The Career-Girl Manifesto

Computer science Barbie inspires me. She happens to be a girly girl, and happens to like computers too. So that’s how she presents herself. The combination of her intelligence plus her authenticity shows her capacity for effective leadership. She’ll be your boss one day. I’m talking to you, lame startup guy.

Women are told that we need to act more like men to get ahead. We need to downplay our feminine ways and stop sabotaging our careers by doing girly things, like over-explaining ourselves, leaving crappy voicemails and using emoticons in emails. And we can’t cry – that makes guys uncomfortable. And God forbid we make people uncomfortable by being too girly.

But you know what makes people really uncomfortable? Downplaying your girly side. Embrace commanding body language. Be assertive, take charge and leave the emoticons at the door.

You just can’t win. The messages are confusing. They’re telling you you have to act a certain way to garner the respect and trust to earn a high-power position, but you can’t try too hard or else that’s distracting and threatening and people won’t like you. This message is conflicting, frustrating and unproductive, especially for young women like myself who are just starting out in our careers.

Men and women are not equal – we’re different. In Sheryl Sandberg’s TED talk, “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders”, she diplomatically explains some reasons men get ahead in the workplace and points out some things they do better than us:

  • 57% of men negotiate their first salaries. Only 7% of women do this. (Wonder where the pay gap begins?)
  • Men attribute their success to themselves (“I’m awesome!”) while women attribute their success to external factors (“So and so helped me along the way…”) No one gets a promotion if they don’t think they deserve success!

I like to see behavior differences between myself and my male peers and think about things they do differently (and in my opinion, better) than me. I find the guys I work with to be more direct in how they communicate than I am. They make decisions faster than me. I think that’s because they’re more confident than I am and they don’t waste time second guessing themselves. They take credit for their work. They never seem to feel like people are taking advantage of them, whereas I do. You teach people how to treat you. Is this a difference between men and women in general or just between some assertive guys and a learning-to-be-more-assertive girl? I’m not sure.

While these points are somewhat worth exploring for personal growth I think it’s more worthwhile for young women to identify and cultivate their personal strengths than it is for them to try and act like one of the guys just for the sake of downplaying our feminine sides.

Because honestly, no matter what you do to downplay your feminine side, your gender is still out there. It’s this pulsing theme in the background of your life. No, not all women want to be moms, but the potential and desire for motherhood has a huge impact on your career, the choices you make and the stresses you feel outside the office. Women have miscarriages at the office. Then they go to board meetings. Even the most conservative/prepared/cautious birth control-pill-popping-20-something career girl secretly does a little fist pump and thinks “Yes! Dodged another one!” every month. She doesn’t want kids, she’s focused on her career. She’s in law school or getting her MBA or something. All of this only to end up doing IVF at age 35 and squinting at a pregnancy test every month praying she gets the two pink lines. (Worth noting: 11 of the 12 female Fortune 500 CEO’s are moms.) Even if you do end up on Forbe’s 50 most powerful women in the world list, they’re still gonna list your marital status and the number of children you have. Sure it’s 2011 but we’re still somewhat defined by our ability to reproduce and get hitched, not only culturally but also by the personal choices we have to make along the way. You’re still a woman. It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing a push-up bra or shoulder pads.

I imagine and celebrate a scenario in which an up-and-coming sales exec will go out for manicures to chum up to her female CEO just like how men go golfing with their male bosses. Embrace who you are. I don’t think it needs to be an either-or situation of being taken seriously and being feminine. To encourage more female leadership in tech, it doesn’t need to be a choice between science camp or jewelry. Wear your jewelry to science camp. To get to the corner office, it doesn’t need to be a choice being between an iron-fist or a nurturing hand, it just means choosing a leadership style that reflects who you are.

Furthermore, you’re allowed to hate manicures too. Go smoke cigars with your up-and-coming sales exec if you ladies prefer that. And if you hate jewelry, wear a baseball cap to science camp. Just make sure you are being mentored by your CEO or role model. And get your butt to science camp. Be who you are. I demand this. To be anything else is a distraction from your goals.

