In “Penalties for Success: Reactions to Women Who Succeed at Male Gender-Typed Tasks”[i],
Dr. Madeline E. Heilman found that “successful women were characterized as more selfish, manipulative and untrustworthy--your typical constellation of 'bitchy' characteristic”.
Adding salt to the wound, our evolutionary history does suggest that women may indeed be more manipulative. Professor Menelaus Apostolou at the University of Nicosia argued that with generations of male domination over female, “men’s greater physical strength and control of resources exert an evolutionary pressure on women to become more manipulative in order to counterbalance these male advantages and promote their own interests”[ii].
Is it possible that women are indeed more manipulative than men? Is it possible that the lower likeability faced by successful women is not a gender stereotype but instead, is well-founded because women’s stronger manipulation skills brought them success?
Both questions above are empirical questions in which I have no answer for. And I doubt that any social scientist can ever find answers to them. However, what this piece seeks to answer is – are women more manipulative or are women better in managing their circle of influence?
In Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, he argued that effective people are proactive people who strive to widen their circle of influence (things that they can do something about) and shrink their circle of concern (things that they have little or no control). Following this line of thought, I argue that women who are successful in their jobs are not manipulative, but are effective people who have a large circle of influence.
Professor Apostolou listed the manipulative tactics to be threats, charm, monetary rewards, reason, the silent treatment, social comparison, shame, promises of future benefit, rewards, cajolery, and appeals to loyalty. While the above tactics may be true in family setting (which Prof. Apostolou’s paper focuses on), not all of the above tactics apply in a work setting. Needless to say, giving a silent treatment to your co-worker gets you nowhere. Conversely, giving a silent treatment to your children gets you quite a lot, most of the time.
Analysing the dynamics in a workplace, what gets you far is getting others to help you succeed in your goals. You and your colleagues will have different goals. But by aligning their goals with your goals, you are borrowing their strength to assist you in achieving your goals. Such tactics to promote success in workplace may at times be mistaken as being manipulative. Indeed, there is a fine line between manipulation and other positive attributes such as aligning goals, persuasion, leading from behind.
Take for example that you, as a manager, are in a need of few personnels from another team. By openly asking or worse, demanding, for resources for your own benefit, you are likely to be viewed negatively. However, if you couch this request in a more positive note by highlighting the learning opportunities that these personnels will receive and that they will return to their original teams better than before, your request will be viewed in a much more positive light.
Was the above manipulative? I would argue that no, the above was not manipulative. The facts remained the same and no deception was involved. It is clear that we can't control whether we will receive extra resources but we can definitely influence the perception of our request. While a male manager may use his authority and the importance of his project to ask for extra resources, a female manager could conceivably use the method that I suggested above.
The use of physical strength and threat of authority has never been the forte of women and it might never be. Our evolutionary history may dictate the use other methods and I argue that women promote their own interest by extending their circle of influence, not by manipulative tactics.
[i] Madeline E. Heilman et al., “Penalties for Success: Reactions to Women Who Succeed at Male Gender-Typed Tasks,” Journal of Applied Psychology 89, no. 3 (2004): 416–27
[ii] Menelaos Apostolou, “Parental Mate Choice Manipulation Tactics: Exploring Prevalence, Sex and Personality Effects”, Evolutionary Psychology Journal 12, no. 3 (2014): 588-620