• Erin Engelke

Women at Work: Can You Be Both Firm and Nurturing?

Women in the workplace are too often viewed as "soft" and unable to be decisive and firm as leaders...which couldn't be any further from the truth.

My family loves the chance to visit me at work. This photo was taken just one week after my new role started as Executive Director at Calm Waters.

I don’t know about you, but I love the fact that women are different from men. We’re remarkable, really, having been born with qualities that make us pretty darn unique.

Most of us were born with keen instincts. You know, the kind of instinct that tells you the reason your daughter has been quiet in her room for too long is likely because she’s drawn unicorns in permanent marker on her walls.


We also take the cake for being the best nurturers on the planet.

We can kiss a boo-boo goodbye in a matter of seconds and we can hug away the pain after a friend has hurt our son’s feelings.

Couple that with our perceptive abilities to know exactly how to calmly break up an argument between siblings, and we’re about the next best thing to sliced bread.


But take these amazing characteristics into the workplace and they’re not always perceived as being beneficial. In fact, a nurturing female employee, particularly managers, are often viewed as too “soft”, easy to persuade and lackadaisical.


Nurturing women at work are also viewed as incapable or unwilling to hold people accountable – to have a firm stance when needed.


But having a sense of being fair and just, alongside our female intuition, warmth and kindness, are actually some of the strongest traits women have in the workplace.

When women act decisively and behave dominantly at work, they are seen as unapproachable and unlikeable, in part because they are disobeying the cultural norms associated with female niceness. When men act the same way, however, they are highly regarded as being strong and authoritative leaders. So is it possible to be both firm and nurturing at work? In other words, can women successfully balance being competent and strong along with being warm and approachable?


I certainly believe so.


But it begins with establishing credibility with our colleagues and staff. It takes an investment of time to personally know the people you work with, especially those who report to you, and letting them getting to know you as well. Understand where they’re coming from and build a relationship. Once trust is established, your co-workers will be more open and receptive to your occasional dominance, not to mention respect you.


It also takes the fortitude to stand up when necessary. To be strong, and not be afraid to speak your mind when it’s to the betterment of your work.


And sometimes it takes a smile, even when you need to be firm.

Let’s not apologize for what makes us as women unique and instead be proud that we can be both strong and nurturing…both at home and at work.

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