7 Deadly Myths about Women in Business

7 Deadly Myths about Women in Business

Women are a force to be reckoned with in the business world: they run billion dollar companies, they are entrepreneurs and they are innovators.

So why are women still subject to many of the same old stereotypes that our mothers and grandmothers faced decades ago?

In this article we tackle the seven most prominent and insidious myths still making the rounds today – and offer a few expert comebacks to help combat these untruths.

Myth #1:
Women are bad at negotiating.

FACT: Women negotiate just as well as men.

This old chestnut needs a very important revision. Research shows that women are very effective negotiators and ask for pay raises just as often as men, but men are 25% more likely to actually get that raise when they ask than their female counterparts. Turns out, when women are able to harness so-called feminine traits that are typically used against them, they can be just as effective as men.

“Women are good negotiators. Female-associated behaviours such as supporting others, demonstrating curiosity, encouraging cooperation, and being convincing, are increasingly being regarded as important negotiation techniques,” says Horacio Falcão, INSEAD Professor of Decision Sciences.

“Female-associated behaviours such as supporting others, demonstrating curiosity, encouraging cooperation, and being convincing, are increasingly being regarded as important negotiation techniques.”

Horacio Falcão
Professor of Decision Sciences, INSEAD

Myth #2:
Women with children won’t have time to meet leadership obligations.

FACT: When it comes to leadership and decision-making, quality trumps quantity—or the amount of time spent behind the desk.

The amount of time that a person has to devote to a given job is not nearly as important as his or her time management skills. In terms of demonstrating leadership skills and the ability to make effective decisions, it turns out that the quality matters more than the quantity of time a person spends at the office. And, in terms of bringing on the type of quality workers a company needs, family friendly policies attract better talent – which helps spur productivity for the entire company.

“I became very organized, creating a strict schedule and allocating specific times for work and for family,” says INSEAD EMBA alumna Emma Russell, a business operation manager at Shell and an NGO volunteer. She’s also a mother of two. “I have continued this same discipline upon returning to work.”

“I became very organized, creating a strict schedule and allocating specific times for work and for family. I have continued this same discipline upon returning to work.”

Emma Russel
Business Operation Manager at Shell & NGO volunteer, INSEAD EMBA Alumna

Myth #3:
Women lack the confidence to lead.

FACT: Women and men have comparable leadership ambitions and aspirations at the start of their careers.

In fact, women and men have similar levels of ambition and comparable career aspirations when first starting out in the workplace. But over time, women encounter discouraging obstacles that their male counterparts do not. This includes, for example, a lack of access to the work and career flexibility they need, and a dearth of sponsorship opportunities from influential leaders. Put together, these factors erode a woman’s confidence in the workplace.

Women’s self-doubt is a product of the environment—the long-term societal influence and the broader business landscape. Bolstering self-confidence makes people more resilient, but we also need to improve the environments that undermine women.

“The Leadership Development Program [at INSEAD] helped me put myself and my life into perspective. It helped me understand and value my strengths,” says Maryam Haghighi, an EMBA alumna and now an HR leader for General Electric. “I also learned to accept my weaknesses and to ask for support when I need it.”

Bolstering self-confidence makes people more resilient, but we also need to improve the environments that undermine women.

“The Leadership Development Program helped me put myself and my life into perspective. It helped me understand and value my strengths. I also learned to accept my weaknesses and to ask for support when I need it.”

Maryam Haghighi
HR Leader at General Electric, INSEAD EMBA Alumna

Myth #4:
Women don’t support other women.

FACT: Women are more likely to support each other and mentor other women than men.

This myth is particularly dangerous when it comes to empowering females in the corporate world. And there are numbers to prove that it is false. Studies show that 65% of women who received career development support are now actively working to develop new talent, while only 56% of men are doing so. Furthermore, 73% of these women who are actively developing new talent support fellow women, while only 30% of men can say the same.

“In my previous job, I was the most senior woman in the Middle East, so one could think that investing in my network of female colleagues couldn’t bring many benefits and that I should instead invest my time developing my relationships with male seniors and peers,” recalls Dr. Leila Hoteit, INSEAD MBA alumna who is now partner and managing director at BCG. “Yet two of my biggest breaks came through the support of other women. So don’t compete, but join forces!”

65% of women who received career development support are now actively working to develop new talent.

“ Two of my biggest breaks came through the support of other women. So don’t compete; join forces!”

Dr. Leila Hoteit, PhD
Partner & Managing Director at BCG, INSEAD EMBA Alumna

Myth #5:
Women don’t have what it takes to be entrepreneurs.

