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Being True to Who You Are: Why We Don’t Have to Act Like Men at Work

13 Feb

I have often struggled with the question of how a woman should be acting in the workplace. Should she be aggressive, assertive, and tough, or should she be nice, understanding, and patient? A woman’s instinct usually tells her that she should be nice, but we all know that being too “nice” makes it hard for others to take you seriously. On the flip side, if you are too assertive or aggressive, both qualities that are praised in men, you are considered “mean” or a “bitch.” In Catherine Kaputa’s The Female Brand: Using the Female Mindset to Succeed in Business, she discusses a 2007 study by Catalyst, “Damned if You Do, Damned if You Dont,” where the findings indicated that women often face three common dilemmas in the workplace:

  1. The Can’t-Win Dilemma: If women act like women and embody those traits that make us who we are, they are perceived as weak and incapable. If they act like men, they are seen as too tough. In essence, they can’t win.
  2. The Higher Bar-Lower Reward Dilemma: Women often have to work harder to get to where men are, but they often receive less in exchange for their hard work.
  3. The Competent Yet Disliked Dilemma: Women who embody those leadership skills praised in men, such as assertiveness and aggressiveness, are often disliked, even by women. 

As you can see, no matter what a woman does she is always at a disadvantage. I am sure we all remember when Hillary Clinton ran for president of the United States in 2008, right? When Clinton brought her campaign efforts to a close in June of 2008, CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric made an everlasting impression on the feminists of the United States when she said, “However you feel about her politics, I feel that Senator Clinton received some of the most unfair, hostile coverage I’ve ever seen.”  Couric went on to argue that Clinton’s defeat was not based upon her political beliefs, but was rooted in sexism. What I remember most prominently about Clinton’s bid for presidency was how often she was criticized for wearing pant suits, and when she did wear skirt suits people commented on how thick her ankles were. Seriously? Clinton was also criticized that her tone of voice was annoying and nagging, and was accused of having a meltdown when she got angry during a debate (something male politicians do all of the time).

While Hillary Clinton is just one example, sexism is all around us. So, what are we to do? Should be behave like men or act as we were meant to act? I have always tended to think that women should bottle up their emotions and niceness and be more aggressive and assertive, but Kaputa’s book and the story of E. Lee Hennessee that I recently read on Forbes makes me think differently.

Hennessee works on Wall Street as a trader. For those of you who don’t know, working on Wall Street is seen as a man’s job. As a result, most women working on Wall Street tend to try to act more like the men. Rather than trying to act like the other women working in Wall Street, Henneessee refused to give up her southern upbringing and morals. When senior men would try to bully her to give up her high-powered clients, she wouldn’t budge, but would instead tell them that when their daughters of nieces entered the workforce she hoped people didn’t treat them like he was treating her. When men were rude to her on the phone, she hung up on them and refused to work with them unless they were polite. When people told her that she shouldn’t work downtown, but should work uptown so she could go shopping on her lunch break she went downtown and worked in the biggest room of men she could find. Hennessee defied the odds and opened her own company – all while acting like a true southern woman.

Just like Hennessee, Kaputa does not think that acting like a man is the answer. Kaputa argues that if women were to act like men in the workplace they would be seen, as stated above, as too assertive or too aggressive. Kaputa correctly states that “Bad behavior is disliked in a man. But it’s despised in a woman.” Rather than trying to be what you are not, Kaputa argues that you should embrace who you are and be a woman. Kaputa states that “Your brand must come from who you are, what makes you tick, what your passions are, and what your strengths are.” Rather than focusing on your shortcoming and always trying to be something you are not, Kaputa says that you need to be who you are.

