10 ways women supposedly sabotage their careers!

Career advice for women? Seriously?

My good friend Silvana Delatte sent me this link from Business Insider about a laminated sheet supposedly issued by the HR department of Citibank on how women sabotage their careers. If this is not a spoof (which I suspect it might be) then it makes interesting, if not incredible (as in unbelievable) reading.

Nowhere does it mention doing a bad job, so perhaps good performance isn’t necessary to advance a career in Citibank! This list would be infinitely less risible if the almost all male board had not been part of a group of testosterone driven mis- managers which brought global economies grinding to a halt. The subsequent government bail out was at great cost to the tax payer and impacted the lives of millions. Perhaps some of that money could be used to invest in constructive gender based management training, clearly sorely needed. I can make any number of excellent recommendations, so please contact me Citibank!

So let’s look at this list of career advice for women and analyse it!

  •  Women tend to speak softly – you are not heard. Anyone speaking softly isn’t heard, especially in the company of people who talk too much and don’t listen! Good managers listen! Being heard is also not about the volume of the voice but the pitch. Women could be advised to reduce the pitch of their voices by half a semi-tone to sound more authoritative. But then should that make a difference? Should they even have to?
  • Women groom in public – it emphasizes your femininity, de-emphasizes your capability: Grooming in public is a no no – for anyone. That’s why companies have bathrooms!
  • Women sit demurely – the power position when seated at a table is forearms resting on a table and resting forward. Good posture in business meetings accompanied by positive body language and facial expressions, indicating engagement is a given. Nowhere, even in AskMen, have I seen any suggestions that leaning forward and appearing aggressive is a bonus. Men are usually of a bigger build than women and tend to take up space. So ladies just fill your space.

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  • Speak last in meetings – early speakers are seen as more assertive and knowledgeable than late speakers. Thinking before speaking and measured contribution is never to be under estimated. This is probably because the people who are making this judgement are poor listeners and have the attention span of pre-schoolers.
  • Women ask permission – children are taught to ask permission. Men don’t ask permission, they inform. I actually agree with this one. However polite deference is not to be confused with approval seeking and definitely preferable to arrogant bamboozling. Men also interrupt which is something that shouldn’t happen either.
  •  Apologize – women apologize for the smallest error which erodes your self-confidence. Men tend to move into problem solving mode. I agree with this one too. Women apologise for even the smallest thing even if it’s not their fault or there is nothing to apologise for. But having said that for many the word “sorry” is missing from their vocabulary. Problem solving is not the same as admitting a mistake and dealing with it. Problem solving can be aka covering up. and /or reactive management.
  • Women tend to smile inappropriately when delivering a message, therefore you are not getting taken seriously Well I did some quick research on this little gem and would be interested to see the metrics on that. Women do smile more than men, mainly to soften situations that is true. Smiling would only be inappropriate when delivering extremely bad news. I seriously doubt if a woman would do that unless she really disliked the person. Then she might well do. Men and women of equal rank smile equally.
  • Play fair – women tend to be more naive. A women might assume the rules have to be obeyed whereas a man will figure out a way to stretch the rules and not be punished. So is the message here ladies, playing dirty is fine? May I suggest that stretching the rules was what got Citibank into its little pickle. There is surely no substitute for professional integrity. Besides the activities of the mascara mafia have been well documented. Women can and do play dirty, but target mainly other women.
  •  Being invisible – women tend to operate behind the scenes and end up handing credit over to the competitor. This is a fair point – women have to stop waiting for recognition and step up and get out of the support roles. But then whoever is stealing their thunder should have a little more professional integrity (see above). Good managers recognise and reward.
  • Offer a limp handshake – one good pump and a concise greeting combined with solid eye contact will do the trick. Agree with this too except this isn’t an arm wrestling contest. I would suggest that firm contact would be infinitely preferable to “one good pump” which implies a potential dislocated shoulder.

So ladies, what advice would you give the gentlemen of Citibank?

Apart from ” Do try not to bankrupt anyone today, darling.”

