To Get Ahead, Should Women Act More Like Men?

At a recent Q&A, an attendee asked Randi Zuckerberg if we are now in a world where the masculine way of doing business is better. Her answer might surprise you.


In the beginning stages of Facebook Live, Randi Zuckerberg was faced with an enormous risk. She received a call from Katy Perry’s team, saying that the singer wanted to launch her world tour on the platform.

“What I should say is, ‘Sorry, Katy Perry, you should go somewhere where there are viewers to launch your tour,’” recalls Zuckerberg. “And then I was like ‘What would my male colleagues do? They would want to meet Katy Perry! So, that’s what came out of my mouth, ‘Yes, Facebook Live is a very reputable television show and absolutely where you should launch.’”

The self-doubt Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media, felt at the time of her decision is familiar to most of us. It’s worth noting, however, that Zuckerberg found her confidence by trying to think like her male colleagues.

At a recent Q&A, part of Quartz’s How We’ll Win project dedicated to initiating and guiding the conversations and changes needed to create a more equitable workplace for women, an attendee asked Zuckerberg if we are now in a world where the stereotypically male or masculine way of being a business person is better.

“My frame of reference was Silicon Valley, where people are rewarded for being extreme risk-takers and living on the edge and going big,” shared Zuckerberg. “For me, the idea of taking a huge risk was so far from who I was at the core… If I’m going to survive in this world, I need to adopt some of these qualities of being unafraid to fail and risk-taking and those were qualities that I saw in men.”

There is no question that women often feel marginalized at work, especially when they find themselves to be the only woman at the table. Sam Saperstein, former Chief Marketing Officer for Commercial Banking at JPMorgan Chase & Co., is currently the Head of Women on the Move, an initiative by JPMorgan Chase to bring together all of the company’s programs for women across the bank globally. At the event, Saperstein shared, “I’ve been in very male-dominated environments in banking. I felt a little bit bullied, very alone, not able to connect with male colleagues and passed over for assignments that I felt went to men who might have looked more like the assignment manager.”

Oftentimes, women shy away from uncomfortable conversations or putting themselves forward for opportunities. We also tend to associate risk-taking, boldness, and even confidence with masculinity. “I think women grow up thinking they should be collaborative and sort of play that corporate game,” said Saperstein. “And I think the people who get ahead often don’t play that game, they play a different game. They ask for what they want, they go into their boss’ office all the time and ask for things – whether that’s a new job or more money. And I felt like I needed to do more of that and help other people do more of that.”

But incorporating stereotypically male characteristics at work does not always pan out for women. In many cases, women who are assertive or ambitious are viewed instead as aggressive or full of herself. Zuckerberg spoke about the consciousness many women have of “Tall Poppy Syndrome,” a perceived tendency to discredit or disparage those who have achieved notable wealth or prominence. “If you already stand out as a woman, you have to make sure you keep your head down if you do anything interesting or noticed, it’s going to get chopped off.”

Zuckerberg, who has always had a passion for theater and has even appeared on Broadway, shared that her male colleagues also appeared to have more leeway when it came to side projects and passions. “All of my male colleagues seemed to DJ, go skiing, play golf – they had all of these interests… What I found is, as a woman, you’re allowed to have your family and a career but you’re not really as allowed as the men to have side interests. It’s considered frivolous and indulgent and you’re not a real entrepreneur. And that is difficult for me because music and theater has always been such a part of my identity and part of my life.”

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Sam Saperstein is the Chief Marketing Officer at JPMorgan Chase. Saperstein was the former for Commercial Banking CMO, she is now Head of Women on the Move.