I agree! Why should women spend so much time trying to be like men when that clearly doesn’t work for them? Rather than trying to be aggressive, women should focus on what they are good at – being empathetic and building relationships with those around them. Women have great intuition and the ability to really see how their actions are affecting other people. Why not focus on this ability to help you succeed? Sure, you can be motivated, hard-working, smart, and opinionated, but you shouldn’t try to overcompensate for your softer side. Women shouldn’t be afraid to be who they are in the workplace. Sure, there are things that women should try to keep out of the workplace – like tears or emotional outbursts – but a woman should not have to be overly assertive, mean, or aggressive to be successful.

What do you think? Do you agree with Kaputa that women shouldn’t try to act like men or do you think that, in order to be successful, a woman needs to act more like a man?




Should It Matter That People Think “Tough” Women are Bitches?

26 Jan

The other day my husband told me about a career personality test that he did for his work. The test is designed to determine your best and worst traits so you can learn to work better with your co-workers and grow personally. While his results said the things that we expected – he is a hard worker, is a perfectionist, isn’t good at delegating, etc. – one thing jumped out at me. The test told him that at times he could come across as harsh, judgmental, and critical of those he works with when they don’t do things the way he wants them done. Basically the test told him that he had a tendency to come across as MEAN. We laughed at the results as if it were no big deal. This got me thinking, a man who tells it like it is can be seen as a hard worker or passionate about his job, but a woman who does the same  thing is seen as a bitch. Why is this? Why are women always expected to be the nice ones?

Just as these thoughts were running through my mind, I came across an article by Geri Stengel entitled Being Tough Isn’t the Same as Being a Bitch. In the article Liz Elting, co-CEO of TransPerfect says, “No one likes to be thought of as a ‘bitch,'” but if “you want everyone to like you, you will have a hard time doing what is necessary in hard times.” Gayle Brandel, CEO of Professionals for Non Profits, says that women don’t want to be seen as nasty or mean, and this in turn results in women being indirect, unclear, or indecisive. Stengel then says that it is time to redefine the way people perceive women and the terms used to describe them. Stengel says that “tough” is not a synonym for “bitchy” or “mean,” and “indirect” is not a synonym for being nice and is most certainly NOT a good management tool. AMEN!

While this article made me feel happy, it was a little disappointed that men were not in the article. I would like to know what men think about women who are “tough” at work. Do they consider the “tough” woman to be “tough” or a “bitch?” My bet is that would choose the latter, which kind of bothers me. But then I wondered if their opinion really matters at all? Should women in high power positions care if people think they are a bitch ?

According to a study at Stanford and George Mason University, the traits exhibited by successful managers were confidence, assertiveness, and dominance, but when those traits were exhibited by women they tended to be less successful. Researcher Olivia O’Neil said that women face a big challenge in the workplace because if they are seen behaving in a “stereotypical male way, they damage their chances of promotion, even though these traits are synonymous with successful managers.” It seems to me that no matter how a woman acts at work she is criticized. If a woman comes across as softer, gentler, or nicer she is often told to be more assertive and aggressive. But a woman who is assertive and aggressive is often told that she is a bitch and that she needs to tone it down. According to O’Neil, confident, assertive women are seen as more capable than the nice women, but those confident, assertive women are also often categorized as being socially inept and unliked by their peers.

SO when can a woman really win? If she is nice she is a pushover who will likely never be able to manage others and manage her own business, but if she is mean she is unliked, and therefore, loses the ability to be promoted. O’Neil suggests that women need to study those around them to determine how others are perceiving them and change the way they act depending on the situation. While I understand that there are times where an aggressive woman needs to be more ladylike (like when she is out with a client) and when a “nice” girl needs to be more assertive (like when telling her subordinates what she expects out of them), this seems like so much work that is is exhausting to think about!

I wished we lived in a time where a woman could act like herself at work and get promoted because she is a good, hard worker – not because she is “nice.” Conversely, I think that a woman should be able to make a tough decision and not be considered a “bitch.” But we don’t live in that time, so women either have to stick to their guns and act how they want to act or they have to adapt to a particular situation. In my opinion I would rather be seen as a being a “bitch” than being seen as too nice. At least the bitchy women can run a business and make tough decisions. Sure, some people might talk behind their back, but that happens regardless of whether she is considered a bitch or not. If women continue to be worried about what others think of them in the workplace they will never get ahead and will never be the CEO of a company.