Written with a smile! Please see also follow up post “Trapped! Women and the Smiling Myth

September 15th 2010 -Update! An interesting post came across my screen today, which now makes some sense of the aforementioned problem-causing laminated sheet issued by Citibank. It isn’t a spoof , although it seemed that way. I was right to apply some cynicism.

Writing for The Thin Pink Line Blog, Lois Frankel says that this sheet has taken points from her book ” Nice girls don’t get the corner office ” completely out of context  and she tries to set the record straight in her post .

I did read the book some time ago and will have to revisit it. Condensed to bumper-sticker style homilies these points seem dated and Lois was right, taken at face value they don’t make a lot of sense, so they need to be evaluated in context, which I will certainly do. On her own admission the title including the term “nice” was forced upon her by her publisher. Some of the most successful people ( corner office holders) I know have been simply all around “nice” ( male and female).

That sheet certainly aroused a good discussion!

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Updated 2021

18 thoughts on “10 ways women supposedly sabotage their careers!

  1. Sharon Eden

    Very enjoyable post, Dorothy. I actually agree with all the Citibank suggestions.

    As a rule of thumb…
    women do need to speak louder,
    understand that , grooming in public, whether you like it or not, detracts from your professionalism,
    fore-arms on the table and resting forward doesn’t of itself have to be aggressive and can indicate interest and attentitveness,
    and, oh my, god forbid a woman should speak before her male counterparts in a meeting… you don’t have to be The Devil Wears Prada AND you do need to come up with your goodies strongly rather than tack them onto other people’s remarks.
    YES … inform. Don’t play the victim!
    Smile less… Why soften the impact of a serious issue? Get real women and get taken seriously!
    And oh oh oh! Stretching the rules might be a very good thing. Yes, women are generally raised as ‘good girls’ and need to get real on this one too.
    Similarly generally trained to be invisible. Don’t moan to me if some-one else takes your glory because of your own false modesty!
    And that handshake. Make it firm. Make it say, I’m here and I mean business.
    Oh my goodness, think I feel a blog post coming on!

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Hi Sharon – ha .. we have a debate !

      I think that women in certain circumstances do have to behave differently, no dout, but so do men. I have an absolute horror of rigid gender guidelines for any situation especially encouraging women to behave like men. Do they have guidelines telling men when it would be better to adopt female style behaviour which in some circumstaces would clearly work better. There are differences between:
      • Being measured and timid
      • Being engaged and over bearing. Leaning in on a conference table depends on the size of the table! If everyone did it all the time…??
      • Smiling as a professional courtesy and being flippant and inappropriate. Men could do more professional courtesy.
      • Strategic thinking and reckless risk taking
      • Being assertive and being strident

      Women in many circumstances could behave differently to advance their careers – but given the parlous state of Citibank’s situation at one time, with an almost all male board, some gender typical female behaviour may have been appropriate.

  2. Sharon Eden

    I think you misu nderstand me. Not for one miniute am I suggesting that women behave like men!!!

    What I am suggesting is that women stand in their own ground and feel, act and behave as powerfully as they intrinsically are as human beings… rather than stereotypic or conditioned behaviours arising from being reared as female!

    And if men equally stood in their own ground and feel, act and behave as powerfully as they are intrinsically as human beings… rather than stereotypic or conditioned behaviours aeisinf from being reared as male…

    No gender bias here… I rest my case!

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Well these strategies are usually associated with stereotypical male behaviour. They are not saying “10 ways shy people saboatge their careers” – they specificially reference women. If there is a laminated sheet that tells men how not to sabotage their careers in the HR department of Citibank ( don’t tempt me to start a list!) then I’ll be placated.

      Of course women do need to make themselves heard, but conversely predominately male hierarchies men need to get above above the cacophony of their own Wall Street egos and listen!

  3. Silvana

    Well done Dorothy!!!!!
    It would be useful if we could all together put together another 10, 20, 30 ways so the next generation doesn’t have to go through the learning curve all over again…..
    Here is my number 11
    Women fear to take chances:
    If your are successful they will be pleased if you fail they did not know.
    Come on ladies and gentlemen we need more input.

