Too Decisive and Too Emotional: The Double Bind Theory in an Email

          After countless instructions in multiple leadership classes on the Double Bind theory and the paradox it places women in, I always knew it was present in the workplace, yet fortunately never witnessed it in previous workplaces- until now. My supervisor, who is a woman, has the responsibility of promoting HMG and all that it does, which includes ensuring the public is well-informed on the specialities the company offers. This means that her job involves speaking with counterparts from other companies to work on sponsorships and collaborations. Recently, my supervisor made the decision to cut one of these partnerships due to an experience with another company that confirmed all statements behind the Double Bind theory, in addition to other issues that occurred along the way. The lessons from Theories and Models and Leadership and the Humanities about the Double Bind theory for women became a real life situation after just one email.

          Recently, my supervisor received an email from a male counterpart from the company she cut the partnership with. In his email, he accused my supervisor of bringing emotions into business and because of such asked to speak with someone “laterally on [his] level.” Although I was not the recipient of this email, I felt the same anger and mistreatment as my supervisor when she received the email. The Double Bind theory, which is deeply rooted in our American culture, demonstrates the implicit assumptions many people, not solely men, have about women and leadership. On one hand, women are expected to be kind and sympathetic, while on the other, leaders are expected to be assertive and outspoken. This places women in a paradox in the workplace, where they are trapped between the decision to have nice and friendly characteristics, as women should, or decisive qualities, as leaders should. Within this paradox, they will either be too kind for a leadership role and thus weak, or too qualified for a woman and thus unlikable.

          It was this definition of the Double Bind theory that was so obvious in the email sent by the man of the partnering company. As the marketing manager, he targeted my boss for being too emotional (a characteristic associated with women) for this leadership role. As a woman, he presented my supervisor as someone who was not qualified for the job. Although she has been with HMG for over a decade and holds many degrees, these implicit theories about women and leadership found in American culture resonated so strongly in this male counterpart that he refused to see past her gender to look at her actual qualifications. It saddened me to know that this issue was still prevalent in 2019, yet I learned a skill from the situation. When I asked my supervisor how she handled the situation, she calmly stated that she chose not to reply. She respectfully stated, “Any response I send to him will only be read as being filled with emotion.” Rather than fight the situation, my supervisor understood that if this was the type of company HMG was partnered with, it was not a company to have a partnership with at all.

One thought on “Too Decisive and Too Emotional: The Double Bind Theory in an Email

  • June 19, 2019 at 3:41 pm

    Wow, great illustration of a theory. How unfortunate, as I am sure that your supervisor had well founded reasons for not continuing the partnership. So she didn’t respond at all; did you forward the message to her supervisor and/or at least share this episode with her supervisor? I’m sorry you had to see this play out in real life and in such a text-book example sort of way.

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