When Fear and Low Self-Esteem Hold You Back

low self esteem and self confidenceWhat should you do when mental health issues are holding you back and making it difficult for you to build the career you want? Reader O wonders…

I have struggled with mental health problems for years and as a result have always worked really terrible jobs (combination of poorly paid, admin/dogsbody type roles with bullying managers). I know it’s a combination of fear and rock bottom self esteem that’s the problem. I am in my early twenties and have luckily never been unemployed but I’ve never liked any of the jobs I’ve had. I am planning on going back to university for a masters degree soon with the hope of working in either journal publishing or widening participation but how can I make sure, once I’ve graduated (again), that I don’t keep going for bad jobs? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

I’m so sorry to hear that, O. We’ve talked a bit about imposter syndrome, as well as discussing the book The Confidence Code, and I would encourage you to read both of those posts. I have a few thoughts for you, but I can’t wait to see what the readers say.

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When You’re the Boss: Being Liked vs. Being Respected

likeable-business-bitchI’m curious, ladies: have you struggled to find a good balance between being a boss (or coworker) who is well liked and one who is respected? Did you have to unlearn the idea that you have to be a “bitch in business” to get ahead?

Let me back up a bit. I was interested to read about Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit a few months ago — particularly some of the best advice the women leaders ever received. This one quote struck me, from Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments, chair of DreamWorks Animation, and a director at Starbucks and Estee Lauder:

Smile a lot. People want to work with people they like, people who are happy. … You’ll be dealing with a lot of hard issues, and they’re going to come across better if you have a smile on your face.*

I happen to agree with this advice — one of the things I’ve learned in business is that people definitely prefer to do business with people they like. (I’ve even advised readers to look friendly in their corporate headshots.) It seems obvious, but this flies smack in the face of the mythos of the Bitch — younger women in particular seem to revere it, like it’s a goal. Case in point, pictured above: the amusing, but frustrating video Bitch in Business, produced by the student club, Columbia Business School Follies.

Interestingly, Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office has two chapters on this — one titled “Mistake 16: Needing to Be Liked,” and the second, “Mistake 17: Not Needing to be Liked.”  From Chapter 17:

Like many women, [the woman in the example] had to learn to allow her human, more stereotypically feminine side to emerge while at the same time capitalizing on the best of her more stereotypically masculine style of management.

So readers, I’m curious — how do you balance being likable and being respected? Did you have to unlearn a stereotype that successful women are bitches? What was the best advice you’ve gotten along these lines — or what advice would you give younger women? 

* I can’t find a link to the quote online, but it’s from Fortune Magazine, January 2015. Here’s an awesome video of Hobson speaking at the same conference about how she stopped apologizing for being a black woman.

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Left Behind By a Male Colleague While Wearing Heels

left behind at train stationIf you’re running for the train in high heels and find yourself getting left behind by a male colleague (or a woman, for that matter) as you struggle to keep the pace, is that coworker simply being rude? What should you do next time?

Reader L wonders:

I am from Germany and I love your Blog. Some topics are differently handled here but still most of the tips and advice can be applied here as well. I have experienced some male behaviour which I just find to be rude but I wanted to know if other women have experienced it as well and how they dealt with it. I was travelling with my former boss and and we went to meetings with potential partners etc. I usually wore heels. After the meeting we really had to hurry to catch a train. Meaning he walked extremely fast and did not look after me where I was. I really had trouble keeping up with him. The other time I was prepared and wore flats but then we actually had to run to get to the train. A couple of weeks ago I was travelling with a sort of male CEO and the train was a bit late, but we still had more than enough time to get to our appointment. I was also pacing, almost running, just seeing that he did not bump into others.

I’ve seen situations like this unfold — and I definitely have Opinions. I’m curious to hear what the readers say. To recap, we’ve talked about comfortable heels, the best commuting shoeshow to walk quietly in heels, how to look professional in flats, and traveling with coworkers — but I haven’t stated my pretty stark opinion on heel height for work in a while…. so here goes:

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Faxes from Older Colleagues: Should You Reply by Email?

replying to faxes with emailDoes a faxed letter from a colleague require another fax in reply, or is it acceptable to respond with an email message? What if the differences in communication are due to an age difference between you?

Reader M wonders:

I’ve got a question about professional correspondence. I work in a boutique transactional law firm that rarely handles any matters in court, and if so, it is uncontested and just needs to proved up. I find that when older attorneys need to communicate with me on something, they tend to prepare actual letters and then send it via fax. Is it unprofessional for me to respond with an e-mail? Our office is mostly paperless and even the courts have gone to an e-filing system, so printing a hard copy of a letter just seems unnecessary. If I keep the language in my e-mail formal, is that enough?

Interesting question, M!  We’ve talked a lot about correspondence, including when to use last names, the best way to send thank you notes after interviews (and when to send follow-up emails), hyphenated names and email addresses, and conveying tone in emails. I’m really curious to hear what the readers say about this dilemma.  For my $.02:

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Should You Friend Your Boss On Facebook?

friend-your-bossShould you friend your boss on Facebook or other social media sites? What about colleagues? What do you do when your superior sends you a request?  We haven’t talked about Facebook and bosses for a long time, so I thought we’d revisit. While there are still a ton of amusing stories of people getting fired when their boss saw stupid stuff on Facebook (Buzzfeed, HappyPlace), a recentish (2014) study says that adding your boss to your social networks can have advantages (Time).

For my $.02, I agree with most of the experts: privacy controls are HUGE here. I keep a variety of different friend lists anyway — one very small one for my BFFs, a general one for my friends, one for parent-friends (so I don’t annoy my single/childless friends with a bunch of baby questions), and one for Brooklyn friends (so I don’t annoy friends elsewhere if I see a good deal somewhere local).  To be honest, I’d probably keep my boss off all of them but the general one for my friends.  Personally I hate that FB makes them so confusing — so I dug up some recent articles for further reading. [Read more…]

Joining the Boys’ Club When You’re a Woman

Boys' club at work | CorporetteShould you join the office boys’ club if you’ll be the only woman? What if your male coworkers meet and talk shop outside of work while taking part in an activity — such as tennis or golf — that you don’t even like? Reader K, who works outside of the U.S., wonders:

I have a question regarding the ‘old boy’s club’ at work; my workplace is fairly conservative, with only 15% of the workforce women (although the number is increasing in the younger generation), but quite politically correct and thus nothing seriously sexist or misogynist. My male boss, in his mid-50s, has been fantastic to work with, and as a recruit (from a different company, relocating quite a distance), I’ve been happy with my position and also see potential in the company itself. BUT, after three years, I see that there is a ‘boy’s club’, where they get together and play tennis, have a beer, and get things done. My boss has even suggested that I join the tennis club (playing once a week or so) — but I’ll be the only female and really don’t like tennis. What would you do?

Tough question, K. We’ve talked about networking with older men, dealing with sexist coworkers, and whether or not to pick up the tab at lunch with a group of male partners, but not specifically about this topic. I’d ask myself a few questions first:

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