Be assertive. Speak out. Lean in. The world of work continues to tell women what they have to do to succeed in a hyper competitive business environment.
But some are getting tired of being told how to fit in, and in Vietnam some are now pushing back against these demands. They say the status quo is a work culture created by men, one that forces women to assimilate. In place of this, women are asserting new skills — like listening, or taking care of the group — that they think don’t get enough attention from employers.
“I want to become a leader like my mother, someone who both does well in my work, as well as takes care of my family, bringing up five children,” said Ha Thu Thanh, chairwoman of the accounting firm Deloitte Vietnam.
Forkast News founder Angie Lau said there are certain skills typically associated with women, but they should be encouraged in men, too. “The women here have the skills that are absolutely in demand for the economy that will be tomorrow — empathy, vulnerability, sensitivity, compassion, kindness, listening,” she said at a Forbes women’s conference in Ho Chi Minh City. “These are skills that we are not necessarily born with, but it’s actually encouraged and nurtured for women.”
Vulnerability and kindness are not obvious tools to get ahead in one’s career. But that could be an outdated product of history: Most office cultures were formed starting decades ago, at a time when women were shut out of many professions, leaving men to shape those cultures. Lau noted both women and men have been socialized to believe they naturally have different traits, that one gender is more authoritative, or that another is more emotional. So with men in charge for so long, it’s no surprise that offices came to favor traits considered masculine, from beating out the competition, to boasting of one’s triumphs.
But what if a company rewarded the modest, as well as the boastful? The competitive, as well as the collaborative? Women are challenging old ideas of what it means to succeed professionally. Instead of just changing themselves to fit the work environment, they are changing the environment to include them, to value a broader set of skills.