Women may be entering the workforce in droves, but that doesn't mean they're treated equally. Unlike their male counterparts, women in positions of power are often expected to navigate a fine line between authority and femininity — two things that society tends to think of as mutually exclusive, even though they're absolutely not. As such, these "Non-Threatening Leadership Strategies for Women" illustrated by Sarah Cooper may be satirical, but like all good satire, they're not actually much of an exaggeration — and, indeed, they make some really important points.
Cooper is a writer, comedian and creator of TheCooperReview.com; her first book, entitled 100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings, is due out on Oct. 4. (Sign up for her free email newsletter for updates.) With illustrations like "10 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings" and "How to Politely Tell Your Coworkers to Shut the F*ck Up," The Cooper Review tends to focus on broader corporate satire, but a recent post focuses on the sexism virtually every woman encounters in her place of employment. Even aside from sexual harassment, women are constantly told how to act at work — be assertive, but not too assertive; lean in, but not too far; show some emotion, but not too much. If a woman swings too far in either direction, she runs the risk of upstaging her male coworkers. Quelle horreur!
Cooper tells Bustle over email that she drew upon her time in the corporate world for inspiration. "I came up with the situations from my own experience, as well as stories I've heard from friends and coworkers," she writes. "I think this resonates because these situations — like minimizing your ideas, or being overly polite in emails — are things we all deal with."
For instance, rather than confidently presenting an idea, these non-threatening leadership strategies suggest talking around it in the vaguest possible terms. The more an idea appears to a total accident of fate, the better.
If the idea is shot down — which is entirely possible, given how little worth is frequently assigned to women's ideas — put on your happiest face if your male coworker steals it. Of course, this is the same face you should make when someone tries to explain a concept to you, the local expert in said concept. In the Cooper Review post, Cooper explains that allowing someone to mansplain to you "make[s] him feel useful and will give you some time to think about out how to avoid him in the future."
The illustrations are simultaneously cringe-inducing and hilarious because they're so relatable. Study after study shows that even in 2016, the vast majority of women are subject to a gamut of sexism — benevolent or otherwise — at work. This is especially true of those who don't fit the traditional "working woman" mold, such as women who work in male-dominated professions or who occupy positions of authority. Earlier this year, the Elephant in the Valley survey found that a full 84 percent of women working in Silicon Valley had been told they were too aggressive, and a 2012 study suggested that women are less likely to receive leadership roles than their male coworkers. It's not that women are any less capable than men, but that the same qualities applauded in a powerful man are seen as less desirable in a powerful woman.
Cooper notes that she sees this in action all the time. "Just the other day I overheard a woman asking a question by prefacing it with 'Sorry for my ignorance here...' and it made me cringe," she tells Bustle. "I struggled writing this because I didn't want it to seem like I was making fun of women — I'm making fun of the fact that we shouldn't have to change the way we talk or behave to seem less threatening." She adds that she has also found herself changing her own behavior despite her best efforts. "Unfortunately though, I was (and still am) guilty of doing this," she writes.
Although sexism in the workplace is a serious subject, that doesn't mean you can't laugh at it — and, indeed, one of the points of good comedy is to reveal truths we might not otherwise see. Check out the rest of the "Non-Threatening Leadership Strategies for Women" illustrations over at The Cooper Review, and remember: If all else fails, you can always stick on a mustache when you want to be taken seriously.
Images courtesy of Sarah Cooper/TheCooperReview.com (3)