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Gabriela Cora, M.D., M.B.A.
Gabriela Cora M.D., M.B.A.

Why Do Women Leaders Get a Bad Rap?

An assertive woman? Many would sooner call her aggressive.

Let’s get real, if a woman leader shows her strength and assertiveness with no apologies, many will say she is ruthless. And, if she shows a tear in the corner of her eye, others will wonder if she’s an emotional wreck.

A woman in power struggles constantly with finding an agreeable midpoint: her bosses, employees, or colleagues will call her aggressive when she’s asserting herself. Others will find her style robotic when she’s just focusing on the points she needs to address in an objective way. Assertiveness, strategic approaches, and focused actions have been leadership qualities that are more traditionally attributed to males. Instead, many people feel more comfortable around women with a more traditionally female-style: a woman who smiles and mediates discord, a woman who will back off and never come off too strong in an argument, even if her point remains vague, or a woman who will show her sensitivity and seem to empathize with everyone’s feelings in spite of not getting the job done.

Interestingly, these are observable characteristics in our current democratic political candidates. Yet, our female candidate seems to have more traditionally male traits whereas our male candidate seems to show more of the traditionally female qualities: while Hillary Clinton exerts strong leadership characteristics, if she were a male, few people would question her leadership attributes.

Instead, Barack Obama seems to be liked because of his charm as he tries to bring people together, avoiding confrontations, being vague in making some decisions, addressing the togetherness rather than the core issues. Interestingly, though, would people wonder about Hillary ‘s leadership in the same way if she were a man? Would she be criticized in the same manner for confronting her opponent in ads, just like every other politician has done in previous elections? Would anyone criticize her if she showed any emotion?

On the other hand, if Obama were a female candidate with the same characteristics, would people see him as a strong leader? Would the country see him as someone who can make his own decisions without paying back all the political favors of his supporters and hold his own convictions? Could he lead a nation with internal struggles as well as have the international presence, experience, and ability to address issues at the core resolving both in a mediating style as well as in a position of power? And, perhaps, more importantly, would anyone believe he could and vote for him to try?

A strong woman in power will maximize her position, asserting herself in the key issues, addressing them at the core and yet, she will be aware and connected with her audience, listening to their stories, empathizing with their challenges, and proposing the commitment to help them out in every possible way. After all, for all of us looking up to them, all we want is someone who will take care of business, focusing their time in resolving issues rather than in trying to destroy their opponent, someone who knows both because of thorough knowledge and experience and someone who cares. Great leaders, both male and female, will connect in this way to get things done.


DR. GABY CORA is author of Alpha Female and Leading under Pressure. She's a medical doctor and board-certified psychiatrist and practices integrative psychiatry at the Florida Neuroscience Center. In addition to her doctorate degree, she has a master’s in business administration and is a corporate consultant and wellness coach with the Executive Health & Wealth Institute.

About the Author
Gabriela Cora, M.D., M.B.A.

Gabriela Cora, M.D., M.B.A., hosts Dr. Gaby's Take: Make Life Interesting. She’s a medical doctor with a master's in business administration.

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