Female attitudes in the workplace

Why do smart, capable women act in ways detrimental to their career mobility (not to mention mental health)? During my career, working with literally thousands of professional men and women and comparing their behaviors, I found the answer to that question through inquiry and study: From early childhood, girls are taught that their well-being and ultimate success are contingent upon acting in certain stereotypical ways, such as being polite, soft-spoken, compliant, and relationship-oriented. Throughout their lifetimes, this is reinforced through media, family, and social messages.

It’s not that women consciously act in self-sabotaging ways; they simply act in ways consistent with their learning experiences. Even women who proclaim to have gotten “the right”messages in childhood from parents who encouraged them to achieve their full potential by becoming anything they want to be find that when they enter the real world, all bets are off. This is particularly true for many African American women who grew up with strong mothers.

Whether by example or encouragement, if a woman exhibits confidence and courage on a par with a man, she is often accused of being that dreaded “b-word.” Attempts to act counter to social stereotypes are frequently met with ridicule, disapproval, and scorn.

Whether it was Mom’s message—“Boys don’t like girls who are too loud”—or, in response to an angry outburst, a spouse’s message—“What’s the matter? Is it that time of the month?”—women are continually bombarded with negative reinforcement for acting in any manner contrary to what they were taught in girlhood. As a result, they learn that acting like a “nice girl”is less painful than assuming behaviors more appropriate for adult women (and totally acceptable for boys and adult men).

In short, women wind up acting like little girls, even after they’re grown up.

Now, is this to say gender bias no longer exists in the workplace? Not at all. The statistics speak for themselves. Additionally, women are more likely to be overlooked for developmental assignments and promotions to senior levels of an organization. Research shows that on performance evaluation ratings, women consistently score less favorably than men. These are the realities.

But after all these years I continue to go to the place of “So what?” We can rationalize, defend, and bemoan these facts, or we can acknowledge that these are the realities within which we must work. Rationalizing, defending, and bemoaning won’t get us where we want to be. They become excuses for staying where we are.

Although there are plenty of mistakes made by both men and women that hold them back, there are a unique set of mistakes made predominantly by women. Whether I’m working in Jakarta, Oslo, Prague, Frankfurt, Trinidad, or Houston, I’m amazed to watch women across cultures make the same mistakes at work. They may be more exaggerated in Hong Kong than in Los Angeles, but they’re variations on the same theme. And I know these are mistakes because once women address them and begin to act differently, their career paths take wonderful turns they never thought possible.

So why do women stay in the place of girlhood long after it’s productive for them? One reason is because we’ve been taught that acting like a nice girl—even when we’re grown up—isn’t such a bad thing. Girls get taken care of in ways boys don’t. Girls aren’t expected to fend for or take care of themselves—others do that for them. Sugar and spice and everything nice—that’s what little girls are made of. Who doesn’t want to be everything nice? People like girls. Men want to protect you. Cuddly or sweet, tall or tan, girls don’t ask for much. They’re nice to be around and they’re nice to have around—sort of like pets. Being a girl is certainly easier than being a woman. Girls don’t have to take responsibility for their destiny. Their choices are limited by a narrowly defined scope of expectations.

And here’s another reason why we continue to exhibit the behaviors learned in childhood even when at some level we know they’re holding us back: We can’t see beyond the boundaries that have traditionally circumscribed the parameters of our influence. It’s dangerous to go out-of-bounds. When you do, you get accused of trying to act like a man or being “bitchy.”

All in all, it’s easier to behave in socially acceptable ways. This might also be a good time to dispel the myth that overcoming the nice girl syndrome means you have to be mean and nasty. It’s the question I am asked most often in interviews. Some women have even told me they didn’t read on because they assumed from the title that it must contain suggestions for how to be more like a man. Nothing could be further from the truth. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it literally five hundred times in the last ten years: Nice is necessary for success; it’s simply not sufficient. If you overrely on being nice to the exclusion of developing complementary behaviors, you’ll never achieve your adult goals.

Learn to have a wider variety of responses on which to draw. When we live lives circumscribed by the expectations of others, we live limited lives. What does it really mean to live our lives as girls rather than women? It means we choose behaviors consistent with those that are expected of us rather than those that move us toward fulfillment and self-actualization. Rather than live consciously, we live reactively.

