The Man in the High Castle (Amazon Video)
The Ringer website
Janesville (Amy Goldstein)
Small Fry (Lisa Brennan-Jobs)
Educated (Tara Westover)
Burn After Reading (Netflix)
Company (Stephen Sondheim musical)
HBR Presents is a network of podcasts curated by HBR editors, bringing you the best business ideas from the leading minds in management. The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Harvard Business Review or its affiliates.
A wealth of research shows that female leaders, much more than their male counterparts, face the need to be warm and nice (what society traditionally expects from women), as well as competent or tough (what society traditionally expects from men and leaders). The problem is that these qualities are often seen as opposites. This creates a “catch-22” and “double bind” for women leaders. Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of HP, depicted it this way: “In the chat rooms around Silicon Valley, from the time I arrived until long after I left HP, I was routinely referred to as either a “bimbo” or a “bitch”— too soft or too hard, and presumptuous, besides.”
To alleviate this double bind, societal expectations — for what it means to be a woman and what it takes to lead — must change. But until we get there, female executives still have to navigate these tensions. We wanted to know how successful women do it, day-to-day. So we conducted extensive interviews with 64 senior women leaders (all at the VP level or higher) from 51 different organizations in the United States: CEOs, general managers, and executives across functions, working in various industries. We found that there are four paradoxes, all stemming from the need to be both tough and nice, that these women confront. We also identified five strategies they use to manage them.
Four Balancing Acts
Paradox 1: Demanding yet caring. The female executives we studies told us they must demand high performance from others, while also demonstrating that they care about them. For example, Norma*, an HR executive in financial services, recalled how, in a past project, her perseverance led to successful project outcomes but also earned her some negative feedback: “I remember a program that I designed that everyone was doubting… and I truly just knew deep in my heart and… gut that it was going to work. So I kept pushing forward… and it was a huge, huge success… I’ve gotten feedback on being intimidating and that kind of stuff. Would I get the same feedback if I were a man?”
Paradox 2: Authoritative yet participative. This paradox lies between asserting one’s competence, and admitting one’s vulnerability and asking others to collaborate. On the one hand, women leaders learned to project authoritativeness, because without doing so, they risked being perceived as not credible, especially at the beginning of a new business engagement. They learned to “toughen up,” “speak louder,” and “act decisively.”
On the other hand, to prevent being perceived as arrogant, women leaders were also quick to acknowledge their own weaknesses and work with others. For example, Claire, a general manager in manufacturing, commented: “I’d learned about [my] tendencies of being directive. I’m having to manage and maybe take it down and go slower, go slow to go fast, to bring people along and to ensure that we have alignment.”
Paradox 3: Advocating for themselves yet serving others. The third paradox involves meeting one’s needs and goals as well as others’. Focusing too heavily on one side can cause serious trouble. For example, Cameron, a strategy executive in an accounting firm, told us how she would share her knowledge with others, only to later feel taken advantage of when they failed to reciprocate. By contrast, Meredith, a general manager in health services, was almost removed from a leadership team because she was seen as too aggressive in negotiating with internal stakeholders in order to promote her own goals.
Paradox 4: Maintaining distance yet being approachable. Our study subjects sometimes struggled to be seen as leaders, separate from colleagues and team members, while also developing close relationships. To generate respect, women leaders kept a distance from others, maintaining an impersonal “leadership presence” that was marked as “professional,” “objective,” and “serious.” At the same time, they noticed that they might then create impressions of being “stiff,” “ego-centric,” and “apathetic,” making it difficult to earn trust and commitment.
To bridge this, many explicitly and emphatically worked to convey the intimate human side of themselves, so they were instead seen as “accessible,” “warm,” “social,” “personable,” “friendly,” “informal,” and “easy to connect with.” Dawn, CEO of a nonprofit organization, explained how she did this through something as simple as clothing: “I try always to dress just ever so slightly more formal than employees, except on Fridays when I dress very informal to show that I’m also not stiff and unapproachable. Generally we have fun, but… there is a little bit of distancing that I try to maintain… I want people to see that I’m fair-minded and not playing favorites.”
Strategies for Managing the Tensions
Our findings suggest that to successfully navigate these paradoxes, women leaders first need to become aware of them, teasing out the different tensions rolled up into the central nice/tough double bind. Then, they can develop and customize a repertoire of strategies to manage, thereby enhancing their effectiveness and resilience. We identified five:
Adapt to the situation. Most of our study subjects told us that they demonstrate niceness and toughness in different situations, toward different audiences. For example, to signal both distance and approachability, Melissa, a general manager in a manufacturing firm, said: “I specifically don’t sit at the head of the table at certain times. [It] depends on the meeting and the environment. At certain times, I want to send the signal I’m just one of the team today, and other times I want to be very clear that I’m here to make a decision, and then I take a slightly different stance.”