  4. Sharon Eden

    Yes, male hierarchies do need to listen! And lambasting them won’t do it. Nor will making their behaviours wrong or bad. Nor will suggesting most behaviours in that list have only one interpretation and that’s a negative and stereotypically unproductive or offensive male behaviour one.

    I think you’re coming from a place that the Citibank suggestions were a spoof and a product of chauvinistic thinking. That might or might not be the case.

    Whatever, I challenge you to just imagine for a moment that you were coaching a woman with stereotypically unproductive behaviours how to establish herself and her career in the corporate world.

    That doesn’t mean you’d be coaching her to be like unproductive male behaviour. Just being powerful in her own right as a woman! And I’d say all the suggestions on the list would be there in your coaching, in one form or another.

    This is about grey, not black or white.

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      I am very much a gender blender I think that male and female chacteristics and behaviours have validity in certain situations in equal measure. I think men and women alike could benefit from some of those so called tips on that laminated sheet.

      The people who get heard, as opposed to the people who make a lot of noise, are the ones who know their stuff and are respected and will be listened to because they do a good job. In fact the volume of women’s voices doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll get heard by men! It’s apparently the pitch – dropping it a semi-tone if I remember correctly. I’m not even sure if the smiling tip can be supported by research and is perhaps anecdotal.

      If there’s anything that women could focus on ( or anyone unassertive either male or female) is the art of interrupting and understanding that the rejection of your idea is not about you. It’s as Silvana mentioned – taking risks. However there’s no point interrupting if the content isn’t good.

      Thanks for taking the time to thought provoke. I don’t think we’re that far apart either truthfully. But perhaps we’ll just agree to differ on some of the detail!

  5. ava diamond (@feistywoman)

    Wow…spirited debate between two of my favorite thinkers!

    Here is another perspective. In 2005, Caliper, a US consulting firm based in NJ, and Aurora, a London based organization, did a year long study. They identified characteristics that distinguish male and female leaders. I cite some of their data in my program, “What Your Daddy Didn’t Tell You and Your Mama Didn’t Know: Success Strategies for Women.”

    One of their findings refutes the “rule stretching” point Citibank has on their list. Caliper found that women are more likely to push back when
    bound by rules and regulations, take more risks and come up with innovative solutions, and have greater abstract reasoning– they learn from mistakes and move on.

    Here’s the link to their study. It’s quite a good read.

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Ava – this is a great resource. I especially liked this quote ” With women, it’s all about confidence and helping them believe that they can do whatever they want to do. And they don’t have to change themselves in order to be successful. I find myself mentoring aspiring young women and giving them that push to get over being so hard on themselves,” Kate Rutherford, Partner at Accenture.

      I generally think that both men and women need to re-think some behaviours in the workplace and although the”list” contained some kernals of sound advice it was a bit too “bumper sticker-ish” to make up the HR policy of a global organisation even in a few areas to be misleading.

      1. Dorothy Dalton

        Hi All – here is an update which came across my screen today. which now makes some sense of the problem causing laminated sheet issued by Citibank. It isn’t a spoof , although it seemed that way. I was right to apply some cynicism.

        Writing for The Thin Pink Line Blog, Lois Frankel saying that this sheet has taken points from her book ” Nice girls don’t get the corner office ” completely out of context and she tries to set the record straight in the post – link attached .

        Read: http://thethinpinkline.com/2010/09/15/citibank-hullabaloo-over-womens-cards/ .

        I did read the book some time ago and will have to revisit it. Lois was right – taken at face value these points don’t make a lot of sense – but they certainly aroused a good discussion!

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  10. JustAGoogleVisitor

    I’d say following these three – truth, justice, and righteousness – will take a person further then they ever have before.

    One example: When a women is being “nice” and other person is being “wrong” – to stay “nice” usually invovles lying and straying away from the absolute truth of the situation there causing the “wrong” to stay “wrong” instead of turning into “right”.

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