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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

3 Career Lessons That Men Know and Women Don't

Do you ever feel like your male colleagues are moving up the career ladder at the speed of light—higher salaries, better projects, lunch meetings with the head honchos—while you’re stuck moving at a snail’s pace?

Even the guys who have more confidence than work ethic seem to prosper. You know the ones I’m talking about. They’re God's gift to women (and the rest of the world, for that matter). They put in a half-baked effort, but want all the credit. They think that just showing up merits your eternal gratitude.

The next time you’re feeling frustrated with the seemingly sexist status quo at your office, don’t pick up the phone to vent to your friends. Pick up a pen and a piece of paper and start taking some notes. Here are three important lessons you can learn from your male colleagues (yes, even the obnoxious ones):

A Little Selfishness is a Good Thing

Research has show that men are way more likely to ask directly for what they want—a higher salary, more advanced work assignments, flex scheduling—than women are.

Why? According to Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever in their book Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation, “Women often worry more than men about the impact their actions will have on their relationships. This can prompt them to change their behavior… sometimes by asking for things indirectly, sometimes by asking for less than they really want, and sometimes by trying to be more deserving of what they want (say by working harder) so that they’ll be given what they want without asking.”

Men don’t do this (generally speaking, anyway). They know what they are entitled to, and they ask for it—no less, and no matter what everyone else thinks. Sound obnoxious? Spoiled? Selfish? It’s not—it’s necessary for your career growth. Take it from the guys: You have to ask for something in order to receive it.

Expertise is a Matter of Perception

During my first year out of college, I participated in a seminar run by the OpEd project, a non-profit aimed at getting more women published in the editorial pages of major newspapers.

One of the first exercises we had to do during the class was go around our table and complete the sentence, “Hi, my name is _________ and I am an expert in ___________.”

This turned out to be the most challenging exercise of the course. Not one of the women participating was willing to boldly and definitely call herself an expert, no matter how impressive her credentials. Interestingly enough, the seminar teachers said that on the rare occasion where they had done the exercise with a group of men, there had been no hesitation whatsoever in participants’ claims of expertise, even those with little more than a cursory knowledge of the subject!

Apparently men are clued in on a big secret that hasn’t quite spread to the female populace: If you perceive and carry yourself as an expert, very few people will question it.

Use Confident Language

In the year I spent as an employee at a small business incubator and co-working space, I saw a ton of male entrepreneurs saunter in, plop a half-written business plan down on the table, and explain to me exactly how they were going to “change the world” or “make a million dollars” or “revolutionize an industry” or [insert audacious claim here]. Without blinking an eye.

Meanwhile, many of their female counterparts with equally great (or better!) ideas fell prey to subtly career-sabotaging “nice girl” blunders like over-explaining, apologizing unnecessarily, using minimizing words, being the last to speak, and believing that others know more than they did, just to name a few.

The result? Take a guess. When it comes to determining where to spend their time and money, investors reward confident sounding entrepreneurs the same way that supervisors and mentors reward confident and assertive protégés.

Fact: working women still don’t have as much privilege as our male counterparts. On average, women still earn less money than men doing the same level of work, and even though we outnumber men when it comes to bachelor degrees earned, we are still grossly underrepresented in higher-level leadership positions.

That being said, there’s nothing stopping us from taking a page from their book: walking into a room as if we own it, never questioning our right to weigh in on a conversation; unabashedly claiming our expertise, and expressing our entitlement to the opportunities, promotions, and props we’ve worked hard for. Our careers deserve it.

Photo of man at work courtesy of Shutterstock.