career support for women in male-dominated fields.