Stupid Career Mistakes Women Make
By Samantha Chang
Despite the strides that women have made in the workplace, there’s still a lot of catching up we need to do in order to reach our individual and collective potential. Women are socialized differently since childhood than men and this can hamper our career success.
Here are some common mistakes women make at the office and what you can do to avoid them.
The Nice-Girl Syndrome
Generally speaking, little girls are taught to be nice and get along with others, while boys are taught to be competent, independent and to stand up for themselves. This emphasis on being “nice” hinders women’s capacity for professional success, says Lois P. Frankel, author of Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers.
These approaches work well for men but hurt women because being compliant and “nice” generally doesn’t get you very far in today’s competitive workplace. “Women have been taught since childhood to behave in certain ways,” according to Frankel. “We collude with a system that would like to keep us in our place.” Not giving in to the Nice Girl Syndrome doesn’t give women license to go to the other extreme and become hostile or aggressive, but more so that we should place less of an emphasis on being liked and more on being respected and seen as competent and professional.
A common offshoot of this Nice Girl Syndrome is the stereotypical perception that women “take care [of others]” while men “take charge,” according to a recent study by Catalyst in New York, a nonprofit group that works to advance women in business. “When we think of CEOs, we naturally think of men,” the study indicates. “Men are seen as dominant and ambitious; women as friendly and sensitive.”
Not Speaking Up During Meetings
Another misstep many women make is to skip meetings or to not speak up when they do go. At most meetings, men freely chime in with their opinions and aren’t shy to disagree with someone, but women typically stay quiet, and this silence can really hurt their career advancement.
A meeting is a forum to exchange information and to showcase your ideas. By remaining silent, women don’t demonstrate their presentation skills or their creative and analytical abilities. As a result, women are generally perceived as poor problem solvers, and this erodes their power to lead and motivate others, according to the Catalyst report, called Women and Men in U.S. Corporate Leadership: Same Workplace, Different Realities?
“Women….[don’t] understand that the workplace is a playing field and that to win the game you have to understand the rules, boundaries and strategies,” says Frankel. “Too many women assume that intelligence and hard work result in recognition. The truth is, you have to identify the cultural expectations and play your game at the edge of the bounds.”
Whether you’re a man or a woman, it’s extremely important to communicate effectively, experts say. If you feel that you aren’t being heard in meetings or are having trouble persuading higher-ups of your ability or accomplishments, get feedback from others, suggests Ruth Sherman, author of Get Them to See It Your Way, Right Away. Many of us simply aren’t aware how our communications come off to other people, and this affects the way we’re viewed in the workplace, she says.
Inappropriate ‘Girl’ Behavior
If you want to be taken seriously, it is critical to not engage in “girly” behavior such as sharing too much personal information or gossiping. Seriously, does everyone really need to hear all the excruciating details of your last bikini wax or your weekend fight with your boyfriend? While colleagues may laugh along at your stories, they’re quietly thinking you’re immature and will likely never share anything personal with you. Appearing competent and professional will take you a lot further in your career than being the office clown. “The trick is to build mature, adult relationships without being seen as ‘the mom’ or ‘little sister,’ ” says Frankel.
Perception Is Reality
Experts say other mistakes women make include never saying no to extra work, constantly apologizing, minimizing our accomplishments, obediently following what we’re asked to do and not raising legitimate complaints when they’re warranted.
We all have things we can improve on, but the main thing is to be honest in our self appraisals and work on what we can fix. Because career success is important to many single women, it’s critical to not unconsciously undo your efforts and to take proactive steps to put your best foot forward.
More SMW Career Advice