February 23, 2022

Women leaders often juggle conflicting messages about how to behave at work if they hope to get ahead: be nice, but not too nice; be ambitious, but not intimidating; be assertive, but never the “B” word: bossy.

New research from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business finds there are some traits –independence, diligence, and competence – associated with women leaders that actually help them seem more promotable. However, according to the research forthcoming in the Journal of Applied Psychology, there is still one thing many women leaders shouldn’t be in the 21st century if they want to get ahead: dominant.

“In an ideal world, women in leadership wouldn’t have to worry about these contrasting views and could just be their authentic selves. Unfortunately, according to our research, that’s not an accurate portrayal of reality,” said diversity and leadership scholar Ashleigh Shelby Rosette, an author of the paper, which has been designated by journal editors as a monograph or groundbreaking work. “We know that in many organizations women are in short supply in top leader roles. How women are perceived at important junctures throughout their careers can significantly influence who’s at the top and who’s at the bottom, so we wanted to evaluate what makes women seem more promotable.”