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The Worst Career Advice Women Get

The Worst Career Advice Women Get

We women get a lot of career advice. Here’s the problem with much of it: it boils down to telling us to act like men. To be more decisive, to take on more risk, to be more assertive, to act more confidently, to seek out more p&l responsibility.

Why do we tell women to act this way? Because these are the qualities that are typically exhibited by existing (male) business leaders. Because therefore those qualities are seen as the qualities required to be successful. And because it’s so much easier for managers to manage everyone in the same way.

[Related: Why I'm Over Women's Empowerment]

Think about it: if everyone we manage is extroverted, we don’t have to spend time drawing them out. If everyone we manage acts with the same level of confidence, we can assume that everyone who is qualified for the promotion and wants the promotion is raising their hand for the promotion. And if everyone we manage has the same home situation, then we can judge their commitment to their career by the hours they spend at the office.

See? Much easier to manage everyone the same way.

But here’s the problem with that, for so many women:

1) It’s simply exhausting to act like something you’re not all of the time. I can’t tell you how many women have told me that this was a contributing factor to their leaving the workforce, because every day they had to go into work and act like someone they’re not.

2) When we women act in a more masculine fashion, we can suffer a backlash. It’s called the “double bind;” it means that women can take a hit for at work for acting too feminine, and we can also take a hit at work for acting too masculine. (Side note: isn’t it a bit nuts that men are allowed to exhibit a broader emotional range at work, while women – the supposedly more emotional gender – have to walk a more narrow path?)

That’s why it’s bad for women. It’s bad for the companies because:

1) It doesn't work very well. The power of diversity – and the well-documented superior business performance that diversity drives – are the result of that very diversity. It doesn’t come from hiring diverse individuals and then training them all to act like white males.

2) The business world is changing. And the qualities that the research tells us women bring to the workforce in spades – think risk awareness, relationship focus, ability to navigate complex problems, love of learning, drive for meaning and purpose, long-term orientation – are becoming more valuable, not less. In this rapidly changing business environment, does anybody think trading risk awareness for greater decisiveness among all members of a team is a good thing?

This advice is also backward looking because it assumes that women must accept and conform to this status quo. It assumes that we don’t have the power to change our environment. But that as changing – rapidly – as professional women have access to more resources to inform us on topics such as how much we should be earning, that enable us compare cultures and policies of other companies (to see if they may be a better fit for us) and that increasingly put starting our own businesses within our reach.

[Related: Be a Walking, Talking Alpha]

The bottom line: companies that try to change us will increasingly find themselves on the losing side of the talent wars. It won't happen overnight, but it will happen.

If that’s the worst career advice women are getting, check out the “best career advice women aren’t getting” in my first (and last) book, Own It: The Power of Women at Work. And thank you all for making it a best-seller.

This article previously appeared on LinkedIn.


Sallie Krawcheck is the Co-Founder and CEO of Ellevest, an innovative digital investment platform for women. She is the Chair of Ellevate Network, the global professional women’s network, and of the Pax Ellevate Global Women’s Index Fund.

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