Up to this day and age, women continue to be underrated, underrepresented, and generally everything under—. This is particularly true in the arena of politics and STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Medicine). And one of the significant reasons for this is because there are those among us who shy away from being assertive.
But what does the term “assertive” mean? The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “behaving confidently and able to say in a direct way what you want or believe.”
Being assertive is intrinsic to success. Leadership thought leader Joseph Folkman and his team at leadership development firms Novations and Zenger Folkman conducted research which showed that leaders with high assertiveness and good judgment have a 71 percent chance of being rated as one of the best leaders.
A survey of 375 men and women workers in a Dutch electronics company revealed that “assertive employees, regardless of gender, were compensated more, whereas agreeable employees were compensated less.” The caveat in that particular study, however, is that women are still paid less than their male counterparts, regardless of their assertiveness.
But all this goes to show that in order for women to break the glass ceiling and receive equal treatment, we all have to band together and find our voice. And to do that, we have to be able to cultivate female assertiveness. Personally, I strongly believe that going after what you want, standing up for what you believe, and pushing for the change that you like to see in this world as a woman can only happen if you are assertive enough.
Unfortunately, cultural and social barriers to female assertiveness remain the same. A study showed that even audacious young girls tend to lose their voices when they hit puberty due to self-esteem issues and culture, plus societal pressure to adhere to the so-called feminine ideal.
Femininity, according to the online Macmillan Dictionary are “qualities that are considered to be typical of women, for example, the quality of being gentle and delicate.” These are important characteristics of women but these do not encompass the whole gamut of what makes a woman feminine. It is for this reason that I totally agree with Kaya Day’s critique of society and modern dictionaries’ definitions of what makes a woman.
What’s more, there is a very fine line that every woman treads — between being assertive and being labelled a bitch. And this is something that women always face, sometimes even on a daily basis. I remember Hillary Clinton when she talked about how during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign,”her face, her body, her voice, her demeanour were scrutinised” and her stature diminished. She couldn’t be too careful as to be labeled cold while she also couldn’t be too strident as to be called a bitch.
So how do we go about being more assertive while not exactly losing our own individual identities as women?
Here, I list some tips from what I have learned in my career in political communications and more generally, from what I have observed. Not all of these things necessarily apply to all women, and may be different depending on scenarios. So please consider this as you read each point.
Tip #1: Know yourself.
It’s always important to take stock of your strengths and weaknesses. That way, you will know how to leverage each of these to reach your goals. Assertive people often use this knowledge to further improve oneself, to test limits and go beyond it. You want to go into politics, feel free to do so. But be ready. You need to know what sort of skills you have to be able to break into this male-dominated world. If your interest is in science, let no one stop you.
Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr, considered “the most beautiful woman in the world” did not let her day job as an actress stop her from engaging in scientific experiments and in inventing the Lamarr brainwave, intended for a World War II secret communication system that aimed to guide radio-controlled missiles to move undetected by the enemy. Said Lamarr brainwave is the forerunner of today’s wifi, Bluetooth and GPS.
Tip #2: Be courageous.
We face lots of challenges as individuals, and as women particularly. The important thing is to have the courage to forge ahead and have a battle plan ready to combat the obstacles that may be on the way. In my previous job in the Philippine peace process, I worked for a woman peace process adviser, Teresita Quintos Deles, and a woman chief peace negotiator, Miriam Coronal-Ferrer who both possess iron wills and the fortitude to take on all the hurdles, and the political heckling in order to lay the foundations of peace to a troubled region in the south of the country. Despite insulting and degrading online memes, and political persecution after a botched police anti-terrorism operation in which they were not even a party to, they still stayed true to their course. While they had to leave their positions at the end of the previous administration, they remain committed to helping steer the path to peace.'I strongly believe that going after what you want, standing up for what you believe, and pushing for the change that you like to see in this world as a woman can only happen if you are assertive enough...'Click To Tweet
Tip #3: Prepare to fail and learn from it.
In life, you will fail. Not just once or twice, but over and over again. However, assertive people do not lose heart and instead learn from failures and build strengths from there. So you did not get the job that you were aiming for? That’s entirely fine. You’ve made a mistake? That’s fine too. What is important is you pick yourself up, learn from your experience, and trudge on.
As Margaret Hamilton, the woman software engineer who took man to the moon said: “One should not be afraid to say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t understand,’ or to ask ‘dumb’ questions since no question is a dumb question. To continue even when things appear to be impossible, even when the so-called experts say it is impossible; to stand alone or to be different; and not to be afraid to be wrong or to make and admit mistakes, for only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
Tip #4: Be open to possibilities.
While being assertive celebrates conviction, it is also about keeping an open mind. Be open to ideas from others, to new ways of doing things, to constantly improving. It is by adhering to this that you develop yourself and become a better person. U.S. National Institutes of Health Deputy Director Belinda Seto relates a nugget of wisdom from noted American biochemist Thressa Stadtman: Experiments that go as predicted are not informative; they don’t break new ground. Science should be filled with surprises.”
Tip #5: Stay humble and be kind.
The best thing about being a woman is the intrinsic nature of being humble and nurturing. As we all try to be more assertive, let us at the same time continue to remain true to what is naturally part and parcel of being a woman, by being kind to others. We cannot move forward and achieve real success if we are too proud, or if we step on and take advantage of others. As America’s beloved poet and author Maya Angelou said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
I sincerely hope that these five tips can help you, your woman friends, your sisters or daughters develop the assertiveness that we all need in order to get ahead in life and in the struggles of being a woman.
**If you enjoyed, learned from, or felt empowered after reading this piece, we’d love for you to support us by donating to our Patreon or giving a once-off PayPal payment via the donate button below.**
Title image credit: Shutterstock