Although we mature physically, we never really mature emotionally. And while this may allow us momentary relief from real-world dilemmas, it never allows us to be fully in control of our destinies. Missed opportunities for career-furthering assignments or promotions arise from acting like the nice little girl you were taught to be in childhood: being reluctant to showcase your capabilities, feeling hesitant to speak in meetings, and working so hard that you forget to build the relationships necessary for long-term success.

These behaviors are magnified in workshops at which men and women are the participants. My work in corporations has allowed me to facilitate both workshops for only women and leadership development programs for mixed groups within the same company. Even women whom I’ve seen act assertively in a group of other women become more passive, compliant, and reticent to speak in a mixed group. When men are around, we dumb down or try to become invisible so as not to incur their wrath.

Recognize these traits in yourself. And never put yourself down again!

Can you make a living online?

Can you make it big as a YouTube sensation? Can you ever quit the day job, the one that purportedly causes you grief, and replace with a seemingly more interesting career, such as singing or posting internet videos?

Lots of people – women, in particular – seem to think so. Internet video sites – chief among them YouTube – are awash with videos of people posting on any topic of interest, and music videos of them performing their favourite song.

How is it possible to make a living from posting videos? That probably goes against what many people in traditional jobs have been brought up to believe.

The underlying dynamic about maing a living from posting videos is this. You are trying to get people to watch your vidoes. And it is not just about watching your video, but making them watch the entire video.

People that supposedly make a living from YouTube videos get paid depending on how long people watch their video for. If someone clicks on your video link and then clicks away after ten seconds, you’d have earned less that if someone watched three minutes of it.

Making a living from videos is also about making money from advertising. You can monetise your YouTube channel so that ads appear, perhaps at the start or somewhere in the middle, and if viewers are interested in your video enough to tolerate the ads you allow for, then you are rewarded for both.

What really helps if you have large viewership. If one thousand people watch a three-minute video each day, you could be raking in the cash. But you won’t get one thousand fans overnight, like a newspaper, readership is something you have to cultivate. Which is why a lot of people start working on their YouTube channels while they are still in other jobs, so that the moment they decide to take the plunge making a living online, they have paid their dues.

Making videos is one of the ways you can make a living online. Another is writing and starting up blogs. Both pretty much rely on readership and advertising, and on building up large numbers of readers. And for that reason, you’re going to have to read or blog or video-log about topics that people are going to be interested in, in the first place.

This is why you see an abundance of make-up videos and beauty tips in videos. That is a good starting point for women. After that, you can branch out to other fields. Zoella Suggs started out with beauty tips, got even more interest from her participation in The Great British Bake Off, secured a book deal and moved on to being an author. It is about leveraging interest in one field to springboard to another.

Most women blogs and YouTube channels deal with make-up, beauty tips, home-working, early retirement and travelling on a budget. Starting a YouTube channel with one of these themes is usually a good way to begin.

Sometimes people also start blogs or video channels to market their products. What products? Some may be beauty products, from which they earn commissions from. Or if you are looking for a digital product, an online course (usually on “How to make a living from YouTube”) is usually quite popular.

If you have not got the patience or time to build a big readership, there is another alternative you can try. You can make covers of other famous songs and hope that someone out there will notice your video and offer you either a singing job, or a contract. After all, young Justin Bieber was discovered when he was little via his videos on YouTube. But if you don’t like singing, or like to be videoed singing, and have a talent playing an instrument instead, you could make a cover of the song on your instrument. Piano covers seem to be popular, because on the piano you can play the tune and accompaniment at the same time.

In both cases you can also register your covers to be sold. Now, there are strict rules about selling other people’s work as your own, but in the case of music, you can apply for a mechanical license to market your covers. Really? Yes! You can apply for it via the Harry Fox Agency, indicate whose song you are covering and how many copies you intend to sell, and then the right to market it is dealt with for you – the royalties you pay to the original artist are taken care of you.

Thinking of becoming the next YouTube sensation? Start while you are still in education, or still in your existing job so that you develop a fan base that you can sell advertising to. Use your channel to sell advertising and secondary products, such as courses and music covers. And you never know, when you become well known enough, something else may come out of it – singing contract, book deal or theatre or movie role!

