Women Performing in Pressure Moments

It’s been long thought that women don’t do well under pressure. But some recent research is looking at women and pressure much differently. There ARE ways women can outperform men when it comes to their emotional intelligence. Gender differences play a significant role in how we manage pressure in leadership positions. In this months Blog, I am summarizing the findings from a White Paper on Women Performing Under Pressure and attaching a link to the full article below.

For example, here is what a top level female leader that was part of the study had to say about increased pressure in the workplace:

“I sometimes feel like we have to emulate the mens role to get ahead. For instance, in contributing to an argumentative conversation, I find if I am not outwardly forceful, I am perceived as weak and unfairly judged. Ironically, if you use the same style as a man, you will be called controlling and ‘shrill’. There are simply more derogatory comments towards women leaders if they stand up and use their voice than there are for men. After a while this wears you down”.

Women can feel lonely on a team, senior or not, and whatever style they use may not blend in with the established norms. They find themselves in an awkward place of being underrepresented and less supported, yet at the same time, being more visible than men and attracting more attention simply on the basis of being female (because there are so few in the room). Extra pressure is created here, where more feels at stake with every statement they make or behavior they engage in. This extra pressure creates a need in the workplace for men and women to better understand the brain science and the advantages and disadvantages women have over men in managing stress.

Here are three strategies women can leverage to increase their performance under pressure:

Strategy 1: Leverage female assets: Female hormones are designed to help women excel at social settings, multi-tasking and quickly processing situations. Hormones and gender impact how the brain develops. Understanding and leveraging your brain based strengths is a key advantage to managing pressure and tapping in to emotional intelligence skills. For example, the hippocampus in females is larger and helps to transfer new information into long-term memory and is sensitive to estrogen. It also receives more blood flow which helps in linking past experiences and recalling intricate physical details. The prefrontal cortex, the executive function part of the brain, where the context of a situation is processed is more fully developed in women. This is often one reason why women excel at sizing up a social situation, having empathy and understanding how to be authentically supportive. These are all important during high pressure moments.

Strategy 2: Grow from Pressure: Adversity and stress can produce something very valuable, and we can grow from the experience. The research reveals that women experience more intense physical manifestations of pressure than men do. The study found significant evidence that women reported feeling the following more intensely than men:
1. Their heart pounding more before a presentation
2. More anxious during a pressure situation
Women face the challenge that they experience these physical sensations in their body in such an intense way they are more prone to believing the situation they are facing is a crisis or threat. The strategy is to not look at the situation as a threat but to know you have a choice and change your belief system. Don’t shy away from high-pressure situations, approach them. View it as an opportunity and energy boost and not a crisis or threat.

Strategy 3. Tap Into Confidence: When you are confident, it acts as an antidote to the negative effects of pressure that can result in doubt, worry and anxiety. Just because you are self-confident doesn’t mean you never feel doubt or stress. You just find ways to embrace it and overcome anxiety.
There is new research identifying certain hormones – higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of cortisol – that are present with leaders who perform effectively under pressure. We may think testosterone is exclusively a male hormone, but that is not true. While men have higher absolute amounts than women, the ratio of hormones within each person’s system is a more significant factor (i.e. testosterone vs. cortisol). In essence, women are not at a disadvantage when it comes to the benefits of testosterone. Testosterone can help you increase your levels of motivation and help you to be more self-confident. At the same time, you need low levels of cortisol to decrease your anxiety. You can best manage cortisol levels and regain your health by changing your diet, implementing an exercise routine, sleep and meditation. Pick a mantra, practice Power Poses that increase testosterone and give yourself the credit you deserve.

These are just a few strategies that we hope you will put to practice. At the Southwest Institute for Emotional Intelligence (SWIEI) we are dedicated to emotional mastery and helping individuals and teams increase their self-awareness, emotional management and relationship skills. Our interest and passion is combining science with real world experiences.
To learn more about how Women Perform Under Pressure please review the White Paper published by IHHP our partner research company.  Contact us to receive it.