I recently wrote about channeling femininity and masculinity at work, but I thought it warranted a bit more explanation. By channeling masculinity at work, we exhibit socially dominant traits such as aggression and assertiveness. By channeling femininity at work, we allow others to see us as competent (because our masculine side has communicated the value of our work) but still keeps us likable because they associate us with what females should appear to be.
Many books have extolled the dangers of feminine work behaviors as the culprits for holding women back in the workplace. For example, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In tells about women’s mindset that keeps them from occupying space and taking a seat at the table. How Women Rise provides more examples of how women are displaying traditionally feminine traits that leads them to being ineffective leaders and team members. Both these books encourage women to be more masculine in the workplace. But in my experience, taking this approach at face value is not as effective as adding on another layer of nuance: appearing feminine.
Look your best feminine self. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but the truth is, people like attractive people a lot more than non-attractive people. It’s called the attractiveness privilege. Society puts many groups of people down in many ways, but there’s also many ways we can take advantage of the current situations society provides. One of these opportunities is the attractiveness privilege. I don’t necessarily think we need to be some super model level of beauty or symmetry or weight or size, but we all have a clear idea of what is attractive in whatever mainstream society you live in. I live in South Orange County where a fit athletic body, well colored/cut hair, clear skin, well-maintained nails, groomed/nonexistent body hair, nice teeth, and contemporarily good fashion sense are the standard of beauty. It may be different where you live or where you want to live, but whatever it is, if we want to be perceived as attractive by others, we are under pressure to conform.
DRESSING WELL IS A FORM OF GOOD MANNERS.
– TOM FORD
Be kind and warm. No one likes to work with assholes. Be kind and warm to everyone you interact with at work. You don’t need to kiss their ass, but just being welcoming goes a long way. Say “how was your weekend?,” remember their hobbies and pets’ names and children’s names, in short, be personable even if they are “below” you or have zero chances of benefitting your career. Be an overall likable person.
Your work doesn’t speak for itself. Women have this misconception that if their work is good, others will see its value and credit us for it and praise us. In reality, the only way to get recognized is to speak up for yourself and CLAIM YOUR CREDIT. In the room, you may be the only expert on the subject of your work, and if they can’t interpret your work and if you don’t guide them into thinking that your work is good, they won’t get to that conclusion.
Avoid minimizing your contribution. You are where you are because you worked hard to be there. You don’t need to minimize your expertise to stroke other people’s egos. Let go of saying “… but that’s just me,” “… but I know you have more experience in this,” “I could be wrong, but …” Own up to your work, and if you are wrong, that’s fine. Every mistake is a learning opportunity.
Put yourself first. It is true that women are more nurturing in general. We put others’ best interests before ours, but at work, we should not. When you do favors, stick your neck out for others, or do more work to lighten someone’s load, you are being an asshole to yourself. For the most part, people will not return the favor or even acknowledge your work. They may even give you more work that only seeks to benefit them and not you. Learn how to say NO.
Approach + resolve conflict. We are hard-wired to avoid conflict, especially in the workplace. Someone sends us an angry email and we email back apologizing without thought. We apologize for every single thing. Someone bumps into us and we apologize to them, we apologize for not responding fast enough, for disagreeing with someone. How many times have you said, “I’m sorry, but…”? Own up to your actions and words and learn how to approach and resolve conflict.