Why is Assertiveness in women seen as aggressiveness? Taking a dig at the corporate gender equity

4 min readNov 10, 2021


When a woman speaks her mind, is assertive and confident, more often than not, she is labelled as aggressive. Here’s why it happens.

Scenario 1:

Izzie: So, as I was saying, we need to get the numbers up. Why isn’t our strategy working? Guys, I want an explanation for…
Robin: Calm down, Iz. No need to get so aggressive.

How many times has someone interrupted you by asking you to calm down when you were presenting something you were really passionate about? How many times have your colleagues asked you to be less aggressive? Did it shake your confidence too?
Well, you are not alone.

For example, here Izzie was obviously leading the meeting and sorting some issues out with her team when Robin interrupted her, asking her to take it easy. This scenario is common in most boardroom meetings, where the female executive’s assertiveness is seen as aggressiveness. This is usually done by a male colleague in most instances.

What’s the difference between aggressiveness and assertiveness?

Being assertive means being able to clearly and confidently communicate your ideas. It means being direct about what you wish to say, having the courage to speak up whenever required, and taking firm decisions.

However, aggressive means using or showing force while keeping your point. It means not letting the other person have an opinion or not allowing them to say what they want to.

When a woman speaks her mind, is assertive and confident, the world calls her aggressive. But when a man shows the same trait, they are called assertive. We hail the man as a leader based on the history of the gender that aligns them with leadership roles, whereas the woman gets stares as if she lost control. Many people do this to undermine the woman’s authority or the point she is trying to make. It is an indicator of gender bias in the workplace. This double standard is an apt explanation of the fact why women struggle to move forward in their corporate careers.

Gender stereotypes prescribe men to be dominating, competitive, and assertive, while expecting women to be warm, submissive, and nurturing. They receive something called gender backlash when they breach the stereotypes laid out for them. Women face an “assertiveness penalty” when they aspire to get ahead in the workplace. When men negotiate for higher positions, better salary or benefits, they are called ambitious, but women receive criticism for it.

In a 2008 study published in Psychological Science, it was revealed that “men received a boost in their perceived status after expressing anger. In contrast, “women who expressed anger were consistently accorded lower status and lower wages and were seen as less competent.” This happens when women try to stand up for themselves. A slight increase in volume is considered aggressiveness, which is enough to drown out whatever they are trying to say. This leads women to take on a more passive approach as their morale is shaken. It affects their psyche and confidence, throwing them off the topic in many cases.

More often than not, it is the other person who gets intimidated by you. They try to undermine you by commenting on the way you are talking. Unfortunately, this seems to work. According to the Centre for creative leadership, 2015, “Women are twice as likely to be branded as bossy in the workplace than men.” Men are termed as a boss while women as bossy. Assertive women face backlash at workplaces while the men garner respect. Also, when women try to mimic the communication style of their male counterparts, society is quick to call them aggressive and dismiss them.

We wish to tell all the women who have experienced this that you were not as aggressive as you think you were. The other person was most likely intimated by you and had nothing to counter you on. You go, girl.

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