Overcoming Stereotypes About Female Leaders

Click the play button to listen to the podcast episode.

Do you have a strong leadership style that has been mislabeled as harsh or uncaring?

Every now and again, as I’m connecting with each of you on LinkedIn, I’ll ask if you have any topic suggestions for the podcast. I recently got a response that immediately piqued my interest.

The response read, “One thing I struggle with as a leader is gender stereotypes and expectations on how a female leader needs to act. People assume female leaders need to always be nurturing and soft, and when they need to be direct or decisive people find that harsh. If you have a podcast that addresses this issue and how to overcome it, I would love to listen.”

Me too! So here it is.

Overcoming stereotypes about female leaders requires a combination of personal strategies, organizational support, and societal change. Here are some suggestions to help challenge and change these stereotypes on the individual, team and organizational level.

1. Demonstrate a Range of Leadership Styles

You are breaking a mold so to speak so if you aren’t already, be sure to showcase a variety of leadership qualities. Flex between being nurturing, demonstrating decisiveness, assertiveness, kindness and confidence depending on what the situation calls for.

Highlight your ability to adapt your leadership style based on the context and requirements of the situation at hand.

2. Communication Skills

Develop effective communication skills to convey your ideas clearly and assertively. Use inclusive language that emphasizes collaboration and teamwork.

Seek feedback on your communication style and be open to making adjustments.

If you get critical feedback, ask for examples. Being labeled as “harsh” is subjective without concrete examples. Also, with curiosity, consider if a man would have been labeled as harsh under the same circumstances. If you believe a man would have not been given the same feedback, respectfully ask the person giving you feedback what their feedback to a man would have been.

Challenging stereotypes and biases have their own bullet but let’s address this example here.

Their answer might be yes, a man would have gotten that feedback as well. But if the answer is no, this is your opportunity to kindly make a difference for the other person by helping them see a bias they weren’t seeing before.

Your approach is key. No one enjoys having their blind spots pointed out to them so this can be a tricky situation. However, what people enjoy even less is knowing others could see their blind spots and no one took the time to help them see.

A previous episode, Constructively Dealing with Unconscious Bias, describes one way of approaching this type of conversation through an on-air coaching conversation.  

3. Confidence and Self-Assurance

Project confidence in your abilities as a leader. Confidence can help counter stereotypes and build trust among your team.

If you are not feeling confident, ask yourself what would need to be different in order for you to feel confident. Sometimes the answer is you need to believe in yourself. Start by listing out the times you experienced self-doubt but it turned out to be unfounded.

Be assertive without being aggressive, and ensure that your actions align with your words. Don’t just speak confidently, act confidently.

4. Seek Mentorship and Networking to Overcome Stereotypes

Connect with successful female leaders who have overcome similar stereotypes. Learn from their experiences and seek advice on navigating biases in the workplace.

Establish a strong professional network to gain support and insights from diverse perspectives.

5. Emphasize Results and Achievements

Focus on your accomplishments and the positive impact you have on the team or organization. Highlighting tangible results can help shift the focus from stereotypes to your capabilities and contributions.

If it feels like bragging, let that go. Those around you are very busy and hence, not always paying attention to small wins and accomplishments. Find opportunities to share your wins and accomplishments, along with those of your team, to remind everyone that you are an accomplished leader.

Like confidence, your record of leadership and achievement also builds trust.

6. Educate and Challenge Biases and Stereotypes

Actively challenge gender stereotypes and biases when you encounter them. Again, how you do it is important. Be clear and helpful. Educate your colleagues and team members about the importance of diverse leadership styles and the negative consequences of perpetuating stereotypes.

Actively fostering a culture of inclusivity and diversity within your team or organization will benefit you and those around you. It will also benefit those who will come after you.

7. Professional Development

Invest in ongoing professional development so you can enhance your leadership skills. Attend workshops, conferences, or training programs that focus on leadership, communication, and emotional intelligence.

Showcase your commitment to continuous improvement and growth, and therefore modeling the leader you want to be seen as.

8. Lead by Example

Model the behavior you want to see in others. Demonstrate that effective leadership is not limited by gender and that success is achievable through a variety of leadership styles.

Also demonstrate how you work on your own stereotypes and biases. We all have them, and even if you’ve done work to address your biases, you can always get better. Which ones do you need to work on?

And, just because we are women, it doesn’t mean that we couldn’t be guilty of gender bias as well. And subject of gender bias is not limited to women. You may have some old biases of men as well. They typically come up around domestic matters but they come up in the workplace too.

9. Address Stereotypes Systemically

Advocate for systemic changes within your organization, such as inclusive policies, unbiased hiring and promotion practices, and diversity training programs.

Encourage a culture that values diversity and recognizes the strengths that different perspectives bring to the table.

10. Build Allies

Cultivate allies within the organization who are supportive of diverse leadership styles. Collaborate with colleagues who appreciate and recognize the value of a broad range of leadership qualities.

Conclusion to stereotypes

By taking a proactive and strategic approach, you can challenge and ultimately overcome the stereotypes associated with female leaders. Remember that change may take time, but your consistent efforts can contribute to shifting perceptions within your workplace and in society.

If we are connected on LinkedIn and you have an idea for an episode topic, I would love to hear it. Send me a message!

Of, if you have a current leadership challenge and are open to some coaching, apply to be on a coaching episode. These episodes are prerecorded so it’s just you and me have a conversation.

I hope this was of value to you and here’s to your success!


Leadership Coaching. Find out more about my coaching process, or how to ask your employer to pay for you to work with a coach.

Apply to be on an “On-Air Coaching” episode. Are you a female leader who has been promoted in the last year? Apply to be on the podcast.

Register for the How to Get Mentally Fit webinar: Learn the 3 core muscles to build to gain mental fitness.

Saboteur Assessment: Find out which Saboteurs are impacting your performance, wellness and relationships, and how they do it.

Leadership Operating System Inventory. Wondering what kind of Leadership traits you have? Take this FREE, FAST self-assessment and find out more about yourself as a Leader.

Accomplished: How to Go from Dreaming to Doing. The book containing a simple, step by step system that gives you the foundation and structure to take your goals and make them happen.

Subscribe to Women Taking the Lead

If you enjoyed this episode subscribe in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Stitcher Radio, Amazon Music or Pandora and never miss out!