By Olga Lavrinenko, Career strategist, Executive coach (Olga supplies a contemporary Russian view on the workplace for Russian women, it makes interesting reading. Editor.)
Entering the corporate world is not easy for a woman. Succeeding in a corporate job and keeping our femininity, is even harder. Should a woman dress up and flirt in the office? Should she bring her radiance and charm to her day routine? Will it help her career …and will it help the business?
Throughout my own corporate career of 15 years, and the years spent helping managing careers of my clients, I have noticed a few major errors which we women make. These mistakes are like poisonous pills; they rapidly bring our careers down, and put our careers at stake. They slowly but inevitably kill our self-esteem, our radiance, and – our careers.
Mistake Number 1: ‘Be Perfect.’
Were you an ‘A’ student in school? Or have you seen those girls, with perfect outfits, perfectly sharpened pencils, and perfect grades? Were you a top performer at school, you always did your homework? Well, now you can forget about it. Welcome to the real world: nobody cares how perfect your handwriting is. In this real world, competitors are hounding your clients, while you perfect your reports. The ‘A-grader’s’ mistake is that she plays too closely to the rules, and tries to please the teachers. The corporate world doesn’t play by school rules, and there are no teachers (or adults) but yourself.
Mistake Number 2: ‘Be A-Sexual’
You do not want to be seen as a woman, so you cut your hair short. Forget about high heels and a low cut blouse. You dress in business suits, dark colours, matching jacket and skirts. In trousers, you walk fast and take large steps. Big gestures. Have you seen robots? That is now your style.
And most important – forget about flirting, even the idea is banned! Forget feelings and emotions in the office. Being joyful, being sad, smiling and laughing – prohibited from now on and forever. What happens to you then? You are not a woman, not a man. You are a walking office zombie. Do zombies have great careers?
And if your boss happens to be autocratic and patriarchal? Somebody who believes women should better stay at home and raise kids? He would kill your career – and your self-confidence – sooner or later. The only way to disarm him gracefully is to use your shy smile, soft trembling fingers and that deep look in the eyes… And please remember from now on: your deep décolleté is your best argument.
Mistake Number 3: ‘Play small‘
And keep silent. I was 25 when I got a super job with General Electric at their European Headquarters. That was a big step for my post-MBA career. I was invited to Board of Directors meetings. I watched senior grey-haired men talking about marketing strategies and was so impatient to stand up and tell them ‘Look!! I know what you are talking about! We just had a great marketing case like that in my MBA.’ I was so excited and really wanted to stand up and say something. But some tiny little voice inside my head whispered: ‘who do you think are you? They have worked here for 20 years… they are so senior! You speak up and they will see how young and unexperienced you are. You will look stupid.’ And I kept silent. That time. And then again. And again.
Only years later did I learn to stand up and speak before this tiny little voice would start its traitorous whispering. Because every time you shut up when you get hurt, when your idea is criticised or rejected, when you have something to say – you become smaller. You reduce yourself. Shrink. You get less energy, less space, less importance, are less visible, then non-visible. And the invisible ghost will have an invisible ghost career.
Mistake Number 4: ‘Be Cinderella.’
Cinderella is hyper responsible, she is very caring, an extremely nice girl who is so comfortable to have around and ask to do favours! She never says no. Even if you are not an evil step mother, you ask Cinderella to do a favour, once. And twice. And every day. And she smiles in return, sighs, and does everything.
You never hear: “I am in such a rush, my three children and five dogs are hungry at home and I need to leave immediately… please could you stay a bit longer and finish this work for me? Oh that would be sooooo nice and kind of you…” And you stay. You wait to be appreciated? You will be soon. Very much appreciated and be given an extra amount of work – because you are so damn good and efficient in doing it!
A client of mine called me some time in January. After the new Year holidays she found herself…in a hospital. “What happened?,” I asked. She got the ‘news’ about a tax inspection right before the New Year Eve – when everybody was packing for the holidays. All her colleagues left including her expat boss. How could she leave? Cinderella cannot leave until she finishes all her tasks. So she stayed and spent 14 days getting ready for the tax inspection. All by herself. And on the 15th day this young beautiful woman was taken to an emergency ward with cardiac arrest symptoms. Not exactly to the ball in the palace. Do you think this helped her career, in any way?
Mistake Number 5: ‘Be alone.’
Or hang out with the men. Make friends with men, copy their style, be like them. Ignore women. Because ‘it is a man’s corporate world.’
In my childhood, the most exciting games I played were with the boys: we played ‘the war,’ and ‘pirates’ – and almost boys only. Girls were not allowed to play, only to watch. And so you watched, and got it – the right strategy to survive and have fun was to behave as a boy, to be accepted and included. And to succeed – in men’s games you had to forget your girls’ friends and stop talking to them, stop playing dolls and ignore all women around you.
And yes, all women groups – what was good about them? Intrigues, chattering, stupid jokes, envy and jealousy, blablabla… When we, women, choose to ignore each other, avoid talking and sharing with each other, choose to compete not collaborate with each other, we cut ourselves off the greatest source of energy, the power of female sisterhood.
Whoever could understand a woman as another woman? Who would listen to her that carefully and share her feelings? Who would stand for her when she may feel weak? Who would be next to her, back her up when she is up to something, to feel safe and supported? So you know that one day, when you dare for something bigger and important, you would not be alone. You would have other women around. Sisters.
Because every woman is a sister to another woman, and the sisterhood of women – wise, experienced, joyful women, is a great power in this world.
Not only in corporate world, but also in politics, and in the world in general. On our world on this planet Earth, the female sisterhood community could change so many things for the better.
These strategies may help you once you are a young graduate to sneak your way into a top company. Top grades, modest looks and yes-to-all-work-attitude could secure you your first job and help you stand out from the other candidates. But as you raise through the corporate ranks, you have to let these strategies go. Otherwise they may sink your ship as extra weight. Spread your wings and fly to the sky.