Do you think you are perceived as being a “nice” girl or a “tough” girl? What are some of the challenges you have faced with this stereotype?

Why Most Women Will Never Become a CEO (coming from a man, of course)

17 Jan

Photo from The Kitchen Cabinet 2012

I recently read an article on Forbes that made me want to punch my computer monitor. The article was written by Gene Marks, a Forbes contributor, and is entitled Why Most Women Will Never Become CEO. If the title didn’t get you all riled up, then reading Marks’s article likely will. Not only does he attempt to lay out all of the reasons why women will never make it to the top, but he goes on to suggest that he perpetuates the stereotypes in his own household, proving that he is the typical chauvinist and the very reason why women continue to face barriers in the workplace. 

The article starts out by pointing to the fact that only twelve women hold the title of CEO of a Fortune 500 company, a number which has dropped since the previous year. Because I know that this fact is true, at least as of May of 2011, I assumed the rest of the article was going to be based on well researched facts and evidence tending to show why women don’t seem to be holding the coveted title of CEO as much as men do. Boy was I wrong!

First, Marks starts by giving an example of a car ride he shared with his teenage son and his friends as compared to a car ride he shared with his teenage daughter and her friends. His examples leave one with the impression that the cattiness of young teenage girls is what prevents most women from becoming the leader of a company. While I am of the opinion that women can be catty and dramatic a lot of the time, I have not found this to be true as much in the workplace as I have in “real” life. The fact that Marks is suggesting that women fail to rise to the ranks of CEO because they are too catty is a little ridiculous.  

Second, Marks goes on to discuss that while things have progressed from the days of Mad Men where men patted their secretaries on the “backside” and called them “honey,” men still focus too much on a woman’s appearance. Specifically, Marks suggests that only those women that are attractive will be able to rise to the top within an organization, while those women with less sex appeal will be ignored by their male counterparts. While Marks states that men are still trying to take women serious in the workplace, he argues that taking women seriously has not “progressed beyond the maturity level of my teenage son and his friends.” Marks talks about the way men gawk at attractive women when they leave a room, making me wonder why such sexually focused men come to hold higher level positions than level-headed and motivated women. Not only does his comment reflect negatively upon men who can think beyond a woman’s sex appeal, but it sends a message to women that dressing or looking a certain way will push them farther up the career ladder, which is just plain false. While I do understand that sometimes more attractive people (both men and women) have it easier with regard to first impressions, I don’t think that the way a woman looks or dresses makes or breaks her career. Sure, a woman who dresses sloppy and never showers is going to have problems getting a job, but to say that two equally dressed and qualified women will be distinguished based on their sex appeal is plain false.

Third, Marks argues that the personal and social pressures placed on women make it harder for a woman to obtain a CEO position. While I tend to agree that the pressure to be a good mother, a good wife, and to be involved in their community certainly prevents some women from taking on large leadership roles within their organization, Marks’s discussion just makes him sound stupid. Not only does he admit that he didn’t help his wife when his baby cried in the middle of the night, he admits that beer and attractive women are just about the only thing on a man’s mind – not their children, not helping their wives, and certainly not the helpful, smart women they work with. Nope, beer and boobs is all Marks cares about (and according to Marks, all other men care about).

Fourth, Marks argues that all societal pressures aside, women are held to a higher standard, which in turn prevents them from connecting with their fellow co-workers. According to Marks, men can “get away with more stupidity.” Specifically, Marks argues that it is ok for men to make an inappropriate joke at work or in front of their boss, but a woman who does the same is frowned upon.  Marks says that it is ok for a man to curse when telling a story, but if a woman does the same thing she is considered a bitch. Additionally, men can date women thirty years younger, but a woman wouldn’t even dare think about doing such a thing because “they can’t.” Sure, a woman who has the mouth of a sailor may not be taken as seriously as a man who does the same, but to say that a man will not get judged at all for telling an inappropriate joke and a woman will is not accurate. Has Marks ever heard of sexual harassment lawsuits? 