Go in order. Another strategy is to be nice (or caring and collaborative) first, then tough (or demanding and directive). First, you build relationships, establish trust, and engage people, and then you follow up with harder behavior or language to challenge the status quo or achieve goals. For example, Marilyn, a general manager in a financial services firm, talked about her philosophy of working with others: “I think it’s just [building] that day-to-day relationship where people want to help you succeed. And so when you… advocate for something, people generally bend over backwards to figure out how to help you get it done.”
Similarly, Ruth, a new product development executive in manufacturing, talked about an incident in which she pushed to shut down a project that some of her peers considered their “babies.” She was able to do so without incurring resentment because she had first “invested a lot of time in developing strong collaborative relationships,” which was later helpful, since then, she said, “You can get past some of the politics… I’m not trying to make you look bad. I really do just want to work for the betterment of the business.”
Look for win-wins. Many women we talked to focused on identifying opportunities where niceness and toughness converge — what they sometimes called a “win-win” strategy. For example, Dorothy, a general manager in health services, described her mindset this way: “The most important thing is understanding what are the values, the traits, the goals of that person that you’re trying to influence… So, I’ve always tried to know what it is that I’m trying to achieve, tie that back to something that I know they want to achieve.”
Be tough on tasks and soft on people. With this strategy, women leaders focused on simultaneously being nice to people and tough on tasks. For example, Sally, a state legislator, shared her experience: “I learned that we could vehemently disagree on an issue, and when we walked out of the room, we were friends. I really came to see the importance of being able to separate [that] out.”
Denise, a strategy executive in a financial organization, shared another example: When a colleague presented an unsatisfactory proposal, she used a soft approach to deliver a hard message: “I wanted to lay enough on the table to say, ‘Boy, this is very interesting…. Can we do some more research on this? Can we test this against some other organizations?’ That’s an example of where you can get an idea across without saying: ‘Hey listen, I think this is really dumb, and we’re not going to do it.’ I’m much more effective as a leader if I lead with a question.”
Reframe. We found that the leaders also tried to reframe what it meant to be nice and tough. They focused on connecting the two and reinforcing positive associations. This involved recasting behaviors that might be considered weaknesses as strengths. For example, women leaders described displays of vulnerability as reflecting inner confidence — feeling secure enough to comfortably reveal their own faults and weaknesses. Shannon, a president in a manufacturing company, explained, “I am very confident in saying ‘I don’t know the answer but I’m keen to find out’ or ‘I don’t know the answer but I know I have the ability to find out.’”
Another approach was to frame assertive behaviors that others might find threatening as originating from genuine care. For example, Lorraine, Jordan, and Norma described giving negative feedback or voicing disagreements as trying to help others.
In the long run, organizations and society must produce systematic change to alleviate conflicting expectations for women and additional hurdles for their leadership. But as long as female executives face the double bind, they will need to find ways to manage it.
Freelance workers make up a third of today's workforce, and that number is expected to climb to 43 percent in 2020, according to one estimate. Factors driving this shift include the increased focus on company agility and the rapidly changing skill sets needed by companies. Plus, many workers want flexibility more than predictability.
Many of the top performers in technical, creative and strategic fields prefer working in the growing professional gig economy over traditional frameworks. They know they have the game-changing knowledge and experience employers need, but they are not willing to exchange their skills for comfort. Companies that want today's top talent must come to terms with the new reality and engage with gig workers on their terms.
To deal with skills shortages, perpetually unfilled high-impact positions, and poor retention metrics, businesses have to stop trying to beat the competition in the war for talent and instead simply change the rules of the game, which can be especially beneficial for small businesses with limited budgets. If you're still not convinced, consider these four advantages of embracing the professional gig economy:
1. Outcomes over retainers. Half of today's S&P 500 is supposed to roll over in the next 10 years. Small and large businesses face competition from all angles, and the most rigid ones fall first. This creates a problem. Companies need to be agile, but they also need to be efficient. Under these demands, flexibility is one of the most important advantages of gig workers.
Imagine if you had high-quality talent, paid only for the deliverables you needed and then had the option to amicably part ways with your workers (or, even better, move them to another project) when the job ended. You can do that in the professional gig economy.
To get started, design a small personal project with a clear outcome and then hire a person or small company from the gig economy to solve the issue. Experiment with freelancers across the globe. Paul Estes of Microsoft offers great recommendations on how to get started.
2. A variety of experience and perspectives. Author Malcolm Gladwell famously said that a person must work 10,000 hours in a field to become an expert. Freelancers do that work in areas where they are talented and passionate.
Companies complain about millennial job hoppers and yearn for the days when people sat still. But those days are over, and businesses can either accept that and take advantage of it or watch the market pass them by.
