Women in Management-Moving ahead by being assertive

Yet another HR assignment 🙂 Hope You won’t find it boring..

Women in Management-Moving ahead by being assertive


The past several decades have brought enormous changes that have in turn shaped the development of modern business environment. Women comprise about 20-25 per cent of the total organized workforce in India. In absolute terms, this number is larger than the female workforce in most other nations despite improvements in female participation at management levels, women still fill less than 2% of CEO leadership positions in the Fortune 500. It is not surprising to find, therefore, that leaders continue to be thought of as men with the management levels in most industries considered to be ‘male-typed’. But in a few industries women have moved into management .To make a break-through across the “glass ceiling”, women should equip themselves with adequate skills, soft skills in particular, so that they can perform better in the age of human-oriented management Many people tend to think that success in business requires them to be rational and logical, but they must always remember that the human element is also critically important. This is one reason why it is important to develop soft skills, and one of the best soft skills you can develop is assertiveness.

What is assertiveness?

Assertiveness refers to being able to express your thoughts, beliefs and feelings in a confident, open and honest way. It increases self-confidence and facilitates the communication of ideas at work. With increasing competition, it’s not just seen as a matter of survival, but as an indirect, powerful tool to increase productivity and efficiency. Being assertive is essential for those who want to learn how to stand up for themselves in different situations, such as responding to putdowns, handling and expressing anger, speaking up to a rude salesperson, asking the boss for a raise, asking for a better table at a restaurant, etc.

Why should one be assertive?

Assertive women are more successful at accumulating resources. Assertive women are more likely to bring on change. Assertive women are confident and sure of themselves. As a result, assertive women are able to fight through great adversity, and emerge with greater strength than before.

Assertiveness v/s Aggressiveness

Asserting yourself is not easy. One reason is that some people see assertiveness as a negative behavior. Perhaps they confuse assertiveness with aggressiveness. Assertiveness is especially difficult for women. Most women are taught to be agreeable, be polite, and make those around them at ease. Assertive individuals try to understand others, and acknowledge the value others bring. In a conflict, assertive people actively listen, explain themselves clearly, and invite the others to work together toward a solution. Assertive people realize they want to have a long-term relationship with people. In order to do so, they do not create barriers with anger or humiliation. Instead they use constructive feedback.

By definition (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/)


•  Characterized by aggression: aggressive behavior

•  Inclined to behave in an actively hostile fashion: an aggressive regime.

•  Fast growing; tending to spread quickly and invade: an aggressive tumor.

•  Intense or harsh, as in color.


•  Confident and direct in claiming one’s rights or putting forward one’s views

•  Given to making assertions or bold demands; dogmatic or aggressive

The Continuum

If we view communication as a continuum, place aggressiveness on the far right, assertiveness in the middle, and passiveness on the far left.


  • We don’t feel that we have the right to be heard. We are uncomfortable expressing ourselves. We may not like the response we will get. We willing back down easily to avoid conflict.


  • We are comfortable to express what we think, feel and want. We can express our view and needs without stepping on others, and without anger or attack. We aim for a solution that is a win for all.


  • We stand up for ourselves, even at the expense of others. We use tactics such as loud talking, sarcasm, desk pounding and forcefulness to get our way.

If you want to feel good about yourself, gain respect or others, and achieve high productivity in your life, aim to be in the middle of the continuum.

Aggressiveness /aggression is about being on the attack and/or trying to take what does not rightfully belong to the taker. Assertiveness/asserting oneself is about standing up for oneself and not being willing to be pushed around or down or into a second-class citizen status. There’s really not a fine line between aggressiveness and assertiveness. They’re two completely different things. Aggressiveness is unprovoked hostility. Assertiveness can occasionally seem hostile, but when it does that hostility is usually warranted.

The challenge for women, however, is that many men and even many other women don’t believe women should have that equality in life. To people who think this way any woman who asserts his rights as a human being can be seen as wanting something to which she is not entitled. As a result, some people see assertiveness as aggressiveness.


Characteristics of assertive communication

There are six main characteristics of assertive communication. These are:

  • Eye contact: demonstrates interest, shows sincerity
  • Body posture: congruent body language will improve the significance of the message
  • Gestures: appropriate gestures help to add emphasis
  • Voice: a level, well modulated tone is more convincing and acceptable, and is not intimidating
  • Timing: use your judgment to maximize receptivity and impact
  • Content: how, where and when you choose to comment is probably more important than WHAT you say


•     An assertive woman will be sensitive to others, while standing up for her own rights.

