When I was young, women in business were often told if they want to get ahead they need to act like men. Is this still true? Was it ever true? And what the heck does “acting like a man” really mean?
First of all, I think we all need to be ourselves more than ever. But business can be slow to catch up with the real world. So, as a result, they help perpetuate a model of an unreal world that actually doesn’t serve anyone well — least of all business. IMHO.
“Pleasantly aggressive” Eye of beholder?
As I was finishing grad school many moons ago, I interviewed with an SVP of a major bank. He called me “pleasantly aggressive.” And they made me an offer that I accepted. I remember that vividly because much of the time that’s worked pretty well for me.
Although, when pushed up against a wall, I’ve also found that strong direct confrontation with no sign of give, while leaving room for the person to emerge with their dignity, works well too. My way of taming a wild horse — but still giving it ample room to run free.
Is this manlike or womanlike?
Well, I did it without checking or judging myself, so I guess it’s what a woman does. At least THIS woman. Funny how stereotypes get created. And how reluctant we can be to confront them — even pleasantly.
These “pleasantly aggressive” words came from an older man who had been in business a long time, but also had his own view of the world. And so his own filters were at work. Maybe someone else would have seen me as too docile. Or even too brash. Even now.
I think it’s not about whether we act like men, but the energy you put out. Rather than getting stuck in what we’re not getting or how we’re being dumped on, instead a firm internal commitment to / focus on where we need to go. And a strong belief in our own ability to get there. Also good to remember, regardless of your gender, people will label.
But no matter what labels people apply to us. I’ve found they can also fade away as we move forward. Especially if we don’t give the labels — or the people who need to use them — greater strength by buying in. And if we surround ourselves with supportive people who help us see who we really are.
Games mother never taught you
Also at the time I was about to graduate, I had just read a book called Games Mother Never Taught You. (Now out of print, I believe.) It talked a lot about the way men were socialized differently from women. And the whole sports mentality where people could play well with teammates they wouldn’t necessarily want to hang with. Thankfully this has changed a lot — but maybe not enough yet.
Also, the author emphasized something called “huddling”, the social aspects of water-cooler relationships men were better at, at least at that time. She reminded us that women thought working hard would get them ahead, but men knew that wasn’t where they would make their real career moves. And so one way women could act like men was to learn the trick of building strong business relationships.
Promotion and business success
for anyone, male or female,
is not just about things we get done.
It’s about the relationships / connections we make.
A few more thoughts
I never forgot that book. And I used those tips and many more to get myself to places I wanted to go. Did I occasionally get offered less than I found out a man made? Yup. Did I sit and worry about it or did I move forward and map out plans for how I’d make that better for myself? I’ll let you guess.
But I will tell you, every instance became a good lesson as to how to negotiate the next time. Not that I would act like a man. Or a woman. But as myself, a person who learned along the way who I am. My strengths. My weaknesses. And the things I knew I could make happen. All things I learned to not only accept but like.
So do women need to act like men in today’s world? Well I’m betting how you act depends on where you live and maybe the industry. But things have changed dramatically since the time I first entered business. And I think being yourself — with a realistic awareness of who you’re dealing with — can go a long way to help.
Would LOVE your thoughts on this topic!
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