Last week I read an article on Huffington Post, that I quickly added to my “duh, things I already know” mental file, entitled Women Must Be Nice To Gain Influence At Work, Study Finds. While reading the article, I mentally thought of incident after incident that I personally experienced at work. I posted the article to my Facebook page, and the only traction it got was from a good girlfriend of mine, who commented: “Eh….”
Most women in the workplace know this all too well. The super-smiling, extra likable, always cheerful women workers, no matter their level of competence and skill set, always seem to excel at work. Leaving some of us scratching our heads and thinking, “but how?” Men, on the other hand, can be thoughtless, rude, harassers (see Uber, Fox News) and all around jerks in the office, but if they “produce,” they will always rise or at least stay afloat.
Why Do Only Nice Women Finish First?
I would love to make this argument and understanding easy by saying that men bosses are the reason for this sexist double-standard, but unfortunately, I know of a few cases where that isn’t true. I’ve seen my share of women bosses palling around with their male subordinates, trying to be the cool, “I’m just one of the guys” bosses and letting the men on her team get away with all kinds of shenanigans, while the women were called to the mat for every little thing.
In another organization, a male co-worker provoked everyone’s ire. Each major project, we collectively thought, “surely he’ll be tossed out after blah blah blah is completed.” That was wishful thinking, his female boss, known to chew staff members up and spit them out, still has him on her payroll.
The simple fact is our society likes our women to be nice. This spills over into the workplace as well, making it hard for some women — shy, introverted, autonomous, outspoken, straightforward and direct — to be left waiting for promotions that never seem to come. Or waiting for a basic level of respect for their position that doesn’t surface before they find themselves dusting off the old interview suit.
Once a female co-worker told me she thought that people thought she was the silly, funny girl who no one took seriously — something she desperately wanted. She was right, she was definitely vapid and played that up. So when several months later, she was promoted, it left some of us a bit confused. She wasn’t bad at her job, but I believe, her easy-going attitude, her don’t-rock-the-boat demeanor and the fact that she made a point of being the comic relief in meetings, definitely put her over the edge.
The problem is, we all buy into it. A friend of mine, who will say that he is for equal rights and supports feminists, has also complained about a woman contracted to work with our organization for a short-term project. The woman is always cheerful and I don’t know many people with negative things to say about her, but he basically said that she was bitchy and he could not stand her. When I pressed for an explanation, he said something to the effect of, “you don’t know her, if she wants something her way, yeah, she’s not a nice person.” Her standing up for a belief and herself, made him dismiss all the work she had done. I gave him my au naturel world famous eye-roll.
Must We Be Nice to Get Ahead?
And that brings me to how this all relates to me and why I posted the article in the first place. I am the woman who is not (always) nice at work. There I said it. I have work friends from almost every job I have ever had, dating back to my very first job out of high school. I always have a work buddy or work husband that keeps me sane from 9-5 and 6-10 when cocktails and debriefing rants flow easily. However, my dad said it best when he once told me, “you’re just a very serious person.” This means I am not exempt from making mistakes at work, I am not perfect — far from it, but I do feel there are things that could make everyone’s job easier. Oh, and I hate wasting time, even if I’m getting paid to do so. I just hate it.
Although I consider myself kind and thoughtful, I’m not sugary-sweet. I don’t bite my tongue, and if I am annoyed by you, my feelings will show all over my face. You will know if I’m not pleased. If an after work event or happy hour gathering seems like it will be boring, I rarely, if ever, power-through and show my face. If I do, I will be leaving shortly after arriving and only talking to the people I want to talk to.
Yeah, I’m that girl.
But I work my butt off and do a damn good job. Consistently.
I may not be your new work bestie, but I will get the job done. So I know all too well this study’s findings. I live it all the time. The thing is, the way I am, is just the way I am. The question to myself is, how do, or rather, should I change?
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Why Do Only Nice Women Finish First?
I read this post with great interest because I was “that girl”, too. Now, I’m that woman. After a lifetime of working to fit in and advance my career,I walked away and started my own business. I realized that I was holding myself to someone else’s definition of success. When I stopped living that lie, I focused on understanding my life’s purpose and discovered great success. Amazingly, more people “like” me now.
I’m wondering if we’re confusing “nice” with “well mannered”. I’ve noticed that well mannered people generally succeed. It would appear because they seem to be focused on other’s needs and not their own. Sometimes “nice” people are easier to promote because they’ll maintain the status quo — and that’s just what Management desires. Those of us who bristle at that are feeling the beginnings of self-awakening and might consider a deeper look into the personal cost of a toxic environment.