I heard about this book a long time ago and considered reading it, but I resisted. I was hesistant about reading a book that seemed to be all about things women do wrong in business and how we should change ourselves. It seems like a sucky premise for a book. I thought, “Why do I have to be the one that changes?” I’m awesome. I certainly don’t like everything and every part of who I am every day, but I generally think I’m a great time.
Besides, I thought my time would be better spent learning how to be a better marketer and letting the results speak for themselves, rather than change who I am for someone else’s definition of “professional” or “success.”
Lolz. That’s mistake #1. In the business world, your results don’t just speak for themselves. You have to be an effective communicator – whether that’s through metrics, through organizing your thoughts when communicating plans, your terminology and most of all, your actions. Based on conversations I’ve had with more experienced marketers, I’ve noticed that while I think through marketing and business in similar ways as they do, I don’t communicate these things nearly as well. The time spent learning to be a better marketer hasn’t been wasted. However, sharpening other areas could help me progress to the next level. This isn’t about changing. It’s about growing. I opened myself to the idea that some of these traits and habits I’m so afraid of changing aren’t actually making me happy anyway.
So I read the book. I liked it. It outlines 101 common mistakes that women make and offers coaching tips on how to improve things if you think you’re guilty of making one of the common slip-ups. Here are my thoughts on the ones that struck a chord with me.
Mistake – Working Hard
You have to pluck yourself out of the weeds and make time for things like relationship building, strategic thinking and networking. Keeping your nose to the grindstone won’t necessarily get you promoted. You have to invest time in these other things.
- Remember Parkinson’s Law – work expands to fill the time alloted. Define what your tasks are and what your work hours are going to be and act accordingly.
Mistake – Doing the work of others
Promotions are rewards for getting the job done, not necessarily being the one that does it. That saying “If you want something done, do it yourself” is BS. All that ensures is that you’ll be the one doing whatever that task is for a really long time. If you teach people that you’ll do things for them, you prevent them from being motivated to figure things out on their own.
- Don’t volunteer for low-impact, low-profile assignments. The author’s advice is to “sit on your hand rather than raise it.”
- Don’t let people “delegate up” inappropriately. Avoid the inclination to “mother” people, solve their problems for them and waste your time. If it’s their project, it’s their responsibility to own it and figure it out.
- My take – Know when your experience is better utilized for strategy/planning and know when to jump in and execute on the right tasks. As a manager don’t solve people’s problems for them, but nudge them in the right direction to figure it out so they take the que that this is the expectation and they learn what the resources are to figure things out.
Mistake – Working without a break
Working without a break sends the message that you’re flustered or inefficient. If you seem like you’re flustered you’ll be passed up for important projects and opportunities.
- Obviously, the author says take a lunch break. Personally, I like working through lunch and going for a 10 or 15 minute walk at 3 or 4 to power through the last few hours of work. I say, find what works for you.
Mistake – Holding your tongue
Because we’re afraid of being accused of being too pushy or aggressive, women hold back on giving their opinions.
- “Disagree without being disagreeable.” Acknowledge what the other person has said, but then offer your idea and two or three reasons why you think as such.
- “When in Rome, do as Romans do.” You may have been raised not to talk back or speak up, but you are not a child anymore. Speak up.
- My take – My friend has a saying: “Bad news can’t wait.” If an unanswered question, misunderstanding or anything is preventing you from doing the absolute best job you can do, you have a responsibility to your team members to speak up and fix that situation.
Mistake – Polling before making a decision
Participative decision making is a good thing, but being unable to make a decision or take action without knowing what every single person thinks or if they approve isn’t. There’s a fine line. Know when to own a decision and know when to get input or permission from others.
- Take more risks by acting without permission. Start with small, lower impact decisions.
Mistake – Feeding others
The author’s take is that feeding others will prevent others from seeing you as a figure of authority.
- The author advises to only feed others when there is a strategy behind it. She uses an example of an executive she was coaching who was unapproachable. To appear more approachable, she advised him to put a candy bowl on his desk so that people would drop by to chat.
- My take – I don’t know how I feel about this. What do you think?
First off – regarding the unapproachable boss – if the guy’s an unapproachable jerk, a bowl of jelly beans isn’t going to make people want to hang out. That sounds like a band-aid solution to me.
Great company culture is essential. It starts with great leadership, but everyone should contribute to it. Food and drink is a part of that since it’s a social thing. I don’t think the author gives men enough credit. I’ve worked with several awesome men that have taken it upon themselves to ensure that team lunch was ordered every Friday, that coffee was stocked or occasionally surprised us with bagels and donuts. It’s just about being helpful at a small business.
I get that there are social implications with the mother/care-giver/food thing. However, the necessity for everyone to contribute to making the company an awesome and comfortable place to work outweighs my fear of the mother/care-giver/food thing. Whether you contribute through ordering t-shirts or bringing in some candy, make your business an awesome place to work.
Mistake – Being financially insecure
Being financially insecure prevents you from taking career-building risks at work that lead to more responsibility and better projects – risks like speaking up. This is out of fear that you’ll lose your job and the financial ruin you’d be in because of that.
- She gives the obvious Suze Orman tips – set up an emergency fund, pay off credit card debt, start a 401k etc. Do that stuff. My friends at Perkstreet Financial have a great personal finance blog with information about this stuff. You should read it.
- My take – It’s more expensive to be a woman in our society and we still usually make less money than men, so it’s harder for women to be financially secure/independent, and that impacts how we approach our careers.
The “making less” can in part be attributed to the fact that we tend to go into careers that pay less (teaching etc) than high-paying careers like finance and engineering, where there are more men. For the “it’s more expensive to be a woman” part, I think women have higher fixed costs and “maintenance” costs.
