It's not that aggressive women need to scale it back and act like a lady -- in certain situations they need to call on those behaviors.
--Olivia O'Neill, George Mason University School of Management
(CNN) -- Tilia Wong worked in construction management before going to business school and got used to thinking of herself as a businesswoman who knew how to keep assertive behavior under wraps.
"I'm a 24-year-old Asian girl telling a 55-year-old white guy what to do. I had to tone it down," she said of her workplace experience.
Fast forward to this year, when Wong began an MBA at Stanford University and had to reassess herself because classmates told her she was actually on the aggressive end of the spectrum.
Research shows that salary bumps and promotions can depend on how you act on the job -- but as Wong has learned, nobody seems to know where, exactly, a businesswoman should fall on the spectrum between "acting like a lady" or asserting herself "like a man."
"For the women who are a little softer, a little gentler, everyone tells them, 'You have to be firmer, more aggressive,'" she told CNN.
"And if you come on aggressive, they tell you, 'You have to tone it down, you have to be softer.' I haven't found someone about whom they say, 'You've got it exactly right.'"
But new research suggests that the frustrating balancing act Wong describes can actually be more effective than finding a sweet spot somewhere on the spectrum and sticking to it.
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