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For Women in the Workplace, Being Self-Aware Is Key to Success

By Mason Spirit contributor on October 24, 2011

Olivia O'Neill

Female workers hoping to advance their careers should be mindful of any masculine traits they may exhibit, according to Mason management professor Olivia O’Neill and Charles O’Reilly of Stanford University. A study by the pair concluded that women who demonstrate stereotypical masculine traits, such as self-confidence and dominance, risk backlash in the workplace if they are not conscious of how they are acting.

“Although masculine women are seen as more competent than feminine women, they are also seen as less socially skilled and, consequently, less likeable and less likely to get promoted,” says O’Neill. “Our research shows that self-monitoring this behavior can have beneficial effects for masculine women, leading to more promotions and success in the workplace.”

For the study titled Reducing the Backlash Effect: Self-Monitoring and Women’s Promotions, the researchers collected information at two different times.

During the first assessment, which took place in 1986–87, 80 participants (48 percent of whom were women) who were enrolled in the first year of a two-year business school program, completed personality and management questionnaires. The researchers followed up eight years later after the participants had graduated to gather information on their career history.

The results showed that masculine women who know when to turn off their masculine traits had a higher likelihood of being promoted than those women who were not as successful at self-monitoring. By contrast, self-monitoring did not make a difference in the number of promotions men received.

—Catherine Ferraro


  1. While I agree that it is important to self-monitor how your behavior impacts others, it is disconcerting that in the year 2012, a woman is still valued more for being submissive and supportive rather than being assertive when being assessed for a promotion. A woman can be both assertive in business meetings and in dealing with subordinate performance issues while also being supportive to management, peers and subordinates. I suggest that to be truly successful, male and female executives should take time to self-monitor how stereotypes may impact their decision making process.

    Comment by Kathryn Schulin — January 21, 2012 @ 6:30 pm

  2. Agreed – the message here seems bleak, encouraging women to bow down to patriarchy and alter their behaviour to please the expectations of men. In effect, this advice makes the assumption that it’s okay for men to be insensitive and agressive, but women expecting a promotion should be nurturing and submissive.

    Comment by Robin — February 23, 2012 @ 10:27 am

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