How to help women in leadership: The role of emotions and micropolitics


Professional workplaces are still a typically male dominated arena, especially in relation to leadership roles. How then should female managers behave; conform to feminine stereotypes or try to fit the mould set by male role models?


Prof Daniela Rastetter and Dr Christiane Juengling look at the different expectations and rules for how men and women may display their emotions within the workplace. Their research has led to a coaching strategy to help promote the strategic handling of emotions within the workplace, to enable women in leadership positions to identify any stereotypically gendered expectations and develop their own tactical responses.


Read more about their research:


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Hello and welcome to ResearchPod. Thank you for listening and joining us today.


In this episode, we’ll delve into the research of Professor Dr Daniela Rastetter and Dr Christiane Juengling which explains how the use of micropolitics, and emotional regulation can help female managers advance their careers and overcome gender stereotyping within the workplace.


Workplace politics is such a common phenomenon that many books have been published on the subject. However, few have focused on the effects of gender within office dynamics. Professional workplaces are still a typically male dominated arena, especially in relation to leadership roles. This creates pressure and confusion for female managers around how they should behave. Do they conform to feminine stereotypes or try and adapt their behaviour to fit the mould set by male role models?


Dr Rastetter from the University of Hamburg and Dr Juengling have written a paper focusing on the different expectations and rules for how men and women may display their emotions within the workplace. They argue that female managers need to take powerful political actions whether they wish to adapt their behaviour or conform to feminine stereotypes. In support of this, the authors developed a coaching strategy to help promote the strategic handling of emotions within the workplace. They hope this guidance will enable women in leadership positions to identify any stereotypically gendered expectations and develop their own tactical responses.


Since the 1990’s, there have been criticisms around gender blindness within organisational research. Social psychologists have even argued that gender specific structures within workplaces may always exist. Their rationale is that employees will continue to resort to gender stereotyping in professional interactions if this behaviour also persists in non-professional contexts. Dr Rastetter and Dr Juengling highlight that there are also differences in relation to gender stereotyping. In Germany, male manager stereotypes perpetuate, meaning leadership roles are associated with male characteristics by both men and women. Often gender stereotyping within the workplace positions feminine characteristics as emotional and masculine characteristics as more rational. Whilst organisations no longer view emotions as a disruptive factor for business, the authors believe different rules apply for both men and women around how their emotions should be shown and regulated.


Another key area of Dr Rastetter’s and Dr Juengling’s research is the relationship between gender and power within organisational politics. In this context, power is defined as the assertion of a persons will against another with and without resistance. Informal power struggles are very commonplace in business settings and in organization research referred to as micropolitics. Key tactics include creating coalitions with colleagues, networking and self-promotion but also pressure and sanctions. Micropolitics is mostly expressed through our communication with others. Actions such as checking your email in a meeting whilst someone is talking can be an example of micro-degradation, whilst maintaining friendly eye contact throughout conversations demonstrates micro-appreciation. Dr Rastetter and Dr Juengling believe that beyond a worker’s professional qualifications, improving a person’s competence in handling and expressing micropolitics is a principal factor for success in in the workplace.


Dr Rastetter and Dr Juengling are convinced that micropolitical competence is a strategic skill and have developed a coaching model to help advise individuals, particularly woman, how to incorporate this within their professional careers. The Micropolitical Competence Model is composed of four elements including professional competence, activity competence, social-communitive competence, and self-competence.


The first element is self-competence which focuses on what you are willing to do. The authors emphasise that micropolitics requires a positive approach. Individuals must engage in reflecting on their own values and goals. Therefore, it requires a good perception of your internal and external self. To effectively utilise micropolitics it is advantageous for the individual to align their political actions with their own beliefs. Research has shown that females are typically less focused on success, advancement and gaining power in the workplace, therefore these qualities must be consciously integrated into a woman’s self-image.


The second element of the model is professional competence. Therefore, individuals need to build up knowledge about how to identify and analyse micropolitical behaviours as well as respond tactically. Dr Rastetter and Dr Juengling believe women can overestimate the influence of their professional knowledge due to their strong educational backgrounds, leading them to underestimate the role of politics. An example of this is to overlook the impact of gender stereotyping in the workplace.


The third element of the model is acting competence which focuses on what actions individuals should take in relation to micropolitics. The authors highlight that we need to be able to act upon our own initiative in a political context, which requires confidence and self-esteem. This is something that can be built through experience and by exploring different actions. Mentoring, training, and coaching programs can all help with the learning process.


The fourth and final element is social communicative confidence which is the ability to interpret how to act amongst colleagues and work partners within specific social contexts. The norms and values of your organisation may shape some of these actions, but having flexibility is one of the most crucial factors. This is particularly vital when empathising with others, as strategies need to be constantly adapted to help build relationships.


The purposeful use of emotions within in a professional context is called emotional labour and is becoming more relevant within organisations. Dr Rastetter and Dr Juengling highlight that managing emotions in the workplace is a key political action and one that is subject to gender stereotyping. They believe that if women display typical female emotions, it may be considered atypical for a manager role but if they withhold their emotions, they may be disliked for their dominant leadership style, leading to a no-win situation. In interviews and discussions junior female managers described various implicit expectations that they perceive in their work environment.


The first expectation is to be cool and confident. Women in managerial positions often need to be deliberately tougher to provide clear direction for their employees. Displays of fear or sadness are at odds with this and diminish leadership power.


The second expectation they meet with is to ignore sexual harassment and control sexual attraction in the workplace. Dr Rastetter and Dr Juengling acknowledge that this can be very challenging to achieve. Many women fear that open rejection of sexual harassment is too aggressive, instead opting to ignore or avoid the situation. In terms of sexual attraction, it is important to be able to communicate confidently but also keep a professional distance.


The third expectation is to be caring and responsible. However, being caring complies with the typical female mothering stereotype, which can be viewed as a weakness in the workplace and prevent career advancement.


The fourth expectation is to never be aggressive. Expressing anger and aggression in the workplace is viewed differently for men than women. It is often suggested that female managers should try to remain neutral however withholding emotions can make them lack authenticity. Therefore, the authors believe it is important for women to have a positive and constructive relationship with aggression.


Throughout Dr Rastetters and Dr Juenglings work, they highlight how difficult it can be for female managers, particularly in relation to career advancement. Currently, male manager stereotypes dictate emotional norms, leaving woman confused whether to comply or buck this trend. The authors believe that the more women take on leadership roles, the greater the scope to alter these stereotypes and change existing emotional norms.


The pair encourage micropolitical competence to help women advance into these leadership positions. Their key advice for individuals wanting to achieve advancement in their careers is to be self-reflective and separate their own personality from their professional role, whilst politically managing their emotions. They postulate that gender sensitive micropolitical coaching will help women to break current stereotypes and excel in their chosen careers.


That’s all for this episode, thanks for listening. Don’t forget to subscribe to ResearchPod for more detailed breakdowns of the latest academic research. See you next time!

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