- Women shop more. Popular fashion in our society demands this, as mens fashion is more versatile from day to night to relaxation and season to season. Of course you can invest in “classic” pieces in women’s fashion, but I feel like there are more trends, accessories and pieces to keep up with for women. We “need” more stuff so we shop more.
- A lady’s haircut in a bigger city like Boston starts at around $50. I think it’s like $20 for guys. (They do go more frequently though.)
- Depending on your insurance, birth control pills are about $30 a month and an IUD is around $600. (That’s a one-time “installation” fee and they last for 5-10 years.)
- I laughed out loud at the disbelieving comment from some guy on this TechCrunch article about time-of-the-month monthly subscription Juniper – “A dollar a day? Dang.” (Bahahaha.)
- I forget the brand, but there’s some commercial where the woman talks about how her and her husband both gave up soda, and she lost only 5 pounds and he lost 20 pounds. That is totally true! Even if we’re on a budget, we buy healthier groceries since thanks to estrogen, women are kind of forced to watch their wastelines more than men. Salads and yogurt are simply more expensive than peanut butter and jelly and pizza – staples of a budget-friendly young professional’s diet.
Obviously, I’m speaking in generalities and women can choose not to do these things. But most people aren’t like that. In general, people want to fit in and do what they want and they adjust their budgets accordingly. So it ends up in the situation as is – it’s harder for women to be financially secure/independent, and I think that in an indirect way that impacts how we act at work.
Why doesn’t anybody talk about this?
Mistake – Letting people waste your time
Being a nurturing and kind leader is not mutually exclusive from having ownership of your time.
- Learn the difference between when people want to talk and when they need to talk. Use this phrase: “I would love to talk but I’m on a tight schedule today. Can we catch up later?”
Mistake – Using qualifiers
Qualifiers are beginning your sentences with phrases like “Perhaps we could….” or “It’s kind of like…” Qualifiers dilute your message and make you sound less confident.
- To get comfortable expressing opinions, add taglines to the end of your strong statements to wrap up your thoughts. (Example: “For the reasons listed above I feel strongly we should do ____. I’m curious to hear what others think.”)
- If you actually are unsure about something, rather than using a qualifier to just kind of give your opinion, explain that you are unsure. (Example: “At this point given what we know so far, my recommendation is that we do _____, but we shouldn’t make a final decision until we get more data.”)
Mistake – Using non-words
Non-words are words and phrases such as “like”, “umm”, or “See what I mean?” People use them to fill silence when they are speaking. Like qualifiers, they dilute your message.
- I am so guilty of this! So if you have ever heard yourself on video and realized – in horror – how often you say “like” or another little phrase like that, you are not alone. Slow down, take a breath and think before you speak. Don’t rush through things.
Mistake – Crying
Don’t be fooled by sensitive workplaces where it seems like crying is accepted. Crying makes people uncomfortable.
- Women don’t have good practice or good examples of expressing anger in “normal” ways like raising our voice like men do, so a lot of times we express anger in the form of tears.
- If you feel yourself welling up, excuse yourself so you can collect your thoughts. If you find yourself in a situation where you cannot excuse yourself and you get teary-eyed, try to put words to the emotions to keep the conversation logical and focused. (Example: “As you can see I feel strongly about this subject…”)
- In the spirit of keeping this post honest, I have a confession. I’m not a huge crier, but I thought about this and realized I’ve cried once at every job I’ve had.
Mistake – Believing that others know more than us
From doctors to car salesmen to co-workers, women assume that others know more than us. We let this assumption prevent us from taking on new projects or risks in the work place.
- My take – I love this quote – “Most people people never scratch the surface of what they are capable of.”
Here’s my story: I used do this all the time with math. I have a mental block about all things math, and it goes back to when I was in kindergarden and kind of fell off the math train when they introduced all this hoopla about odd and even numbers. But my natural inability to deal with numbers turned out to be a strength. I double, triple and quadruple check my math because I’m extra aware of the necessity for accuracy, so when I’m talking about numbers I’m very prepared to explain my methodology and reasoning. I used to preface anything metrics or numbers related with something like “Now I’m no mathlete, but…” and then I’d actually say something insightful about conversion rates. Now I just speak the numbers as they are because I trust my methodology. There is no reason to downplay what I’m saying.
The takeaway here is that you never know what you can do until you try. Question the assumptions you have about yourself. You are not inferior, you may just have less experience in certain subjects, and you are capable of learning. Don’t be a damsel in distress. It may be your first time taking on a project like that, but it’s unlikely that that is the first time a project like that has ever been done. Ask questions and learn from others.
In general, the themes that the author expresses are:
- Recognize that every action has a reason behind it. Consider what the reasons for your actions are. Take into account like your upbringing and heritage and how those play out in your adult life.
- You don’t have to feel guilty about having your needs met.
- Take risks.
- Be direct with people.
- Keep the big picture in mind and make time for things like networking, building relationships and strategic work. Set personal goals for yourself.
- Set your boundaries and prioritize your tasks. Have a life outside of work that you want to leave work for. As an employee you owe your company and team a job well done and sometimes that means early mornings and late nights, but not every morning and every night.
I’m glad I read the book. I didn’t agree with the author’s point of view on everything, but she opened my eyes to things I do and why I do them. The book made me realize that there is a reason behind every action and pushed me to consider how my culture and upbringing influenced me to become who I am. The book also validated frustrations I’ve had and made me realize that I had something to do with every single one of those situations. That means I can have something to do with changing the outcome next time I encounter those scenarios.
We can resist change all we want, but maybe all that does is prevent us from growing into someone a little savvier, more informed, successful and happier. Now who can resist that?