Opportunities for women in the workplace have never been greater. Often, if a woman doesn’t succeed, it’s not because a cabal of men has erected a glass ceiling; it’s because she’s shot herself in the foot. This article’s topmost career musts can ensure you don’t.
Being Who You Are
Today, some women subvert who they are to prove that they can do anything a man can. For example, some women endure physics and calculus for an engineering major and a construction-site engineering career, not because they love engineering, but mainly because society or their parents encouraged them to pursue a nontraditional career. Not surprisingly, women engineers leave the field at twice the rate of men.
Other women do the opposite: hiding their competence for fear of appearing too strong. That, of course, devastates their career.
Be who you are. For example, if you do love and are talented in engineering, go for it, certainly. In fields with fewer than 50 percent women, you often find special efforts made to court you. But being courted isn’t worthwhile if a frog (a misfitting career) is doing the courting. Choose a career that’s right for you.
Similarly, after they’re on the job, some women, in an attempt to show how tough they are, try to act like stereotypical men – all bottom-line. And they’d never dare to do anything as stereotypically female as baking cakes and cookies for the staff. Be yourself. If you’re all business, that’s fine, but if you’re more comfortable blending a bit of traditional femininity into your workplace, that may be even better. If, for example, you enjoy baking cookies, bring them on in – food is love.
Conventional wisdom is that women should never be self-effacing. It reinforces unfair stereotypes that women are weak. But if you’re already viewed as competent, occasional self-effacement is a plus, especially when done in a lighthearted way.
For example, a career woman can make fun of the fact that she can’t sing, is terrible in sports, and even is technologically challenged. Remember, more than anything, people want to feel good about themselves. If you’re in an even moderately powerful position, it helps to admit things you can’t do. When you’re self-effacing, the people who work for you may feel better about themselves and therefore be more open to what you have to say.
But never be self-effacing in a job interview. There, you haven’t yet established your credibility.
Negotiating for Fair Pay
Most employers want to get every employee, man or woman, to work for as little as possible. Employers are more successful at getting women to work for less not mainly because of sexism but because, on average, women are more willing to accept an employer’s weak offer and, after being hired, are less likely to ask for a raise.
If you negotiate and do it well, in most cases, you should be able to get equal pay for truly equal work. A specific research with a 10-year data collection indicates that when men earn more, it’s usually because more men are willing to do the things that earn higher pay: move all over the country to God-forsaken places to get promotions, acquire difficult-to-acquire skills such as computational biology, work more than 50 hours a week, take additional training at night and on weekends, or accept greater risk – for example, a 100-percent commission-based job. Indeed, the research concludes that for many popular careers, for truly the same work, women earn at least as much as men. Too many women feel grateful or lucky when offered a big job and just accept a weak offer. Learn how to negotiate.
Competing with women (and men) is fine – competition can fuel some people to achieve their best. But some women seem to compete with other women on trivial matters – notably, their appearance. Out of jealousy, some women sabotage an attractive female co-worker: by withholding key business information, spreading false rumors, taking credit for her work, and so on. Please, if you want to be taken seriously at work, don’t let petty stuff intrude on your work-life. It’s hard to expect people at work to respect you if you’re playing those games.
Balancing Work and Family
For societal and perhaps biological reasons, the average woman wants to be more involved in family matters than the average man does. Women are generally more eager to have children, and they want to be more involved in raising them and in caring for aging parents.
If that’s you, make a conscious choice. Do you want to be superwoman: deeply involved in family while holding a demanding job in which the norm is a 60-hour workweek? Or do you want to opt for a more balanced life? Choosing the latter is fine, but accept that you probably won’t be selected for that job in which a 60-hour workweek is the norm if you’re not willing to work that many hours.
There is a way to have it all: hire help. If you’re in or even aspiring to a big job, hiring domestic and child-care help can be a terrific investment. For little cost, if you search a bit, you can find someone, perhaps a college student, to pick up your kids, drive them to after-school activities, pick up the groceries and dry cleaning, and start dinner.
Research shows that what counts in parenting is quality time. Don’t feel guilty if you’re working a very full-time job. Just be sure that you do provide that quality time daily.
But to be honest, superwomen rarely exist outside of comic books. Many women find that opting for balance is wise. Especially if you have children, you may want to aim for a 20-to-40-hour-a-week job, leaving time not only for family responsibilities, but also for fun.
A note on maternity leave: After having their babies, many women return to work, but their heart is mainly with their baby. They’re also exhausted — having an infant is draining — which additionally diminishes their drive to work. You don’t want to ruin your reputation at work, so consider coming back to work part-time for the first few months, and when you’re at work, be sure you really work. Otherwise, you’ll convey the impression that you’re permanently going to give your job short shrift. If you’re working part-time, be sure your hours are clearly posted, including the hours you work from home. And stick to your schedule. That way, people know you’re really working.
Wear what you want – if you’re not worrying about your choice impeding your career. For some people, making a fashion statement is so central to their identity that they’re willing to let their career suffer. But if you’re not willing to pay that price, forget about what’s in the fashion magazines. You don’t want to look like you’re spending all your time and money trying to keep up with the fashion fads. Doing that conveys a shallow image.
In some arty or avant-garde workplaces, anything goes, but in general, dressing for success means dressing in quality, timeless designs – look at what TV news anchors wear. You want to be thought of as a professional, not a runway model. If you enjoy making bold fashion statements or wearing a nose ring, save them for after work. One more tip: A scantily clad or tattooed employee doesn’t look professional.
Even if your workplace encourages casual dress, casual doesn’t mean sloppy. Leave those flip-flops for the beach. You’re safest with high-quality, middle-of-the-road choices.
Dating in the Workplace without Disaster
Most advice on workplace dating is equally applicable to men and women but there is the one workplace dating issue that applies more often to women than to men: compartmentalization.
Men, on average, are more likely than women to compartmentalize their relationship issues. For example, Bill Clinton had one of the world’s most embarrassing affairs (remember the cigar?) trumpeted all over the media for months. Yet, it seemed to have no impact on his ability to do his job.
Most women are less able to do that. If you dated one of your co-workers, would you feel compelled to treat your sweetie differently in the workplace? If you broke up, would everyone in the office know it, even without your telling them? Think about how you’d feel if you broke up and had to see him daily. If you don’t think you’d handle it well, don’t date anyone at work.
If you think you can compartmentalize your relationship, the workplace may be the best place to meet a romantic partner. After all, at a bar or club, for example, you’re judging mainly on looks (and that judgment is likely affected by alcohol). At work, you get to see your prospect in action, day in and day out. Is he kind? Competent? Successful? Chasing every skirt in the office?