Why are women attracted to the idea of making an online living? Unfortunately this arises from having to balance work, family and children – and guilt. During the normal working hours we have to be responsible for children, so we have to look for other ways to restructure work around it. An online income offers another means of flexible living.

Want to work flexibly? Consider freelance writing

If you are one of the many women with children then it is likely that the work life balance is one of the challenges that has crossed your mind. How do you work while you have children? Do you place them in childcare while you work? Do you encounter guilt, and if so, could you face it? If you are one of the fortunate women whose husbands earn enough for you not to work, then good for you! But most women at some point will have to figure out how to balance work and children without going mad in the process.

Many women may decide to work flexibly. Now, flexible may take on many meanings. One woman’s flexible may not be the same as another’s. To some women, working flexibly may mean working three out of five days every week. To another, it may mean a five day working week but shorter hours each day. To a third, it may mean the complete freedom to choose the hours of work. To a fourth it could mean being renumerated on a per piece basis, meaning being paid on the production of an article or completion of a job rather than on an hourly basis. The possibilities are endless.

Most women have to work flexibly in order to accomodate their children. The other alternative is to place them in childcare (which, to be honest, is fine if the level of play is stimulating enough) or with an au pair, but unless they have really high-powered jobs that they cannot really give up then most women will seemingly reduce the hours at work in order to focus on their children or try to work flexibly from home.

What kinds of jobs allow you to work flexibly? The first type is a traditional job where you are not required at the office every day, or one where you go in one or two days less but still catch up with the work at home on the other days. Employers siometimes prefer this arrangement because it means you work for free for them, but at the same time you are benefiting from being able to spend time with your children.

The second is one where you work shorter hours at your traditional job, or do a job share. A job share is one where your work is paired with another colleague, so that you both do the work but there is a certain amount of liaising to make sure that the handing over of the job is as smooth as possible. There might not be any significant impact to the employer, in terms of cost, but some women prefer that because it is a way of keeping your foot in the door, of holding on to your job while working reduced hours in the expectation that your hours may increase in the future when the children have grown up and are back at school.

Does your job allow you to pick the hours you work? If so, you are possibly self-employed, or your job is computer-based, and you have a relatively forgiving employer and that speed is not an essence in your job. Such jobs may be such as accounting, or conveyancing, where immediacy is not really a crucial factor. Some people rationalise that the more flexible your work, the more project-based or managerial it is.

But what if you are fairly junior in your company and your boss would not entertain the idea of flexible working? You may decide to strike it out on your own. Many women have gone down this path and one of the popular choices, supposedly one where you can make a living, is blogging or writing online. It is a complete career change’

How do you make a living from writing? Is it even possible?

It might not be as easy or as difficult as you think it is. You can write and develop a large readership, then leverage on your fans by advertising on your site, and getting kickbacks in the process. Some companies may pay you if you write a blog post about their product and then publish it. It is a different form of establishing an advertising medium.

How long should a blog post be? According to the website www.searchmechaniks.co.uk, the typical blog post need to be long, it can be around 500 words long. Now, 500 words is not as difficult as you think it is. By the time you’ve read this, you’ve arrived at nearly 700 words already.

But building up a blog and developing a readership in order to use it as an advertising medium takes time and commitment. And there are times when you will question why you are doing it. Writing about your life may not be the theme to start from. After all, every one has a life and not everyone may necessarily be interested in yours. Rather than writing about your own life and then hoping you will build up a large readership – because there will always be celebrities and others in the limelight whose lives are much more interesting – write about things people are interested in. It may not necessarily be what you are good at. But people will always be interested in things such as finance, business, working from home, making income – and these are useful starting points for a blog.

Having children may force you to make career changes, and if your job does not allow you to work flexibly a whole new career change may be in order. A popular avenue is blogging because writing is a career you can easily fit around the demands of looking after children. Being successful in your writing means building up a readership large enough to sell advertising. But it doesn’t necessarily end there. You could write content for websites for companies who are too busy to do it on their own. It takes time, but you may find the balance of being your own boss, a freelance writer and spending time with your children all meets with doing writing as a new career. It may sound like a big step, but it may be one you may find works well for you.