•     She will deal with a stressful situation, seeking resolution, using direct, appropriate and honest forms of communication.

•     She takes personal responsibility for mistakes, but also, in fairness holds others responsible when the situation arises.

•     She is open, polite, has good self-esteem, and seeks to build other’s self-esteem.

•     As a boss, she will try to lead by example, but never seeks, nor avoids confrontation.

•     She is flexible, well respected and ASKS for what she needs.


•     An aggressive woman may be self-centered and have low self-esteem that she boosts by putting others down.

•     She gets stressed and makes those around her stressed too, talking to them in an inappropriately direct and confrontational manner.

•     She needs to control everything and everyone, and blames others, never taking responsibility herself.

•     She is often abrasive and forces others to accept that she is right, she will confront and put people down.

•     As a boss, she forces her ideas on others, she has to be in control and will confront and belittle those who try to disagree.

•     She sticks rigidly to the rules, as she sees them, is insensitive to other’s needs and is resented and feared rather than respected. She DEMANDS.

The advantages of being an assertive communicator and all round person is that one will be more direct, honest, and accurate and less manipulating, dishonest and deceptive. Being assertive also means knowing when to back down. One should still be able to see someone else’s point of view and back down if she knows that they are right and she is wrong. This doesn’t make one any less assertive, but makes a much better communicator and more trusting person.

In Game Theory, there are four basic styles that you can use when interacting with other people, depending on whether you are working to get what you and the other person want:

You get
what you want
Concede Negotiate
You don’t get
what you want
Withdraw Demand
what I want
I get
what I want

These are called “situational tactics” because they are behaviors that you can use in different situations. In fact, depending on the situation, there are times when it is appropriate to each of these. The four styles are tactics that can be used in different situations. The tactic that it is appropriate to use most often is ‘negotiate’; the other tactics are used less often and in particular circumstances. There are times when it is appropriate to be unassertive. It depends on the circumstances, and it is your choice.

Problems tend to arise, however, when unassertiveness becomes a habit, or when the wrong tactics are used for the situation. Example of inappropriate unassertiveness is when you boss asks you to do something extra and it causes you a problem with your workload. Many people simply ‘concede’ to a boss’ request, but the most appropriate strategy is to negotiate. A failure to negotiate could result in you having to work long hours, or you failing to complete some other aspect of your job on time because you are doing what your boss asked.

Life Stance

A ‘life stance’ is a tendency to use a particular tactic as the first, or even only, choice.

You get
what you want
Submissive Assertive
You don’t get
what you want
Passive- Aggressive Aggressive
I don’t get
what I want
I get
what I want

Strategies to be adopted

A woman who wishes to be assertive must first and foremost appear assertive. First impressions count, even more so for a woman trying to establish herself in the business world or even in a social setting. A confident stride, a straight posture and professional attire are essential. Carry yourself with confidence and others will know simply by looking at you that you mean business

Express what you need.

  • The key to being more assertive is to communicate your wants, desires and necessities in a clear language. This doesn’t mean you have to be aggressive. State your needs in a firm, steady tone. You’ll notice a world of difference when you speak up!

Adjust body language

  • Open up your posture, take your hands off your chest, uncross your legs and hold eye contact. Keep your face and your tone under control. This doesn’t mean that you have to be stoic or icy, just make sure you aren’t making an assertive statment with a wavering voice and an apologetic face.

Don’t beat around the bush

  • Don’t dilute your words or beat around the bush. People often make excuses or give long explanations and the person listening gets a mixed message. Be concise and direct. Use the first person part-of-speech. For example, ‘I feel frustrated when my work is not acknowledged.’ The lesser words you use, the bigger the impact.

Quit apologizing.

  • Do not speak apologetically. Stand your ground if you know you are correct. Ask questions whenever you need clarifications. You shouldn’t accept rules or practices without understanding them.

Say “No” politely

  • Express negative emotions in a healthy manner. For example, if someone has hurt your feelings, let them know without escalating the situation. It doesn’t help to take out your aggression or frustration on others. Express valid feelings in time, instead of bottling things up until you explode. Sometimes, it is better to walk away until you feel calmer and more in control. Make sure your body language is not aggressive. Avoid pointing at people, banging the table, raising your voice, or making other aggressive gestures.

Use the word “I”.