While I could go on and on about the things Marks says in the article, I am getting queasy just thinking about it.  I do agree with Marks that it would be hard to juggle being the CEO of a company while taking care of your sick child, but I don’t think that these are burdens shared just by the women as they were many years ago. In fact, I believe that there are many more men stepping up at home and with the children because a lot more women are working. My husband helps me clean the house, he pays the bills on time, and when we have children you can bet your bottom dollar that he will be partaking in the midnight feeding sessions. That is just the type of person he is.  He doesn’t look at me and just assume I am going to cook all his meals, pack his lunch, do his laundry, and be barefoot and pregnant. He looks at me as an equal, which apparently Marks has a hard time doing.

All in all this article taught me that there are still disgusting, sex-focused men out there that think women are not as capable as they are. I think it is sad that there are still men like Marks in the workplace that only see a woman as a sex object. I feel sorry for his poor wife that has to work full-time and do everything around the house. To all those men out there, please don’t take any notes from Marks’s article!

Should a Woman Just Put Her Head Down and Not Worry About Her Next Career Step?

12 Jan

Picture from

Being that I am a woman-in-business activist (or at least supporter) I often read ForbesWomen on Facebook and on While a lot of the stories are great, I recently came across a story about Gracia Martore’s rise to becoming a CEO of one of the 500 top companies in the U.S that didn’t sit too well with me. Usually I read these types of stories to get inspired. I am always interested in reading about how women come into these types of roles, especially the leading role of a Fortune 500 company. A lot of times the stories are inspirational and leave me with a feeling that maybe one day there will be more women leading the top companies. So in usual female-CEO-supporter spirit, I clicked on the article.

The article’s first paragraph explains to the reader that Martore started with her company, Gannett, in 1985 as assistant treasurer and has been there ever since. My first thought was, wow this lady has been with her company a LONG time. So I was interested to learn about her transition within the company and the advice she would give to other women seeking a similar gig. My excitement about Martore’s story quickly dwindled when I read the second paragraph, which states “Martore, the anomaly, is a straight-talking advocate of the Nice Girl virtues of moving up the ladder by putting your head down and doing your job.” Now, I am not the God of advice and I most certainly have never been a CEO of a company, but something about the whole put-your-head-down-and-just-do-your-job thing made me feel icky.

According to Martore, she worked hard and did the very best she could do in every position that she held. Of course that is good advice. But then Martore states, “I found that if I did the very best job I could–and didn’t worry about what my next four moves were going to be–that there were people in the organization who would take notice and add more responsibility.” While this is also good advice, I am a firm believer in always knowing what your next move is and what your goals are. What if Martore would have kept her head down and worked her butt off and no one noticed? Would she just keep bouncing from career to career? Would she be fine with being a lower level employee? Didn’t she ever worry that her hard work wouldn’t pay off?

While the rest of Martore’s story was interesting, I was not too fond of the advice of putting your head down and never worrying about your next move. Sure it worked for Martore, but I am not sure that this is the type of advice that women aspiring to be high level executives need to be receiving. I am more of a supporter of speaking up, standing out, and being assertive and aggressive to get what you want. Or, as Sherly Sandberg, COO of Facebook, would say, “Don’t expect that you’ll get the corner office by sitting on the sidelines.”

While I am very happy for Martore and her new CEO position, I am not so sure that I agree that a woman should be willing to work for a company for 26 years before being promoted to the top leadership position. I tend to think that if Martore would have been a man it wouldn’t have taken her so long to rise to the rankings of CEO, but who knows. Maybe I have no idea what I am talking about and maybe Martore has it right. At any rate, I would like to think that if it were me I would have definitely done things a little differently.