Freelancers who move from one challenging project to the next hone their skills faster than people who have the luxury of complacency. In the gig economy, a person might work in healthcare one day and finance the next. This allows the freelancer to develop a focused skill set with a broad view of potential applications. Businesses can accomplish incredible things if you engage this type of expertise.
Don't limit freelancers to small roles; give a freelancer the chance to work on a big, impactful project and see the results for yourself. Pick something that an executive would normally handle, give it to a freelancer and evaluate the work with a critical eye.
3. Consistent on-call talent. CEOs often rate "failure to attract and retain top talent" as one of their top challenges. With unemployment at record lows, the best people are pickier than ever about where they work, which means salaries for top workers are increasing. But the old model of employment that demanded that companies keep expensive people on retainer has changed.
Talent isn't impossible to find, but those workers just don't cruise job boards anymore. Give up trying to outbid competitors for the few people who are seeking full-time employment and open your eyes to freelancers who are waiting to be engaged. They have all the skills you need and are ready to get to work right now, no interview panel required.
Consider which role you have struggled the longest to fill and then reframe it with the outcomes that role addresses. Group those outcomes into smaller projects and head to the market to find professional gig workers with the necessary expertise. The hourly rate might sound high, but keep in mind that you will save money by paying only for what you need.
4. Having immediate needs met. The cost of full-time talent is much more than a salary and office space, which can be a budget-buster for any company.
Kelly Services found that 36 percent of businesses hire gig workers because of the speed at which that hiring process proceeds. Why wait to find, onboard, and train in-house talent when you can spend once on a freelancer and get results?
In the professional gig economy, companies can stop looking for that perfect applicant and get a freelancer working immediately, and there's less need to stress about the narrowly defined "culture fit."
The best gig workers have honed the soft skills required to be quickly integrated into the teams they're working with. They care about completing the deliverables assigned to them and know how to fit into a new team in a high-stakes situation, which makes them the perfect partners for outcome-driven companies.
The next time you urgently need to hire someone, consider a gig worker. Break the role into projects and find freelancers who fit the bill. Don't interview for fit or culture – engage with the most qualified person, regardless of time zone, who can get the job done.
The professional gig economy is growing. Is your company ready to compete? Take advantage of all the ways freelancers make your business better and enjoy faster access to quality talent.
When you pursue freelancing, you are choosing an independent career path that requires you to look after yourself. In other words, you're your own boss, and you need to secure your finances, insurance, retirement savings, etc., on your own terms.
One major responsibility freelancers must prioritize is creating a contract to establish a legal agreement between you and your clients.
"A freelancer needs a contract," said Drew DuBoff, blogger and chief career coach. "Because they are not full-time employees, they are acting as independent contractors, so this document is an independent contractor agreement."
If you're considering taking the freelance route, here's everything you need to know about freelance contracts.
What it is
A freelance contract is a legal document that outlines the specifics of your agreement with a client to prevent miscommunications or foul play on either end. It can take many forms, from a two-line email stating the projects you will be completing and compensation to a signed physical sheet including various clauses. However, the more formal the contract is, the more protected you are from an infringement.
"Technically, [email] counts as an expressed contract, but it won't be as legally binding," said DuBoff. "Having a contract adds legitimacy, and having an arbitration clause … will set a procedure for what to do in the event the contract is breached."
While you might think it's enough to have proof that your client agreed to compensate you for your work, your contract should be much more in depth than that.
What to include
DuBoff includes these clauses in his freelance contracts:
You want to indicate the exact compensation for each project, assignment, etc., that you plan to complete and the deadline for that payment (i.e., within two weeks of submitting, last day of every month, etc.)
"Getting paid is one of the most important elements, so outlining this is crucial," said DuBoff. "Especially if you invoice through a third-party platform such as PayPal, working in fees to the contract is important."
To ensure you're on the same page, especially when working with international clients, DuBoff recommends adding a section specifying the expected currency (i.e., U.S. dollar, Euro, etc.)
Confidentiality and ownership of intellectual property
Work with your clients to determine which side possesses ownership of the intellectual property in the relationship.
"This is important especially on sensitive projects and if you are contributing to any copyrighted, trademarked or patented material," said DuBoff.
In this section, describe the exact services (i.e. copy editing, social media, etc.) you will be providing to your client.
According to DuBoff, this clause includes what happens when a contract is breached. Arbitration will help both parties move in the right direction without confusion or exorbitant legal fees.
Communication is key; this section will establish how you will communicate with your clients, whether via email or phone calls.
What to do in case of a breach
If any of these clauses are broken, you should act right away. For instance, if your clients refuse to pay for any reason, there are many steps you can take, from sending a friendly reminder to involving outside help.
If the issue is minor, like a misunderstanding of one of the clauses, you might be able to work one on one with your client to smooth things over.
However, more severe and deliberate breaches require further action, usually requiring outside help. Your arbitration clause should also help you determine how to move forward.