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Gaslighting, Microaggressions, Biases and Double binds women leaders face at work


Let us jump right in. Quickly.

What is Gaslighting?

man love people woman
Woman crying in self-doubt from Gaslighting

“You are a big girl. I am sure you can handle it”

“Please calm down. You’re so sensitive” 

“You’re crazy! Where’s your humor?” 

All the above are examples of gaslighting. We all have experienced it. We all have done it with others.

If after hearing something, you have been taken aback, you went into your shell. You are at a loss of words. In all probability you have been gaslighted.

After being gaslighted, the conversation ends. You go back with the feeling of self-doubt, a feeling of something is incomplete and the other person goes with a feeling of a self-righteous victory. 

A genuine, curious conversation would make you stay in the process. The other person would encourage you to speak up and talk. This does not mean both parties agree to all the points. However there is a honest conversation. In the end they reconcile or agree to disagree. Such radically honest conversations are very rare at the workplace. 

Psychologists refer to gaslighting as a silencing techniques used to shut you down after you have addressed someone else’s behavior. At that moment, the speaker is making a judgment about how you are as a person and how you should feel.

Once in a while it is fine however when a person systemically confuses the other person into thinking that their reactions are crazy, instigating self-doubt in them, it is harmful.

There is malicious intent so that the person gaslighting does not have to take responsibility and control the other person.

What are Biases? 

a woman talking on the microphone giving a speech

“Let’s shift her into HR (communications or marketing) managing revenue is not her cup of tea”

“Do you have children?” or “Do you plan on having children?” (Recruiters may not ask the same set of questions to men and women, when interviewing for the same role)

No matter the answere they have no bearing on how qualified someone is for the role.

Mansplaining and ‘speaking while female’ are two other common biases that very frequently play out in business meetings.

In official meetings women are interrupted and talked over more than men. 

All these biases manifests in a way that women are rewarded differently, not paid equally, not promoted frequently etc. at work.

What are Double Binds?

arrogant female worker showing disrespect in office

Let’s start with something simple –

Men are stereotyped to take charge. Women are stereotyped to ‘take care’. So when women take charge at work, they are viewed as competent but disliked. Perceived as being ‘Bossy’ And

when women take care of others at work they are liked however not viewed as competent 

Result : Women leaders find it very hard to be perceived as both competent and likable. 

Call it what you want: a Catch 22, damned if you do, damned if you don’t—whatever figure of speech you prefer, it’s all the same. Society expects one thing, but the work culture demands another. Exhausting. Tiring

Double bind is a problem of a mismatch between what is expected of a leader, and what is expected from a woman

An example from the book Lean-in When a couple announces that they are having a baby, everyone says “Congratulations!” to the man and “Congratulations! What are you planning on doing about work?” to the woman. The broadly held assumption is that raising their child is ONLY her responsibility.

If a woman raises valid concerns at work, she is considered to be whining or moody. If she does not ask for it, she is labeled as timid! 

Gaslighting is malicious because the person plays on your worst fears and desire to be understood. Double binds are unconscious and play out when your ‘societal’ expectations are different from what the person is exhibiting. Thus you unconsciously end up judging others.  

What are Microaggressions?

woman standing backside in a studio and lights

A simple definition of microaggression is being condescending or patronizing

Treating someone as a second-class citizen because of their gender, race, or sexual orientation. 

Complimenting a woman on her mathematical or coding skills, “Wow, I didn’t expect you to be so good at math!” (why? Because you are a woman?!)

“Seeing you skydive was so inspiring for me! (Subtle tone of patronizing: “I did not expect you to be capable to do it because I see you as thin (and fragile)”)


All these phenomena are manifestation of societal conditioning. This can be connected to unconscious bias, affecting who we think is powerful or influential enough.

It is not just women who experience them. It is also the experience of all minority identities. An asian man going to a white dominated culture and working there will also face these. A white man coming to asian country and working will face his own set of biases, microaggressions and double binds 

Even a men showing his feminine side and ‘taking care’ is perceived as ‘not strong’. Feminism is not about fighting men but fighting stereotypes.

However women leaders are more at the receiving end of all these at the workplace. 

All the data suggest that it is impacting women well-being, work-life balance, productivity, creativity and even motivation to work. Thus women leaders hit glass ceiling because of this. We do not have enough women in our board rooms. Reason?

  • Becasue their role is changing faster than societal norms. They have stepped out to work however they are still stereotyped to show up as per older norms.
  • Because work has been stereotyped to be ‘men’ thing for centuries.
  • Becasue the tide of power and priviledge is favoring men.
  • Because men are insecure that if women enter their territory, they will be forced to change! They will have to give up on their priviledge.
  • Because there are not enough women leaders in the boardroom to question and challenge these ‘blind sides’.

Our businesses and organizations deeply shape our society. Thus we urgently need to solve for these biases, double binds, gaslighting, and microaggressions for everyone.

And especially the population that is hurting by fighting them on a daily basis – women leaders at work.  

Read more on Fighting Gaslighting, Double binds, Microaggressions and Biases at work for women leaders?


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