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


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 [2], 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