Beware Girl! You may pay for being assertive at work



Organisations and workplaces cannot thrive if employees, regardless of gender don’t speak up. But, what if peers discriminate a person, just for being assertive? Unfortunately, gender inequality is more than a paradox in today’s workplace reality.

In the corporate culture, women are supposed to be caring and patient, even in adverse situations and their assertive attitude is more often considered as offensive and outrageous, but in case of men this is just a sign of boldness or resultant work stress. Consequently, women experience a more punishing backlash than men and they are the soft victims of emotional inequality in the workplace.

Emotional inequality needs to be addressed seriously at both organisational as well as social levels. Because biased and partial approach doesn’t only affect productivity of female employees, but to a greater extent it is a threat to their liberty and prestige.

Gauging the loss
Loss in status: 16 per cent more than men
Loss in perceived competency: 13 per cent more than men.
Loss in perceived worth: More than twice than that of men.

Moreover, the parameters of judging the good or bad traits should be the same for both the genders and same criterion must be applied for penalising the wrong behaviour. A research by VitalSmarts revealed how social backlash and emotional-inequality affect the two genders. Women’s perceived competency drops by 35 per cent, while men’s only by 22 per cent and their perceived worth by $15,088 as against men’s $6,547 when they behave assertively at the workplace.

Moreover, women’s status drops by 41 per cent, whereas men’s by just 25 per cent. In addition, their perceived worth (what observers felt would be a fair salary) dropped by more than twice that of the perceived worth of men.

This research conveys that biased perception against women is not just unfair, but it is often unconscious and unintentional which makes it even harder to address.

How to break the glass ceiling

Emotional disagreements require special skills, but these are skills that anyone can learn.

As an individual begin by reading a book on the topic, participating in a webinar, or taking an online course.

On the other hand, leaders need to make it safe for employees to speak boldly about their beliefs, they need to acknowledge that women experience this social backlash more than men. They need to address these problems within their own teams, otherwise, this could perpetuate the problem, or even make it worse.


  1. Identify times, places, and circumstances when these problems are likely, and cue people in those moments to guard against them.
  2. Leaders should take concrete action that shows commitment to counteract the implicit bias women face in the workplace.
  3. Focus on the content of what people are saying and avoid discussing any strong emotions that they  show.
  4.  Leaders can create times, places, and circumstances where speaking forcefully is expected, even required. For example, have an agenda item that asks people to speak forcefully about the issue being discussed. This approach would provide a clear external reason for speakers’ passion and would thus reduce observers’ tendency to assume that they’d lost their temper.
  5. Training can be a powerful way to help others learn the skills they need in order to create conversational safety. This benefits both sides in a conversation and allows individuals and teams to discuss tough issues that affect organisational results across the board from quality to safety to employee engagement and morale.

About the Author

Yogesh Sood, CMD, VitalSmarts India. Articles published on The Tribune