When writing the Wonder Women book, the stories and interviews revealed some interesting female archetypes which we’d like to share with you. We identified these primarily in the Old World of marketing, but we’d love your comments on whether or not these are still prevalent today’s New World, together with any other new archetypes our readers may have identified.
BEING MORE LIKE A MANThere is a famous line (and song title) from the 1964 movie “My Fair Lady”, where Professor Henry Higgins is exasperated at his attempts to transform Eliza Doolittle into a cultured member of high society and asks, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?”
‘Being more like a man’ was just one of the archetypes we discovered when talking to women who were successful or who had successful female bosses in the world of marketing in the 70s, 80s and 90s. To survive and thrive in a business environment set up by men for men, many women felt they had to beat them at their own game by taking on the harder ‘male’ characteristics – aggressive, extrovert, competitive, ruthless – and playing down the softer (and perceived weaker) female characteristics.
Wendy Gordon told us about a study she conducted in the 80s about what makes a successful woman in business. She interviewed heads of planning and MDs of ad agencies and identified another two archetypes – we’ve changed the names based on further interviews we’ve done, but the characteristics are the same.
AI – ATTRACTIVE INTELLIGENCE‘AI – Attractive Intelligence’ was where women used their attractiveness and intellect to their advantage. They were good looking, highly intelligent, well-educated, vivacious, charming and had been told (especially by their fathers) that they could be and do anything they wanted – no barriers
PROVE THEM WRONG‘Prove them wrong’ were women who fought their way through prejudice, they relished a challenge, were prepared to fight for their rights, stood firm and pushed themselves forward. If someone told them they couldn’t do something, their mission was to prove that person wrong (the stories we’ve written of Mary Wells Lawrence and Cindy Gallop are examples of this). Another famous case would be the Oprah Winfrey story where she explains, “The reason I’m so rich is that the studios said that I wouldn’t build the audience to the size it did – so I negotiated a huge percentage. That’s what’s made me successful – everyone predicted I would fail.”
These three routes to success required a huge amount of strength and self-confidence, but we also discovered examples of tenacious women who simply got on with it another way.
OUTWORK THEM‘Outwork them’ were women who diligently worked twice as hard as men, proved they could do an excellent job and had the confidence that their contribution would (in the end) be recognised. They accepted that their success would be slower and steadier, but they would get there through steadfast determination and extraordinary grace (the Sara Blakely story fits this model).
SMILE AND MOVE ONOur fifth archetype is ‘Smile and move on’ is an impressive demonstration of women’s resilience in the face of overt sexism and unconscious bias. Women were frequently talked over, their ideas dismissed or ignored (only to be applauded when raised later by a man), there were countless assumptions that the more junior male was the boss, and women in senior roles were even addressed as ‘sugar’ or ‘honey’! What all these women had was a marvelous sense of humour and had worked out strategies to ‘humour’ men who demonstrated these behaviours. They understood it was the men’s attitudes that were the problem, not the women.
This was mentioned numerous times in various interviews. Edwina Dunn told us about a famous Punch cartoon, where a group of male executives and one female executive are sitting around a table and one of the men says, “That’s very good Miss Tiggs, now if one of the men would like to make the same point, we can all move on.”
Obviously, not all women fit neatly into any single archetype; it’s often a combination of a few or all of these traits which has led to a woman’s success.
What is interesting about these archetypes of the Old World, is that individual women were struggling mainly on their own. A woman in a senior role was the exception, and women were fighting so hard for their own success that they didn’t have time to think or worry about other women.
What has changed so significantly in today’s world is that the collective voice of women is now emerging strong and clear and it’s being amplified by the more enlightened men amongst us. We now understand that the problem is prejudice and unconscious bias, the problem lies with organisations who overlook women and prevent them from contributing their skills and qualities in the workplace, the problem is perceiving women’s strengths as weaknesses.
The world, where quiet women were ignored and loud women may have been heard but were at best ignored or at worst called shrill and pushy, is changing fast. Women in the past, present and future are emerging as a powerful force for good and we’re identifying an inspirational set of new female role models.