“Run like a girl,” “throw like a girl,” “scream like a girl” – why has this become synonymous with weakness and ineptitude? LIKE A GIRL seems to be the most offensive statement to ensure the recipient of this commentary is offended and motivated towards behavioural change. Its purpose is to patronise.

As the mother of two boys, 12 and 8 years old, I have noticed how this term, LIKE A GIRL, has been used to offend. Therefore, I naturally feel obliged to ensure LIKE A GIRL gets an associated-meaning-shift in my household. I have had to consciously censor commentary on behaviours which traditionally would have been referred to as LIKE A GIRL. I also have the responsibility to present a non-traditional model of LIKE A GIRL, as the only female in an otherwise male household. Even the dog is male. Definitely a poor implementation of my veto vote.

I therefore ensure that my boys know ‘running LIKE A GIRL’ can very well mean conquering mountainous trail runs, completing marathons and ultra-marathons, and being unapologetic of my time with my female running friends.

‘Throwing LIKE A GIRL’ means the perfect throwing-form gained from biomechanical understanding, years of sport coaching and pin-point accuracy when playing stingers in the back garden.

‘Screaming/crying/laughing LIKE A GIRL’ is the authentic vocal and physiological expressions of genuine, valid and necessary emotions.

‘Leading LIKE A GIRL’ is an area which also has widespread negative connotations.

As mentioned, I am a mother of two young boys and in the traditional schooling system boys are often treated as defective girls. They are unable to sit still for extended periods of time, like a girl. They are not known to take the time to draw pretty picture, which will make their workbooks look fabulous, like a girl. And they play rough games in the playground, coming back to class with dirt on their uniforms. It’s expected, and it’s accepted.

Conversely, females in leadership and management roles are often viewed as defective males. They are not hard-nosed enough, they are not focussed enough as they have numerous other responsibilities to juggle, they are not assertive enough, they are not aggressive enough. But this is a double-edged sword faced by many females who take on these roles. If they show assertiveness, aggression and ninja-like focus they can also get called bossy, bitchy, cold-hearted, hard and unapproachable. Unfortunately, these labels are often given to female managers/leaders by other females. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

So how do we find the sweet spot? How do we get to “lead LIKE A GIRL,” ensuring it is not seen as negative or patronising, and lead successfully?

I, by no means, have the definitive answers, but here is what I have learnt about leading LIKE A GIRL from my time in various organisations, in numerous management and leadership roles, and as the female lead in my family’s real-life romantic comedy drama adventure:

Empathy

Empathy is often a highly developed capability in females. Embrace it. If you see someone is not okay, ask them about it, offer to make them a cup of tea, and if you know them well enough, offer them a hug. All too often people are just in need of some human connection. I once saw a lady sitting in a car crying. I stopped and asked her if she was okay. She was suffering from pre-job interview anxiety, so I offered her a hug. She declined (unsurprisingly – I was a complete stranger) but I made her smile. Hopefully that made her feel a bit better.

Verbalise

A generalisation here, but females like to verbalise, use this to your advantage. Talk to people; everyone, not just those in your organisation with whom you think you need to talk for career advancement. Ask questions about their lives. Show you care, then ask about the sick parent/weekend plans/wedding they mentioned that last time you spoke. This really shows that you were listening. This will ensure that these members of your team and organisation will be more willing to contribute to work related discussions as they will know they are being listened to and their voice is being heard.

Listen

Listen to hear, not to answer. People often need to vent, make a point, or express an opinion. As a leader you need to give people the space and freedom to talk and be heard (benefits outlined in previous point).

Don’t Copy The Male Example

Do not succumb to the pressure to be more “male” in your leadership and management style. Do not feel the need to be more assertive/aggressive or forceful than you would have been previous to your appointment to a management/leadership role. To be promoted, you must have been doing something right. Keep doing that. Don’t change who you intrinsically are to try and fit into a perceived box of how leadership /management behaves.

It’s Okay To Not Be Liked

Not everyone is going to like you and that is okay. Even the most accomplished of female professionals worry about being liked, and I for one suffer from this, the almost perpetual need to be liked. That is not life’s reality. Deal with it and move on. Do not try to win friends by changing who you are. People will either like you or not and actually, what other people say/think about you is none of your business!

Take Time For Yourself

Never apologise for taking time to care for yourself or family. As females we are often the default carers and administrators for elderly parents, children and seemingly endless household administration. Ensure you are unapologetic about taking the time for self-care and your mental health. Here, lead by example to all who may be looking to you for appropriate responses to challenging times. Martyrdom is not an admirable quality, it just makes you sick, grumpy and a perpetual whinger in my opinion.

Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

You are completely replaceable in any organisation. Harsh, but true.

Be A Leader, Not A Boss

You do not need to be in a management position to be a leader in an organisation. There is a big difference between a boss and leader. Bosses are prescriptive of behaviour; leaders are capable of inspiring progressive behaviours.

 

I guess ultimately, the point I am trying to convey is that as a female in a leadership or management role, you have a great responsibility to ensure all those with whom you interact do not feel like you are trying too hard to be a “boss”, but that they are left with the reassurance that you are there to listen, to direct, to advise, and lead with an empathetic and confident stance which can only be described by the emotive and all-encompassing expression of LIKE A GIRL.

I therefore encourage all of you to embrace your uniquely female characteristics, however they may play out, and LEAD LIKE A GIRL!

Watch this YouTube video for further encouragement to ensure that “LIKE A GIRL” means amazing things.

Julie Hendricks
Julie is a multifaceted mother, wife and NGO Programme manager who is motivated by the development of human potential. She uses her more than 17-years’ experience in the Sport, Education, Art and NGO space to facilitate this potential development via leadership development programmes, CSI programme development and implementation as well as facilitating various development workshops in the Youth Leadership space. Julie is a citizen of the world, having lived, travelled and worked in numerous countries which have contributed to an interesting skills matrix which spans sport, education, facilitation, project management and art. Currently, she is focussing on taking the steps to ensure she and her family, live their best lives.