Why Being The "Good" Girl (Or Boy) Won’t Get You Ahead

We here at CGC have been burying ourselves in career advice books on working women, such as Why Good Girls Don’t Get Ahead But Gutsy Girls Do (Warner Books, ISBN 0-446-67215-7) by Kate White and our beloved Lois Frankel books. Is it possible to be the stereotypical “good” employee (i.e. always does what he/she is told, takes on any task without complaint, avoids controversy, always trys to garner positive opinions, stays out-of-sight and doesn’t take any credit) and get ahead?

Challenger advice stresses the importance of likeability when looking for a job. In order to land a position, a job seeker must first obtain an interview, and second make the interviewer like her. Be pleasant and sociable, all the while demonstrating your desire to work hard and be a much-needed asset to the company – basically, do anything to get the job. However, it’s never a good idea to be a door mat.

Kate White says gutsy girls get ahead, not good ones. A few selected items from her book:

A gutsy girl…
-breaks the rules – or makes her own
-does only what’s essential
-doesn’t worry whether people like her
-asks for what she wants
-takes smart risks
(page 7)

Kate White also discusses beliefs to which good girls conform. For instance, that you shouldn’t ask for anything because then you seem desperate and greedy (chapter 8), that you should accept “no” sitting down, that you should work harder than necessary (chapter 5). These myths will not advance your career, on the contrary, they will lead to more unnecessary work without much benefit. Once you’ve secured a position, it is essential to demonstrate, in plain view of decision-makers, that you are an intelligent, informed, efficient leader in order to advance your career.

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"5 Risk-Taking Exercises for ‘Nice Girls’"

**The following is an article featuring advice from Richard E. Byrd on what women can do to reach their potential**

“When people are afraid to be assertive in meetings, it’s often because they fear being seen as obnoxious and aggressive,” says Richard E. Byrd, a Minneapolis-based consultant and pioneering advocate of personal risk taking in organizations. “But the result is they are seen as jellyfish–compliant, easily manipulated and taken for granted.”

Too many managers don’t live up to their potential contribution in the workplace and have little impact on other people because they avoid taking risks, according to Byrd, who is also an advisory board member of the 3M Company’s Meeting Management Institute. “There’s a gap between what interpersonal risks we think we can take and still be accepted and valued and the actual acceptable limits,” says Byrd.

In his book, A Guide to Personal Risk Taking (available from the Richard E. Byrd Company in Edina, Minnesota; 612-925-1757), Byrd offers five exercises to help develop your self-assertion muscles. The exercises are for those who want to stretch toward more self-confidence and assertiveness while still being good team members.

• 1 State opinions with absolute conviction. Put your feelings of doubt aside, and practice stating an opinion that you hold to be 70-percent true in a 100-percent tone of voice: “We’ll have that shipment to you in 30 days,” or “That’s a waste of money.”

If you are wrong, people Will say, “Winifred may not always be right, but you know what she thinks.” If you are right people will say, “Hey, Winifred is right again.” she thinks.” If you are right people will say, “Hey, Winifred is right again.”

If challenged, repeat your assertion. Whether challenged or not, you will have an impact because your tone will often provoke more discussion on the topic and lead to a better decision.

• 2 Stop talking to yourself. Instead of letting negative feelings fester inside, deal with them immediately. In a dull meeting, for example, you may think to yourself, “How long will this confounded meeting last?” Chances are good that other people are feeling the same way. Interrupt and ask, “Is this meeting really necessary?” or “Can we set a time limit?”

Or perhaps you feel you have been put down in a meeting or when talking with someone one-on-one. Instead of saying to yourself, “What makes that so-and-so think he can talk to me like that?” say right away, “Excuse me, I must not have made myself clear.”

Expressing your feelings on the spot prevents you from inappropriately transferring your feelings to subordinates and loved ones. It also helps you avoid stockpiling feelings that can lead to a serious outburst later.

• 3 Be a prodigal child. Demand more from others rather than try to meet their demands. For example, ask for the resources you need to do the project instead of automatically trying to make do with what is offered. Don’t make allowances for people who are late or turn in inferior work. Demand your money back when you receive shoddy goods or services.

In making demands, you may feel brazen or unkind. But you will never appear as obnoxious to others as you do to yourself. The “I want” and “I need” tendencies are often destroyed early in life by well-meaning parents and teachers. We need to reawaken the self-seeking, narcissistic part of ourselves and balance it with the self-effacing, altruistic, helpful part.

• 4 Be a lousy listener. When someone is taking up your time by talking too much, look at your watch or roll your eyes. The person talking will get the message.,Polite listeners become easy prey for inconsiderate talkers. What’s more, by trying to appear polite, you become an inactive listener and thus inconsiderate yourself.

Another way to be a lousy listener is to wait for an opening, respond briefly to what the person is saying and then quickly change the subject: “Yes those assessments seem unfair. Which reminds file, what are we going to do about the mistakes on that financial report?”

Or when someone begins to make excuses for being late or not performing at the expected level, try saying, “I don’t want to listen. Just be on time.”

As a lousy listener be selective about use of your time. Don’t start a meeting or conversation until you and the participants agree on how long it will last. “I’ve got 20 minutes. Is that enough time?”

• 5 Avoid accepting the problem. Try not to accept responsibility for everyone’s feelings, and stop letting everyone lean on you. When someone begins to dump their negative opinions, try asking, “What can you do about that?”

