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Women leaders discover how to fight the “being bossy” label.

The implications of new research for women in industry to be included in The Center’s Women Leaders Program, May 10-13.

An overheard remark outside your office makes you feel that gender parity in leadership is a thousand miles away: “Suzanne’s team had great results this quarter but she’s so bossy. Glad I don’t work for her.”

In order to move ahead, an executive must be seen as strong and competent. Yet if a woman makes a point of seeming competent, she is less likely to be perceived as warm, and could face a backlash or even considered less favorably for promotions.

A Catch-22? Indeed. But research by Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Larissa Tiedens suggests that women can exert control by engaging in more subtle or “implicit” methods of dominance.

A subtle shift in facial expression or using a different posture can be just as effective as a direct command, a wagging finger, or other aggressive behavior, she says. When women incorporate these methods into their daily interactions, the backlash is weakened or might even disappear.

Women standing tall and using a loud voice during a meeting can express authority, but it’s subtle enough not to be resented, Tiedens discovered in her research. Also, body language such as sitting with an arm draped over a chair and an ankle resting on a knee makes a person look larger and more dominant – but not threatening.

“The obstacles women leaders face are real, even subtle matters such as how their leadership is perceived and how likeability enters into the arena,” says Sam Paustian-Underdahl, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Management & International Business at Florida International University (FIU). “Women leaders can greatly benefit from research into what works and what doesn’t, such as Tiedens’ research on how women can be strong leaders and still be liked.”

Leveraging research to develop women leaders
The implications and applicability of research in this area form the basis for Dr. Paustian-Underdahl’s presentation during her session “Navigating the Labyrinth: Research implications for women’s career success,” as part of The Women Leaders Program presented by the Center for Leadership at Florida International University. Now registering its 14th cohort, this highly sought after program for professional women from across the world dives deep into a fresh approach to life-long leadership development based on a contemporary leadership competency model developed by The Center.

Unique insights, engaging cases and in-depth, solutions-oriented sessions provide the framework to help women leverage their strengths. “For instance, I’ll be discussing the ‘leadership labyrinth’ that women leaders face,” says Dr. Paustian-Underdahl. “What are the obstacles to taking your leadership to the next level? What has research shown that women can do to overcome barriers and be more effective in their organizations? We have much information and a strong focus on practical insights for maximizing your leadership opportunities and capabilities.”

Research certainly has been the foundation of The Women Leaders Program. Since its launch in 2007, this annual executive leadership development program was designed for director level executives or higher, and attracts professionals from all around the world, from every industry.

“Smart organizations continually ask themselves ‘Are we tapping the full potential of our women leaders?’” says Dr. Joyce J. Elam, Dean Amerita, Eminent Scholar and Program Chair for the Women Leaders Program. “This program has been a game changer for employers and the more than 250 women leaders who have participated.”

The Women Leaders Program Spring 2016 will be held May 10-13 at Bonaventure Resort and Spa in Weston, Florida.