I think the article “Can She Lead” offers a good solution:

It seems that authentic leadership is the most important factor women can maintain to rise as leaders for society. Women shouldn’t feel they must lead with an iron fist to thrive because, nor that this is the only way they will ascend the corporate ladder. Leadership should not be garnered by fear, but rather by consensus and a belief in the leader. In addition, women should not feel that they must act passively to conform to traditional ideas of female leadership. Rather, they must be true to themselves and realize their influence as leaders… Female leaders can rise to the top as they embrace their own strengths as women and maintain a leadership style that is embedded in their individuality. This is what will draw others near, inspire, and motivate.

When it comes to female leadership in the workplace, I hope my little blog post is just one piece of an increasing discourse centered around embracing individual strengths. And if we do generalize about differences between men versus women, I hope we see more conversation that emphasizes the benefits of a “female style” of leadership. Positive reinforcement, people: Let’s talk about what we’re doing right once in a while!

We’ve got a ton of work to do. 85% of PR practitioners are women but the top 80% of management is male. The glass ceiling still exists in many industries. I’m painting my nails and I’m getting a hammer.

12 comments
Amy Stage
Amy Stage

Amazing! Love this post. I was reading "Nice Girls Don't Get The Corner Office" after I lost a job last year and was clinging to every word. At the end of the day, however, I don't see anything wrong with baking cupcakes for the office holiday party (especially if the office is predominately female) or being the first one to make coffee in the break room that morning (first person there should make it!). Computer Science Barbie is my new hero. I'm going to frame her photo and keep it on my desk.

Thomas Langan
Thomas Langan

It is an unusual string of links that has taken me to your blog, but here I am. Very interesting post, and great comments too. I was actually reading about this same issue in Edge this morning - http://www.i-l-m.com/edge/9518.aspx.

I am a (nearly) qualified coach and I have a little experience in this area from my training. These feminine and masculine traits are actually aspects of Emotional Intelligence. No doubt it is something people generally know about, but what research suggests is that while men and women share the same EQ levels on average, different aspects of EQ are naturally more outstanding in different genders. Without going into the actual deep meaning of what is to be a Man or to be a Woman, essentially any gender can learn the aspects that are not natural to them. Also worth noting is that environment and chains of events in life has an impact on what characteristics are predominant in individuals.

I am not in a position to comment on the difficulties Women encounter with "Boys" clubs (they are not counter productive and represent nothing but greed and abused "power", but then again I am a millenial so I prefer open, shared, collaborative environments!). But what I would say, maybe individuals could look at the science of EQ. Identify what your strong emotional characteristics are and identify your weak ones. Nurture your strong ones and alongside it develop your weak ones. This is something I try to do at every relevant opportunity, it allows me to be balanced in my decisions and reduce conflict in my life, not just work.

In terms of leadership styles, different situations require a leader to adopt different strategies and styles of leadership. These different styles pull on different emotional intelligences. You quite rightly mentioned the benefits of "female style" leadership. These flow from the "predominantly feminine" emotional intelligences and are very important, as are the "perceived masculine" intelligences.

In confrontations (passive or otherwise) it is also good to know who you are dealing with and what their perspective is. As Sun Tzu said "If you know yourself and you know the enemy, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles."

At the end of the day though, you have to remember who you are, a Man or a Woman, otherwise things get very confusing!

I look forward to reading more of your posts. Hope I haven't ranted too much here!

Kelly Reeve
Kelly Reeve

GREAT post. You explain a lot of facets of the equation here that I think are important-- and leave out that "poor us" dribble that drives the wrong message. I'm psyched for the world when this is the kindof content coming out of our generation.

YES

Daria @ Mominmanagement
Daria @ Mominmanagement

Great post! Thank you Margie for tweeting the link to me! I happen to be one of the more assertive and decisive women and the feedback I am always working against is the "bitchy and aggressive" words. Am I any stronger than the men? No, but there is an expectation that because I am a woman that I should have a softer approach.

