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The ‘gender penalty’ and how to overcome it

By Jack Campbell | |4 minute read

It can be difficult for women to stand out in male-dominated workplaces. The gender penalty can be prevalent and makes it hard to climb the ranks in an organisation.

Anneli Blundell, author of The Gender Penalty: Turning obstacles into opportunities for women at work, discussed these themes with HR Leader and how women can stand out in their roles.

“The gender penalty is the backlash women face when they try and enact career advice that typically works for men, but often backfires for women,” said Ms Blundell.


“The classic example is, ‘Could you be more assertive?’ And an assertive communicator is someone who is seen as more authoritative. And that typically works for men; if they’re more assertive, they seem to be more authoritative. But when women try and be more assertive, they are often seen as being more aggressive.”

There are ways to overcome the gender penalty. Standing out from the crowd and being confident in oneself is key, said Ms Blundell.

“[Women] can stand out predominantly by holding ground. There’s an idea that to stand out, you need to stand over, you need to be louder than or more than or almost overshadow other people in order to stand out. But really, it begins with holding ground,” she explained.

“So, people don’t stand over you, talk over you, overshadow you, steal credit for your ideas, things like that. This is one of the issues that women face under the communication penalty. Women are conditioned to be amenable, not authoritative.”

According to Ms Blundell, men tend to dominate 70 per cent of conversations. This can lead to women being spoken over, interrupted, discounted, or ignored.

Ms Blundell continued: “For women to stand out, they just need to stand their ground. And for boundaries in place to say, ‘I’m still speaking, please let me finish. Just hold a moment. You can have the floor in a minute.’ Things like that. And that will ensure that they’re taking up equal space, not more space than is necessary.”

Being assertive, showing confidence and holding your ground may seem daunting for a woman in a male-dominated workspace, but by shifting these norms and striving towards equality, these barriers can be broken down.

For more information on how to implement these themes, visit anneliblundell.com.

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.