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Turning Your Differences into Strengths in the Workplace

Learn how hypervisibility can present unique challenges for women in senior leadership roles, however, it also provides opportunties for harnessing the spotlight to build influence, demonstrate expertise, drive change, and build buy-in.

Many of us would likely agree with the metaphor of the workplace as a circus -- walking the tightrope of double binds, the intense spotlight of scrutiny both making it harder to concentrate and mistakes more apparent. Of course, there are the clowns. In this Corporate Big Top, hypervisibility is being the acrobat in red when everyone else is in blue. Regardless of how good they are at tumbling, jumping, and summersaults, someone will always describe them as the acrobat in red.

For women in senior leadership roles, hypervisibility can present unique challenges. This article explores those challenges and potential opportunities for those with strategies to turn their differences into strengths.

The experience of hypervisibility often brings forth a wide range of emotions. Many women feel minimised by the extreme focus on their gender, which overshadows their unique skills and personalities. This sense of invisibility can lead to feelings of powerlessness or lack of control, further compounded by the fact that women are often absent from conversations and decision-making.

Others may find the constant attention exhausting, as avoiding it feels relentless and brutal. When it comes to challenging hypervisibility, it's particularly complicated because colleagues often serve hypervisibility as a compliment like "Oh, you're such a multitasker." or "I'm just not naturally empathic the way you are." It can be hard to accept "compliments" when they come with an undercurrent of expectation, as it implies that the person expects you to maintain a certain level of performance as a result.

Furthermore, hypervisibility can be traumatic when colleagues ask women to comment on behalf of their gender. This trauma is especially evident during social unrest or following traumatic events. For example, when an event significantly impacts women, such as a high-profile murder or suicide, they may be asked to speak out on behalf of their gender and share their experiences. This line of questioning can be difficult for some women and may lead to further trauma or distress.

While working to educate colleagues on how uncomfortable hypervisibility can be, women in senior leadership roles can also take advantage of it with the right strategies.

Strategies for Harnessing Hypervisibility