I am also a mom. I have often has things like "momcentric" and "when your kids are older and you're focused on your career" thrown at me and I resent it immensely. But the worst is the internal struggle to try to do it all and be it all - both in career and at home. That whole Super Mom syndrome is exhausting...

I like your last sentence, paint my nails and get a hammer. Good one!

Marjorie Clayman
Marjorie Clayman

Fantastic post! So glad Carol pointed me in your direction.

I recently read a book called Ad Women, by Juliann Sivulka. I had been tossing around this whole series of issues as I started to read it, so it was one of those happy moments where puzzle pieces fit together.

On the surface, the book traces the history of women in the advertising business, but on another level, it shows the evolution of a lot of the traits you are talking about. For example, women started getting a lot of jobs in marketing because big boss men decided that "the woman" was the primary buyer. Woman of course meant white, middle class. Women had to argue that they could talk to these women buyers because they knew what those women wanted. However, they themselves were actually promoting stereotypes of women in their ad copy while trying to break through those stereotypes by getting jobs.

As you say, a lot of these women were known to be the best minds in the business, and everyone knew they were REALLY running companies, but some women didn't even show themselves in the office. Men and women were segregated entirely, in fact, for many years. As the years went on, women more and more got higher paying jobs by creating ads that presented women as masters of the home and nothing more.

Given that all of this was traced from 1889 to the present day, it's probably not much of a surprise that we are still trying to untangle this web of complexity today. But I see evidence of it every time I sign into the blogosphere or Twitter. "Maybe I should cuss more, cuz that makes me one of the guys." "Maybe I should never cuss because as a woman I'm not expected to." "Maybe I should talk about the touchy feely side of business because I'm a woman." "Maybe I should ignore the touchy feely side so i can talk with the guys."

It's so confusing. Such a bummer, too.

Great post!

Elisabeth Michaud
Elisabeth Michaud

I don't think feminist should be a scary word that implies we are "femi-Nazis". Coming from someone who took a lot of anthro classes about modern iterations of gender (and some women, gender, and sexuality classes, too), I am shocked that people still have such negative views of that term. So many women claim they believe in equality and choice for women but will swear over and over again that they aren't feminists. I say we need to own up to the term. I feel a blog post coming on...

Elisabeth Michaud
Elisabeth Michaud

Nice one, Janet. I love how you are getting all third-wave-feminism-y with this piece (and for the record, I am one of those people who doesn't think "feminist" is a dirty word). Gives me a lot to think about in terms of my own workplace, where the gender balance is overwhelmingly female (we literally have ONE guy in our office). I think I'm lucky to work in a place like that because it has let me discover my own leadership/management style without being in a place where it will be looked down on as girly or weak. I can figure out who I am and how to run things in a way that's comfortable and true to myself.

Jury's still out on whether that style will include emoticons or not. I'll keep you posted.

Zach Cole
Zach Cole

This is an awesome post, Janet. I must say, I was very intrigued by the stats you pulled from the TED talk video. I think your core point here rings true. At the end of the day it's not about masculine or feminine behaviors, it's about leadership. Plain and simple.

Janet Aronica
Janet Aronica

Hell yea make cupcakes if that's your thing! Own it. :) 

Thomas Langan
Thomas Langan

Sorry an edit regarding the "boys" clubs - they are counter productive (rather than "not" counter....)

Janet Aronica
Janet Aronica

Thanks for reading! Yea the "poor us" attitude that sometimes sneaks into conversation on this topic is completely unnecessary. We have resources to change things. Other generations didn't have that and other countries don't have that.

Janet Aronica
Janet Aronica

Gosh that's exactly it. If you assert yourself you're a bitch but if you're too passive you need to step up and be like one of the guys - that's exactly the type of conflicting messages and attitudes that I'm getting at here. Kudos to you for being a working mom. I don't know anything about parenting, I'm at a very different point in my life right now but what I can tell you is that your kids will grow up, be in their 20's, and respect you on a peer to peer level one day and appreciate what you do/did for them. That's where I'm at with my parents and it's just really nice :)