Am I a Bright Girl?

This is another post that’s been sitting in the queue, unpublished. In my continuing effort to have transparency and credibility on the blog, it’s finally coming out to the world! Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of articles about pay equity and glass ceilings for women. When I first started noticing these articles, I generally brushed them off as, “This doesn’t happen any more, women can definitely rise to the top without a problem!” But, the more I read, the more I started looking at myself, and noticing that I display some of the traits mentioned in the articles. This post is not about “discrimination”, but about self-reflection, and realizing that if you don’t at least consider the issues at hand, you might be part of the problem. So, which issues really hit home for me?

Women are too nice. Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office by Lois Frankel is on my to-read list, as every article that mentions this book seems to hit home for me. Basically, Frankel argues that being “nice” won’t help you get the corner office. She’s not talking about common courtesy, but rather the niceness that comes across as weak or less than confident. The day I realized I might be too nice: I was writing a bullet point list of action items that needed to be completed in order for me to submit a large purchase order. I’d already written, “please” in the instructions. I then proceeded to write “please” in front of every single bullet point! Now, I know that saying “please” is generally a good way to do business, but before every sentence on a bullet point list? People don’t have time to read all those extra words, and I’d already set the tone of polite but necessary at the top of the form, so there was no need to write “please” 10 additional times!

Women don’t ask. I’m coming to realize that I need to work on my negotiation skills for myself. I tend to do well when negotiating on behalf of the business, but poorly when it comes to myself. This article talks about negotiating first salaries, and many of the articles I’ve read discuss negotiating raises. Study after study shows that women leave money on the table at every stage of their career, and that most assume, “My performance speaks for itself, my bosses will give me a raise because they know I deserve it for all my hard work and achievements.” This really hit home for me, because every time I think about my review, I think about my achievements as either “standard” for my job, meaning they don’t equal a raise, or I think my bosses will get angry at me for asking for a raise. See point #1 about being too nice… I don’t want to hurt the working relationship by asking for a raise, and thus, I’ve now failed on two of the points that contribute to hitting the glass ceiling. I need to “man up” about negotiating for myself!

Women give up too quickly. This article discusses a point that slaps me in the face daily: women are too quick to give up if a task is difficult for them. The article cites a study showing that women are just as capable as men, but we’ve been taught to believe that abilities are innate. Thus, if something is difficult, we can’t change it, learn it, or overcome it, because our abilities just are what they are. Young girls are praised for being “good” or “smart”, while young boys are told, “If you just focus, you can do it. If you just worked harder, you could solve this problem.” I think back on my school years, and that’s the truth. I was always just smart, plain and simple, smart. It wasn’t that I’d studied hard or paid attention in class, I just WAS. My husband has actually been a big part of me realizing that I have the ability to do it, and “smarts” have little to do with my ability to accomplish a task. Particularly regarding technical acumen, he’s always trying to teach me how to do it, instead of just doing it for me (he’s a software engineer by trade, so manipulating WordPress is a walk in the park for him). I think I’m actually making progress toward overcoming this trait, as I’ve started to fiddle around in the code when I need to change something on the blog (note to the engineers, I recognize that WordPress doesn’t really constitute “code”, but there’s syntax and tags that make it look like code to me!) . I’ve started solving problems on the website at work, instead of always running to our IT person to make the changes. Sure, it takes me longer… but I’m reducing the time it takes to complete the steps each time I perform the task. What does this mean? It means I’m LEARNING, putting in the hard work and frustration to learn. I completely agree, at least for myself, that it’s been detrimental for me to attribute my accomplishments to being “smart” over being “persistent”.

I truly believe women are just as capable as men, and that we do possess the intelligence and work ethic to move up the ladder. However, I’m finding out that for me, I’m reluctant to take the step up to the next rung for fear that I’m being pushy and greedy, or that I don’t possess a particular skill set. I’m working on changing my contribution to the glass ceiling for myself, are you?

5 thoughts on “Am I a Bright Girl?

  1. This sums up exactly how I feel about my career, despite working incredibly hard to have one: “I’m reluctant to take the step up to the next rung for fear that I’m being pushy and greedy, or that I don’t possess a particular skill set.” I don’t have any successful career women in my life to look up to or talk with, it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who feels like this!
    I have been trying to work on being more confident in my abilities, and Nice Girls has now become first on my to-read list.


  2. Matt Faus

    I’m proud to be mentioned as such a positive influence! 🙂

    I think the more subjective your set of skills are, the more ruthless you have to be in positioning yourself in the best spot to leverage them. Us engineers don’t have as much of a problem with glass ceilings because our work tends to speak for itself.


  3. Ashley, it’s kind of a silly system but I’m happy to share. I’ll take two different colored pens and with one color write down everything that I’m feeling overwhelmed/uncomfortable/self-conscious about. Then I’ll write, using the other color pen, all the steps I’m going to take to solve the problem/reach my goal. After I’ve written everything down (or I guess you could also type this all), I’ll clip out just the steps to reach my goals and pin them on my bulletin board next to my normal to-do lists. This system helps me have those painful and awkward conversations where people feel obligated to say “but you’re totally smart enough/skilled enough” and I’m obligated to say “no I’m not, I’m a horrible failure” because I’m essentially having that conversation with myself. And pinning it up like a normal to-do list makes sure I’ll actually work on my confidence issues the same as I remember to drop off the mail.


  4. Keisha, I think that’s a great system… as you say, “having the conversation with yourself”, and then just taking away the affirming parts. I’ve never been a big “list” person, but weighing both sides in a visual way is definitely helpful.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s