FACT: Women are just as interested and can be just as successful in entrepreneurship as men.

Statistics show that the ranks of female entrepreneurs are growing faster than those of their male counterparts. From 2013 to 2014, the number of women entrepreneurs grew by nearly 10%. The number of men taking the entrepreneurial plunge increased by only 3.3% over the same period according to The Startup Donut. And, according to the 2016 BNP Paribas Global Entrepreneur Report, companies helmed by female entrepreneurs had 13% higher revenues than those run by men, and finished 9% above the average.

“At INSEAD, I learned to think like an entrepreneur,” says Randa Rustom, a founding partner of Apis Health Consulting Group and an EMBA alumna. “My vision for Apis Health Consulting is to be well-established with a big team of competent consultants. We already have a team of seven people, as well as contracts in the Middle East.”

Jade Huang, an MBA alumna and founder of StyleSage, offered this advice to fellow women with entrepreneurial ambition: “Starting a business is a time-intensive commitment that impacts not only you but also everyone in your life—make sure that you do your research and assess the risks before diving head in.”

“ At INSEAD, I learned to think like an entrepreneur. My vision for Apis Health Consulting is to be well-established with a big team of competent consultants. We already have a team of seven people, as well as contracts in the Middle East.”

Randa Rustom
Founding Partner of Apis Health Consulting Group, INSEAD EMBA Alumna

“ Starting a business is a time-intensive commitment that impacts not only you but also everyone in your life—make sure that you do your research and assess the risks before diving head in.”

Jade Huang
Founder of StyleSage, INSEAD MBA Alumna

Myth #6:
Women are bad at maths.

FACT: The maths-gender gap is not biological; it’s cultural.

The numbers don’t lie when it comes to this myth. Turns out, there is nothing wrong with the female biology when it comes to mathematics. Instead, several major international studies have repeatedly shown that cultural factors – which can be changed – are to blame for the math-gender gap where it exists.

“My father used to say maths will not help you to get married,’” says Diliara Safina, INSEAD EMFin Alumna. She’s now the deputy treasury and financial control director at Leroy Merlin. “I say, forget biases! If you really think you are good with numbers, then you really are. At work, my boss started to take me seriously when I showed him my 730 GMAT score.”

“I say, forget biases! If you really think you are good with numbers, then you really are. At work, my boss started to take me seriously when I showed him my 730 GMAT score.”

Diliara Safina
Deputy Treasury and Financial Control Director at Leroy Merlin, INSEAD EMFin Alumna

Myth #7:
It won’t be long before women catch up with men in business.

FACT: The work toward gender equality must speed up and continue.

While it may seem that progress is happening, it is not happening nearly fast enough for this generation or the next. According to the 2015 report by Lean In and McKinsey & Company called Women in the Workplace, if the current, slow rate of progress over the last three years continues, it will take 25 years to reach “gender parity” at the senior VP level and more than 100 years to reach parity in the C-suite.

The latest version of Women in the Workplace also noticed a worrying trend. Women are still less likely to receive their first critical promotion to manager and are less likely to be hired into more senior positions, putting fewer females on the path to leadership.

“Work with and through allies – including men!” advises Quint Simon, an MBA student who is currently the co-president of the INSEAD Women in Business Club. “The best strategy is to create a coalition of managers, mentors, and peers who recognise that the issue of gender bias exists and work with them to tackle the problem head-on.”

Bottomline:

Remember that much of the conventional wisdom surrounding women in the workplace is wrong. Defy the stereotypes and don’t let the misconceptions and biases of others hold you back. In the meantime, take advantage of programs that aim to spur and celebrate gender diversity in the business world, as well as support groups inside and outside your company.

“Work with and through allies—including men! The best strategy is to create a coalition of managers, mentors and peers who recognize that the issue of gender bias exists and work with them to tackle the problem head-on.”

Quint Simon
INSEAD MBA Student, Co-President of the INSEAD Women in Business Club

“If people are doubting how far you can go, go so far that you can’t hear them anymore.”

— Michele Ruiz (Journalist, Author & Entrepreneur)

“If people are doubting how far you can go, go so far that you can’t hear them anymore.”

— Michele Ruiz (Journalist, Author & Entrepreneur)

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7 Deadly Myths about Women in Business

Women are a force to be reckoned with in the business world: they run billion dollar companies, they are entrepreneurs and they are innovators. So why are women still subject to many of the same old stereotypes?