  • If you start your sentences with “I” you are taking responsibility for yourself, which is an assertive action. In addition, you are not including others, as you would when speaking with the word “we”. This helps to communicate your needs more clearly–they are your needs, not anyone else’s.

Allow yourself time to change.

  • No one can become more assertive overnight, and it’s certainly easy to fall into old habits of apologizing and changing statements to questions. A big part of being assertive is being determined. Tenacity is a quality of an assertive person.

Last but not the least, in today’s competitive business, communication is more essential than ever. It is the foundation on which companies and careers are built on and are a crucial component of lasting success. Whether it’s a face-to-face conversation or an  e-mail exchange, strong communication establishes a connection that leaves a powerful impression.

Communication skills include:

•     Understand effective body language and appropriate word choice

•     Learn to control emotions and establishing the right tone of voice

•     Find mutual connections or similarities to enhance communication

•     Increase comprehension through mental openness and feedback


Communication is directly connected to being assertive.  People are the essence of business, whether they are managers or employees. Working as a business owner or employee requires one to be an effective communicator, and he/she must learn how to present themselves in the right manner. Communicating assertively can often mean the difference between successfully closing a deal, or losing it. It can also mean the difference between effectively leading a team, or causing it to fail. Having good people skills will allow people, especially women workforce, to build strong relationships with others, and it allows them to get more from everyone around, whether they are external or internal to the organization.


  1. Women in Management :Bette Ann Stead
  2. Women in management : Sanghamitra Buddhapriya
  3. Women and workplace discrimination: overcoming barriers to gender equality:Raymond F. Gregory
  4. Assertiveness: how can I say what I mean? :  Kate Havelin
  5. Women in corporate management : Ronald J. Burke
  6. http://www.teamtechnology.co.uk/assertiveness/how-to-be-more-assertive-part2.html
  7. http://www.management-issues.com/2006/8/24/research/gender-stereotypes-block-womens-advancement.asp
  1. Guess what landed me my first job?

    My interviewer asked me if I was aggressive or assertive? And I replied I was both. He then asked me the difference. And I replied, aggressiveness has a negative connotation to it while assertive is positive and we need both for this job!

    I still had to go through 6 more interviews but my boss later told me that I was selected the minute I nailed that answer. The other interviews were just formalities and that I would have gotten through even if I’d not shown up!!!

    Till today, I never bothered to crosscheck the meanings of both those words. Its been 5 years! :p

    So obviously its good to see their meanings here.

      • Nimmy
      • May 9th, 2010

      That was great of you to share the incident..Maybe it will come use to me some day 🙂

  2. Nicely written and informative…some thoughts for consideration:

    Women have come a long way, but men and women should operate as a team, with synergy in mind, instead of being threatened by the presence or performance of the opposite sex. We need to increase overall welfare.

    The social, cultural, and political attitudes of modern society have enabled women to seize some power from men, despite being treated unfairly by unethical leaders, who continue to reinforce the (bullet-proof) “glass ceiling.” Women understand that fruitful conversations promote sound business relationships and teamwork, thus contributing to an improvement in the bottom line.

    Women are usually well organized, as homemakers and professional employees. They often regard their fellow employees as family and take time to ascertain their personal needs. Competition is strange to most women because they were groomed for caring, rather than winning!

    Fay Weldon, a writer, stated, “Worry less about what other people think of you, and more about what you think about them.” A former mayor of Ottawa once said, “Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought of as half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult!”

    Women should focus on a fearless, diplomatic, heads-on approach, instead of being intoxicated by power, intimidated or taken undue advantage of.

    For free abridged versions of my books on leadership, ethics, teamwork, motivation, women, bullying and sexual harassment, trade unions, etc., write to maxpin1@hotmail.com.

    Maxwell Pinto, Business Author

      • Nimmy
      • May 9th, 2010

      Welcome here 🙂

      Thanks for the detalied information..

      “Women should focus on a fearless, diplomatic, heads-on approach, instead of being intoxicated by power, intimidated or taken undue advantage of.”

      Perfectly said..

  3. Worth reading and adapting in the life. Its hard to: “aim to be in the middle of the continuum.”

  4. Very informative Nimmy!

    I am completely non-confrontational and I guess that needs to be changed especially when I’m right! 🙂

    Thank you for so much information! 🙂 🙂

      • Nimmy
      • May 9th, 2010

      🙂 I am not sure of what I am..not assertive,not definitely not aggressive..

  5. I am not sure of what I am..not assertive,not definitely not aggressive..

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