Let’s say, for example, that a colleague constantly complains about the “unfairness of the system” and, by implication, holds you accountable. Decide whose problem it is–yours or the colleague’s. If it’s not your problem, don’t be a garbage can. Try asking, “How would you change it?”

Of all five exercises, the fifth probably involves the most risk. While the first four can be practiced with almost anyone at almost any time, the fifth should be practiced with family and friends before trying it with coworkers and strangers. Also you may need to plan out how to avoid accepting others’ problems and practice exactly what you can say to put your plan into action.

Byrd calls these five suggestions for risk taking “exercises” because he does not intend them to become lifelong habits. In the extreme, they can turn a person into a verbally aggressive, demanding, rude and callous troublemaker, but used in moderation they will help a “too nice” person grow emotionally and uncover hidden strengths.

In doing the exercises you risk angering or offending a lot of people. At worst, you could lose a job or spouse, says Byrd, “but that is unlikely unless you are reckless. You are most likely to discover, much to your surprise, that people will respect you more, think more of your judgment and be less likely to push you around.”

"Why Too Few Women Make It To The Top"

Judith Devries, our Director of Learning found these tips from Dr. Lois Frankel on women in business. We especially liked the last tip.

Why Too Few Women Make It To The Top

For many women, the business ladder turns out to be slippery, but why? “It’s time for women to stop acting like girls,” says corporate coach Lois P. Frankel, who pinpoints 101 mistakes women make that sabotage their careers in Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office.

THEY DON’T PLAY THE GAME Women tend to see work as an event where everyone comes together to play nicely. Not only is business a game, it’s a game that changes.

It has rules, boundaries, winners, losers. Never forget that you’re there to win the game of business.

THEY WORK TOO HARD Women complain that they do more than anyone else, and they do! No one gets promoted purely because of work. Likability, strategic thinking, networking are all part of success. If you’re not wasting a little time building relationships, you’re doing something wrong.

THEY MAKE THEIR OFFICES TOO GIRLY By emphasizing your femininity, you diminish credibility. Another mistake: feeding others. Unless you’re Betty Crocker, there shouldn’t be cookies or candies on your desk.

THEY DON’T CAPITALIZE ON RELATIONSHIPS Men rely on relationships to open doors for them. [Unlike women] they don’t see this as taking advantage. There is success by affiliation.

THEY SKIP TOO MANY MEETINGS Meetings are not about content. They’re about seeing and being seen. It’s about show-and-tell–go to the meetings.

THEY’RE TOO MODEST Blow your own horn! Women don’t talk about their accomplishments enough.

THEY ASK FOR PERMISSION INSTEAD OF PRESENTING A PLAN We expect children to ask for permission. So when you have an idea, state it in positive, affirmative statements.

THEY EXPLAIN TOO MUCH Women tend to give more information than one would need. People tune out after the first 30 seconds. The message should be crisp.

THEY CRY Don’t.

MORE ON WORKING WOMEN!

Here at Challenger, we know the relevance of joining and creating the discussion of working women. That’s why we will be doing a series of posts on the subject!

Check in over the next couple days for insights into the world of the working woman; how to position yourself for growth and why you might not be getting where you need to!

See you soon,
Challenger Coaches

Growing Up: Making The Transition From Agreeable Girl To Woman Professional

By: Judith Devries, Director of Learning
Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.

With Colleen Madden, Challenger Research Consultant

Dr. Lois Frankel explores this subject in her work Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office (Warner Books ISBN: 0446531324). In part, because of our upbringing and cultural expectations, women have an increasingly difficult time climbing the corporate ladder. While it might be gender bias – the good ol’ boys network with their “no girls allowed” signs – it’s important to investigate our own actions in the workplace and how we may be viewed because of them. Do we remain little girls at work or have we grown into women?

Socialization, as Frankel discusses, has created the typical female archetype: a charming, sweet, warm, caring, alluring girl (note the differentiation from woman). The backbone of a family, one who shies from controversy and confrontation, someone who supports a man in his success, but never realizes or even, in some more archaic convictions, desires her own. Girls at work, nodding in agreement, sitting in the back, soft-spoken and never intimidating, have little to offer at corporate meetings and most likely shouldn’t lead important projects. These sometimes long-held beliefs about women professionals, while offensive and degrading, still permeate the workplace, and in some cases, are actually facilitated by the actions of girls at work who really want to be women!

Frankel offers some examples of ways we sabotage ourselves. Using equivocating and weak expressions such as “Maybe we should…” or “Perhaps the path we should look into…” Girls in the workplace don’t assert themselves or own their ideas. Women do. Girls continually use their sexuality, flirting their way along, usually ending up where those with whom they flirt want them. Women present their ideas as professionals would: strongly, with conviction, backed up by producible evidence, not with a sweet sigh and a wink.

The glass ceiling, most unfortunately, still remains in many ways. Luckily, strong, successful women are breaking barriers and working to head Fortune 500 companies. More women are graduating college today than their male counterparts. More women are earning advanced degrees, but we’re still making less than said men. It’s easy to blame society and sexism, but at some point, we women must inspect and potentially change our own behaviors to break stereotypes. We cannot expect to be treated as respectable, strong, intelligent women, if we’re acting like girls.

Read an excerpt from Dr. Frankel and her tips on how to move forward here.