You work long hours. You meet every deadline, and you exceed every target. Google “team player” and you’re met with 1,258,345 images of yourself. Why then, does your executive team not take you seriously?
Because you act like a girl.
That’s right, you heard me. You act like a girl, and it’s holding you back professionally.
Now, before you get upset and start sending letters to my editors inquiring as to why they let me write this stuff, look back at what I really said.
You act like a girl, not You are a girl. There’s a big difference between the two. And also, for the record, you aren’t a girl—you’re a woman.
Women have made great strides in the corporate world. We are present in the C-suite, a force to be reckoned with, with an ever-expanding center of influence and seemingly endless possibilities. But, if you want to play ball with the likes of Marissa Mayer, Ellen J. Kullman, and Meg Whitman, you need to make sure the woman you are at the office bears no resemblance to the girl you were in college (or worse, high school). Of course there’s nothing wrong with bringing some femininity into your professional role, but there are some notably “girly” habits that should be avoided in the workplace at all costs.
Wearing Your Emotions on Your Sleeves
Have you ever cried during a performance review, or been visibly envious when a co-worker received an accolade or award you felt you deserved? How did you react the last time your boss pointed out a mistake in your work?
As the more emotional sex, fact is it’s more common for women to struggle with reining in our emotions in situations like these. But, you know successful executives do not tear up when a client disagrees with their decision or rejects a proposal. They do not turn green with envy when a colleague is rewarded for a job well done, and they most certainly do not become visibly shaken when their logic is questioned. Sure, they probably feel like doing all of those things, but they’ve learned something important: A good poker face can be your best asset in the business world.
Learn how to reel your emotional reactions back, deal with the situation in front of you, and save the rest for a nice, relaxing kick-boxing session.
Blurring the Lines
Women are really great at making friends. And we spend most of our waking hours at work, so it stands to reason that we will develop friendships with our co-workers. This, however, has its drawbacks, namely that building visible alliances with co-workers and socializing on company time are going to slow down your career growth.
Think about it: Would you be comfortable having knowledge about a friend’s upcoming performance evaluation or employment action before she does? What if you are asked to provide input on these decisions? Are you comfortable with others having an expectation that you owe them a “heads up” on matters related to their employment?
If these scenarios seem unlikely at this stage in your career, remember, you don’t want to stay at this stage in your career. Being close friends your co-workers can put you in a lot of tricky situations as you (or they) are promoted, given management responsibilities, or asked to make tough decisions about the team. This doesn’t mean you can't have great relationships with people at work—but make sure you keep a line between professional and personal friendships. It’s not easy, but it’s a challenge you’ll need to accept if you want to be a decision maker.
Confusing the Office Hallways for a Catwalk
There’s no argument that looking good on the outside boosts how you feel about yourself on the inside. Unfortunately, as women, we tend to get that confidence boost from feeling that we look “cute.” The problem, of course, is that professionals aren’t supposed to be cute, they’re supposed to be effective, intelligent, and no-nonsense.
As a veteran of the human resources industry, I’ve seen more than my share of well-meaning young women make some very regrettable wardrobe choices, including wearing items that should be reserved for the bars into the boardroom. I think some of this stems from the fact that, for many of us, our early career clothing choices are primarily budget-driven, and that it can be very tempting to choose pieces from less expensive, trendy stores or department store junior’s departments. With a little planning and budgeting, however, you can avoid this temptation—and the resulting judgments regarding your character and maturity that are sure to follow.
Invest in a few high-quality wardrobe staples, such as black trousers, knee-length skirts, tailored blouses, and two really great pairs of shoes. If properly cared for, these items will last years, and will never go out of style. And repeat after me: Armani will always make a better business impression than Forever 21.
Using the “Pretty” Outlook Fonts & Stationery
Do you have one of those pretty email signatures that shows off your individualism and makes you smile every time you hit “send?” I have to admit—every time I see one of these, whether it’s glaring pink and yellow balloons or a more “subtle” signature line that’s in a bright blue cursive font, I’m shocked.
As a member of my company’s management team, I’ve also received numerous comments from clients, vendors, and executive team members complaining about this issue. First, let’s talk logistics: Not all email systems are compatible with fonts and stationeries. When messages are received in this type of format, the stationery background is often removed completely and placed on the message as an attachment. And these extra files can cause your email to be flagged as spam, delaying or even halting the delivery completely.
Second, and more importantly, the clients who’ve commented on emails like this almost always question the professionalism and technical abilities of the member of my team who sent it. I can also tell you, I have never received comments of this nature regarding written correspondence from a male employee.
Emails and other forms of correspondence you create on behalf of your employer should not be filled with whimsy, unless whimsy is the primary objective of the business. And, work-related correspondence is not the right forum for a visible celebration of your “you-ness.” So let me translate: Stick to 10- or 12-point Arial (keeping your signature line in the same point size as your message) and a white background. Keeping your correspondence professionally formatted will ensure that the reader focuses on the content of your message, rather than on trying to decipher the font.
As women, we’ve made great strides and have broken down barriers our great-grandmothers may not have thought possible. And for the most part, we’ve done it with our femininity intact. The challenge for us, as women still on the path to career success, is learning to distinguish between that which is feminine and that which is girly, and conducting ourselves accordingly.
TopicsThe Gender Gap , Job Skills , Career , Work Relationships , Syndication , Getting Ahead , Career Advice
Brandy Lee is a seasoned human resources executive with practical experience in employee development and change management in a variety of industries. As the Practice Director of the HR Services Group at a progressive CPA firm in Orange County, she provides high level consulting services to the firm’s business clients. You can find out more about Brandy by connecting on LinkedIn, or visiting her blog, Real Women Unite, or her wildly funny list of “Things We Learned The Hard Way.”More from this Author