Success In The Workplace: Be A Woman, Only Not So Much

Illustration for article titled Success In The Workplace: Be A Woman, Only Not So Much

Women have come a long way from the days when we were just temporary replacements for men in the workplace or limited to certain "appropriate" professions like teachers, secretaries and nurses. And with that progress has come existential fears about how seriously our colleagues take us because of our gender, what to wear, how to talk, how to act, who to be... And, so, to help us figure it out and probably part us from our hard-earned money, lots of people have plenty of advice for us!


Nearly ever single advice book or article looks at how women compare to men — and then tells us all to be more like men to get ahead in a male-dominated world (which is its own illegitimate assumption, since there are plenty of desirable and female-dominated fields). While, at first, this sounds like a valid point of comparison, it also stems from the point of view that homogeneity is a desirable thing in a work environment when, in fact, there are tons of studies that show that there is a strong positive business impact from diversity in a company's workforce. Basically, diversity is important because having a variety of perceptions of problems and ideas for solutions are important — so it's actually not good for a company if everyone "thinks like a man."

There's also the variation on this theme, which is that you're too "girlie" to get ahead. This comes down to more of a mannerisms-type argument — you're not aggressive enough, you ask questions, you're too cooperative to be taken seriously by the go-go aggressive man types. That is, of course, in sharp contrast to the criticism leveled at Hilary and many of the rest of us aggressive types that we're too aggressive and manly and thus off-putting to our male and female colleagues because we don't behave like the stereotype that is supposed to keep us from getting ahead.

And then, of course, there's how we dress: not too manly, or you're a dyke; not too feminine, or you won't be taken seriously; not too well, or people will think you're too fashion-conscious; not too frumpy, or people will think you don't care; and so and and so forth until your head spins.

So, here's my novel idea and for free, even. Go to work, be yourself, do your job well, act like you deserve to be there and to be appropriately remunerated for the work that you do. If the work sucks or the people suck or you don't get taken seriously, get a new job or find an outlet for your rage before it eats away at your soul. Dress within reason for your work environment, show respect for the other women around you (because no one tears women down like women do) and stop wondering if people take you seriously because if you are serious, the people who deserve your respect will and the rest of the assholes in the world don't deserve your time anyway.

The Feminine Critique [NY Times]
Workplace Diversity: Leveraging the Power of Difference for Competitive Advantage [Society for Human Resource Management]
Beating the firm boys at their own game [The National Law Journal]
Hillary la Française, Cherchez la Femme? [NY Times]


Jenna Sauers

@katcarl: Actually, the NY Times article is mostly about how the people who study workplace differences between men and women mostly attribute the differences in promotion/salary rates to problems of perception and corporate culture, rather than problems of women.

The examples are all about how whichever quality is most desired in a leader in a given place, the survey respondents think women don't have. So in England, women are perceived as not working effectively in teams, but in Norway, people think women's teamwork is fine, but they prize the ability to delegate above all else, and think women don't do that enough.

The article is all about how it's the perceptions about women and our abilities that have to change, not women ourselves. The last graphs are all quotes from the people who come up with this studies, talking about how they're offering their services to companies that want to change their culture to put women on an equal footing.