Are you being told you are ‘unladylike’ in your professional life? Do you ‘chase career, postponing growth in birth rate of your nation’ or have guilt for not balancing work&family well enough? Or perhaps you prefer to make your way by being soft-spoken, smiling and pleasing? And in each case, blossoming at work is paused on a bud phase? There is good news – you can learn to play the game free of self-sabotaging mistakes conditioned by your socialization.
While quite some of you might heartedly deny any gender inequality and list number of arguments and/or examples of successful women, I invite you to stay open-minded and recognize connection between:
If you think disparity doesn’t affect you, think twice: women are enrolled in tertiary education at higher rates than men in both Albania and Serbia, while at the same time they earn less, much rarer occupy positions of legislators, senior officials and managers and there is no economic policy to enforce equal pay.
Having this in mind, it is hard to deny that patriarchal values are still well embedded in 21st century’s Albania and Serbia and that stereotypical gender roles are still at play, somewhat shaping professional aspiration and limitations for young women striving to succeed.
Change the world or change our “nice girl syndrome”
While the world of legislation and economic policies is catching up with the fact that gender parity equals more prosperity for all, young women can also do a thing or two to advance their careers (while they are young!). According to an American author and executive coach Dr. Lois P. Frankel, women could take a look at the cultural cues and societal attitudes to self-sabotaging mistakes.
Frankel maybe wrote a best seller for the US and corporate audience, but the hypothesis on socialization influencing our work behavior definitely stands for women of Albania and Serbia (and across cultures actually). She says:
From early childhood girls are taught that their wellbeing and ultimate success are contingent upon acting in certain stereotypical ways, such as being polite, soft-spoken, compliant and relationship-oriented (“nice girl syndrome”).
Going out of bounds that have traditionally circumscribed parameters of our influence, brings danger of being accused of trying to act like a man or being ‘bitchy’, she claims, concluding that being nice is necessary for success, but not sufficient.
Honey, would you mind making the coffee?
Frankel identified and explained 100+ “typical mistakes women make at work” in her book Nice Girls Still Don’t Get the Corner Office and offered coaching tips for each to help women avoid damaging behaviors. Almost none of us make all of them, but many make some.
Mistake #119: Taking Notes, Getting Coffee and Making Copies
It is highly probable that many young people, not only young women, are facing the hardships of entering into labor force, one of them being the meaningless internships where their potential is not growing. While there are efforts to advocate for more quality internships and treatment of youth in this context, individual can try to stand up for themselves, too. When repeatedly asked to make coffees or similar ‘tasks’, Frankel advises to basically – refuse – “I think I’ll pass, since I did it last time”. It should come in an assertive way – you can express how you feel about it and suggest rotation of such responsibilities. Sometimes though, doing personal errands have no other option than either to feel resentful or to leave such job. Nevertheless, it is worth trying communicating the issue first and not just blindly assuming that this is how things must work.
Mistake #83: Apologizing
Frankel states that a woman is far more likely to apologize than a man, which is again conditioned by socialization values girls receive – to be kind, to not enter into conflicts, to behave. At the same time, low-profile and unintentional errors erodes our self-confidence and the confidence others have in us. Therefore, one should rather: assess when apologizing is worth doing (rather for big-time mistakes), move to problem-solving mode, turn apologize into objective statement of what really happened. She says: Always begin from the place of equality. The person with whom you are dealing might have a higher position than you, but that doesn’t make the person any better than you.
Mistake #44: Believing in the Myth of Work-Life Balance
The topic of women balancing professional and private life seems to never get old. But, the narrative from ‘I am able enough to do it all’ seems to be somewhat switching to ‘I can have it all, but not at the same time’. The situation is difficult, but at least women can stop feeling guilty about it and acknowledge they are not superhuman. While this is a complex matter to be tackled in a single paragraph, Frankel advises focus on quality rather than quantity – staying overtime at work can actually make you look sometimes inefficient and overwhelmed rather than committed. Multitasking also makes us less effective, despite the popular idea of how women are good at it. Finally, climbing career ladder, especially in corporate world neutralizes idea on work-life balance and this is the case for man as well. So straight up priorities and choices in both areas of your life.
MISTAKE #6: OVERLOOKING MENTORS AND SPONSORS
To end on a positive note, this mistake can be seen as a good piece of advice. Having a mentor when you are still a young professional, can really be a game changer. This can be a person in your work place, but also somebody else. Mentors can help us more easily learn how to play the game, guide us and even advocate for us. Sometimes ‘it happens’ we find one. But if not, look it up intentionally. There are also programmes structured precisely to serve this purpose to which you can apply.
Along those lines, solidarity you can find in various female groups can be also empowering – groups based on affinities, geography, other common issues or completely heterogeneous. Start from Facebook and Linked IN – there are like-minded women out there willing to stand by you.
It is hard to be a ‘black sheep’ and to stem from the herd, often judged or pitied. It is hard to counter social and cultural realities, which can hold us back from becoming the best versions of ourselves (or whatever version we prefer!). But if you know what you want – go for it, reinvent yourself and stay persistent, freed from conditioned behaviors contributing to career pitfalls.