Article by: Emily Heeb
It’s never been a better time to be a woman in the workplace. We have left our place in front of the stove for those glamorous corner offices. More women are CEOs of their own Fortune 500 companies than ever before and we are dominating previously male-heavy fields like Financial Analysts and CPA’s. As a woman in the workplace, I know how much harder we have to work for it though. Unlike many working men, there’s no heading out to the bar after work for a couple of drinks and unwinding with friends or co-workers. Oh, no… We more often than not have to balance (or juggle) a family and a career, all the while making decisions that affect the physical, mental and emotional health of our families, no matter how long our day was.
The work is worth it and we have made great strides in the world because of it. However, if we are doing so well with our careers, why are so many intelligent and capable women still struggling in the workplace? It is easy to blame gender disparity, but the women who have overcome these stereotypes are the successful ones. Often times we are our own worst enemies and are limiting ourselves through our own mistakes. These mistakes are avoidable and can prevent us from being firmly set in the ruts of the stereotypes that have always served to hold us back.
For the women that want to go the distance in their career; those who want that nice office and an army of staff laboring in cubicles around them, those who want the recognition they most certainly deserve will want to listen and take heed to these 17 common mistakes that will most assuredly hold you back in your career.
Waiting to be Called On
Women mistake waiting to be called on in a meeting as polite. We particularly tend to keep quiet and wait when there are a number of senior-level people present. However, not speaking up and speaking early during a meeting will mean you will be overlooked entirely. The real go-getters don’t sit there and raise their hands to be called on like they are in elementary school; they make sure to assert themselves into the conversation. During meetings, we as women need to make sure to be one of the first three people to speak. This doesn’t necessarily mean giving our opinion, but rather supporting a good idea or asking a valid question about it.
Crying in the Workplace
Never, ever let them see you cry, ladies. This is one of the worst things a woman can do in the workplace. You don’t see any (successful) men breaking down into tears when their proposal is refused or they are chewed out by their boss. As a woman who has cried in the workplace, I know it can be hard at times. In these delicate economic times, emotions can run high, but most men view tears as emotional blackmail. Female tears especially just make everyone uncomfortable and your bosses are not likely going to understand how much pressure you are under, be it at work or at home. The absolute last label a woman in the workplace needs to have is being “over-emotional,” which is the only thing crying will accrue. Those who have a propensity to go straight to tears will need to work on it. Think of upsetting things outside of work and practice working through them calmly.
Never Saying No
For some reason, (I’m guilty of this too) women never want to say no to anyone at work. Being a 'yes woman' may seem like you’ll get in the good graces of the upper management, but really all it does it make you a tool to be used. If you say yes to every extra thing they want done, especially if it’s not in your job description, it just means you will be their go-to person for every extra menial task. You’ll be that girl stuck in the office until two in the morning while everyone gets to go have fun. It’s sad, but the truth is you will very rarely ever get any credit for your extra work. Management doesn’t want 'yes women', they want leaders. If the task isn’t your job, say no or at very least negotiate something out of it.
We are taught at a young age to smile and be cute. This has a lot to do with our self-destruction in the workplace. Women tend to smile at everything, when we are presenting a proposal, giving bad news and even when being criticized. It makes us seem friendly and that we can handle anything, but it’s not as helpful as we were taught to believe. When a man doesn’t smile, he is taken seriously. It is the same for women. By all means, smile when you meet people or when someone makes a joke, but when being critiqued or giving presentations, rein it in.
Using Minimizing Language
Kind of. Sort of. Maybe. These are not confidence-building words. We are people pleasers, mostly because we were taught to be. So minimizing language is the ultimate form of people pleasing. However, they are not appropriate for the workplace. Managers don’t want facts, statistics or even opinions presented in that sort of vague language. Use clear and concise words during work, save the minimizing language for hanging out with the girls when they ask you if you like your job or boss.
Being a Scapegoat
It’s easy to blame the woman. When you are a partner on a project and it goes awry, you’ll be one of the first ones to blame even if you didn’t mess up. Why? Simply because it is believed that we are less likely to fight back. Again, we’re taught to be nice at a young age and fighting isn’t nice. Don’t let yourself be a scapegoat, fight for yourself, your reputation and your job. Don’t just let some cowardly man blame you and shrug it off. Go to the management and set the facts straight, always.
Working Hard, Not Smart
Hard work -- Do you know what it gets you? More hard work.
In today's hustle and bustle you can break your back for 12 hours a day and never see a drop of recgonition for it. My father taught me that this world recognizes hard work, and while that may have been so in his day; it is not so today, especially in business. The executives, the managers and all those other people at the top didn’t just get there through the sheer power of hard work. They got there because they worked smart, not hard. They found the best way to get their work done in the most efficient manor and went home. They delegate their menial tasks to the hard workers ensuring they personally focus on the work that matters and gets them the recognition they deserve.
