Being forced to carry the emotional burden of my peers makes being a female leader exhausting

Mya Cataline, DN photo 
Jessica Bergfors, DN illustration
Mya Cataline, DN photo Jessica Bergfors, DN illustration

Olivia Ground is a third-year advertising major and writes “Liv, laugh, love” for the Daily News. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.

Right before the East Point train stop in Atlanta, there is a beautifully painted mural of Atlanta’s first female and first African American Mayor Patsy Jo Hilliard. Her portrait stands tall at eye level with the elevated train tracks on the side of Aya Tower. 

On the train ride to the airport after being in Atlanta for what felt like almost too long, in the light of the setting sun, the words on the mural resonated with me in a way that inspired me to write this article. 

“Be True To Thyself.” 

I left the city with a newfound sense of self-worth. I left with a new perspective on leadership and who I was in this world. 

Being true to myself is standing up for the things I care about. Being true to myself is being proud of myself. Being true to myself is recognizing I am a strong, talented leader.

I also left with the realization that it is truly exhausting being a female leader. And it’s especially tiring being one in a world where men benefit from a system that prioritizes them.

The truth is I have always worked just as hard, if not harder, than my male counterparts in leadership positions similar to mine, spanning as far back as high school. And in this current reality of our society, there are barriers in place that make it even harder for women to be in positions of leadership. 

I have been told my entire life I was a “natural leader.” That was almost always followed up with a comment about my kindness or compassion, whereas men are called strategic or honest. 

I consider my compassionate nature an important part of my leadership style. However, I find it incredibly unfair that my leadership is referred to as an extension of my femininity and the traditional roles of motherhood when men can simply be good leaders.

It wasn't until this year, my third year of college, that I was called strategic, intentional, mature and honest by an industry professional for the first time. They were able to see me as simply a good leader, not just a woman who is also sometimes in a leadership position. 

This disconnect in the standards of leadership between men and women is what enforces the metaphorical glass ceiling and patriarchy in many workplaces. 

Women leaders have to be charismatic and motherly, whereas male leaders can be seemingly excused for lacking humility. Women are expected to manage the emotional aspects of their workplace, whereas men can sit idly through it. 

I am tired of taking on the emotional labor of leadership. I’ve spent too much of my life staying complacent in workplaces and organizations that were passive when it came to misogyny. I’m tired of shouting my concerns and still not being heard, tired of being called dramatic and emotional. 

I think that almost every woman who saw Barbie remembers what was said at the end. 

I can’t be assertive, I’m told I’m too aggressive. I have to be confident but not take up too much room. I have to be the boss but not bossy. I have to be the best all of the time, but I can’t take credit for my work.

I can’t complain about all of this or I am ungrateful for the position I have. 

But if I did not raise my concerns, I wouldn’t be true to myself. Women leaders before me have fought and even died, so I could be in the position I am now. Women historically have been silenced so I could write this piece. I am writing this for them now. 

I am grateful for all of the positions and opportunities in leadership I've had spanning back as far as high school, but I’m so tired of the emotional burden I’ve had in any job simply because I am a woman. 

And even though I am fortunate to work in a newsroom that is currently predominantly female, I know that there is a world and industry run by men ready to greet me when I leave the Unified Media Lab. 

It feels like nothing I do is going to make a difference. 

I have to work twice as hard to prove I deserve positions of leadership, raises, promotions and more after I leave the lab. I know I am a woman and this is a world that is designed to uplift men. 

The sad part is that the fault doesn’t entirely fall on men. In our society, men are expected to be breadwinners and providers; women are expected to be the caretakers. Oftentimes, these roles are reflected in the workplace. I’ve been told in every single sociology class I’ve taken that these roles were created, and now I must lay in the bed that the generations before me made.

I think a side effect of the patriarchy often forgotten is the fact that we have raised and socialized men to be unemotional and abrasive. Society has upheld the “boys can’t cry” narrative for so long that I am still witnessing my male peers struggling to lead with empathy and humility simply because society has told them they can’t. 

In an article written for LinkedIn, Mita Mallick, Head of Inclusion, Equity and Impact at Carta, said, “Toxic masculinity can be particularly damaging to men as well. The gendered stereotypes we are exposed to start at a young age and can stay with us; men are supposed to be the primary financial provider, they are supposed to be strong, in charge, in control, and show no emotion. This can create a lot of pressure for men to meet unattainable standards.”

We can no longer be complacent when addressing the gender gaps and roles in leadership. We have to be honest and vulnerable and address the issue head-on. 

If men want to truly be feminists, they can put aside the toxic masculinity-charged facade and learn to become leaders who are vulnerable, empathetic and understand the ways they can contribute to making a workplace that doesn’t promote misogyny. They can learn to embrace and lead with their emotions. 

If we want to see other women in positions of leadership, they will start calling out the misogyny in their workplace and start making the change.

If I want to be true to myself and the thousands of women who came before me, who laid the path for me to be where I am now, I am going to keep calling out misogyny when I see it. I am going to be a part of making a difference for the young women who come into positions of leadership after me. 

That is being true to myself. 

Contact Olivia Ground with comments at or on X @liv_ground_25.


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