Some Women Prefer Being Invisible in the Workplace
It’s typical to hear that to get ahead in the workforce, you need to be seen and stand out. While that may be true for men, it’s not always the case for women.
Three sociologists from Stanford University spent two years immersed in a women’s professional development program at a large U.S. nonprofit and found that many women prefer intentional invisibility at work instead of being seen.
During their study, researchers found that “intentional invisibility” is a phenomenon within working women. Intentional invisibility is a risk-averse, conflict-avoidant approach to navigating the unequal gender bias of the workplace. Many women practice this because they feel if they had an assertive presence in the office, it could backfire. It’s a Catch-22 for most women while being less visible in the office could hurt their odds of a promotion or other career opportunities, so could violating feminine norms—like being assertive or authoritative when they are expected to be nice, collaborative and “ladylike.”
“To craft careers that felt rewarding, women sought to reduce the chances for interpersonal conflict and to increase opportunities for friendly relationships within their work teams,” said the authors.
One of the women in the study told Stanford researchers that she feared how the conflict could disrupt work relationships and reflect badly on her. She told a story about how in meetings, men would often think she was just a secretary when in fact she’s a software engineer.
“Real leaders don’t really have to say what their title is, or have to brag about their accolades or whatever,” says one woman. “Your work should speak for itself.”
Instead of presenting masculine and “inauthentic” qualities, most women in the study lean towards quietly embracing a different work style and redefining professional success.
“Not that there is anything wrong with people who want to promote themselves and make money and have great titles—it’s just that I was very uncomfortable with the word ‘leadership’ until I was able to redefine it for myself,” said one woman in the study.
All in all, success is how you define it—especially as a woman. If being a leader means sitting on the sidelines to you, then work hard and keep your head down. But, if you want to take a bolder approach, don’t be afraid.