Looking for Love
I know, I know. After college, work is pretty much the only other place to find the love of your life. We as women need to stop falling into this trap and keep our love life far away from the work place if we ever want to succeed. Inter-office relationships generally don’t have the fairy tale endings you would expect and cause more problems than they are worth. Too many inter-office relationships can damage a woman’s reputation as well. You don’t want rumors going around that you got that great promotion based on a your special relationship with the boss. These rumors are almost impossible to put to rest once they begin circulation.
- An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
Desiring to Be Liked
As they say, you can’t please everyone all of the time, but that doesn't seem to stop us from trying. The innate desire to be liked is really the number one problem women have in the workplace. We want to be liked by everyone and that often leads us to be stepped on and passed over. We try and make decisions that please everyone instead of deciding what is best for the company. While being liked has its uses, and putting stock in the opinions of others when making a decision is crucial, ultimately the decision needs to be about what is best for the company and not so much its workers. Seeing that big picture is how many women have worked their way up the workplace ladder.
Not Having a Professional Image
Not having a professional image isn’t just limited to how we dress, though that plays a big part. It is how we hold ourselves in the office. People will always read body language and how we dress to get a feel for who we are. This doesn’t mean we have to let them know our true selves, though. We can slouch and sit around in our yoga pants all we like at home, but at work always put on a confident and assertive air with body language to maintain a professional image that will be taken seriously.
As for what we should wear, that seems to change by the day. A skirt that was too short is suddenly just right, a skirt too long makes us look unapproachable, our blouse is too shiny (believe me, I’ve heard it before) or our heels are too tall/short/noisy. Men have it so much easier as they can go buy an expensive suit and a few ties and their wardrobe is set. Women have to put a lot of thought into what to wear to work. Wearing a power suit as a woman seems like the best option, but it can also work against us. Imakes us look too aggressive for that promotion, which more often than not leads to discrimination against us.
Questioning Instead of Making a Statement
Women tend to phrase our opinions in the form of questions rather than statements. Questions always sound nicer and more polite because it is good to ask questions, right? Voicing our opinion in the form of a question is like asking permission to have an opinion. We must never ask for permission. Men certainly don’t. If you have a question, then do be sure to ask it. However, if you have an opinion, make it known in a nice assertive statement and not in a question.
Polling Before Making a Decision
There is a difference between polling and getting a consensus. Polling is not being able to make a decision without having everyone’s opinion. A consensus is having an opinion but wanting to have other opinions on the table. In short, polling is bad but consensus is good. It is excellent to consider the opinions of others, but not being able to decide without them is the sign of a bad leader. If you are leading people, then it is your opinion and a decision they value. Don’t let others influence it unless they have valid points.
No one likes a gossip and we as women certainly have a knack for it whether we admit it or not. Don’t be that woman spreading rumors about what Mary in Marketing and Paul the Mail Clerk are doing, just get back to work. Gossips are the least productive and the most prone to making enemies. Women who are looking to succeed will not want to fall victim to either.
Overusing that Feminine Charm
Using our feminine charm can be a powerful weapon and some have wielded it successfully, but more often than not, it backfires. Sure, that pig boss may fall prey to leaving those top few buttons open and having the girls show a little, but in all honesty, it’s a bit trashy. No company will want a trashy CEO representing them. That being said, looking beautiful at work will certainly make a few friends, but anymore than that will just present a dead-end in your career.
Pinching Project Pennies
Maybe it is because we are paid less than men on average, but women have a tendency to pinch project pennies. In this turbulent economy, that may seem great, but it actually hurts. We think a successful project is coming in under budget and getting the same results as the competition, even when coming in at budget could have made the project better. Don’t be afraid to use that company money unless advised to pinch. Being frugal also has the unintended consequence of suggesting that we as women can’t handle a large budget.
Not Playing the Game
The workplace is like a lot like Game of Thrones, you either win or you lose. Women tend not to view it that way, but you can be sure that those aiming for the top do. If you don’t play the game, you are never going to get very far. When we aim for the top, we need to find out what the rules and boundaries are for the workplace so we don't step out of line. Once we've identified the competition, be better than them at the game and you are sure to be a superstar in the workplace.
Focusing Solely on the Job
It’s lonely at the top. Anyone – be it man or woman – will attest to that. When women focus solely on their career, they may move up the ranks, but along the way they will have to sacrifice a lot. This isn't only true for women though; Men who have focused solely on their career may have a lot of money and success, but generally have fewer friends and more hollow relationships per capita. It is a lot of work, but successful women can balance a family and a career at the same time.
Just remember that being successful at work is great, but focusing only on it does not lead to a successful and happy life.