Working women advised to become more assertive Experts list the ways females self-destruct


July 27, 1998|By KNIGHT RIDDER

Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the workplace.

Consider this familiar scene at a business meeting: A female manager sits among a roomful of men. The men dominate the conversation, with most throwing in their 2 cents' worth without a moment of hesitation. The woman has something to say but instead nods amiably and remains tight-lipped. When she does decide to speak, she prefaces her comment with a tentative, "I'm no expert, but ."

Pffffft. There goes her credibility.

Such a scenario hammers home the fact that despite making great strides in the workplace, women need to be more assertive to compete in the male-dominated corporate world, management experts say. At a recent Women in Technology International conference in Santa Clara, Calif., three experts discussed how women undermine themselves and suggested ways to avoid these pitfalls.

"We've been so busy trying to integrate ourselves into male-dominated organizations that we tend to overlook the damage we do to ourselves, the women around us and the future we're trying to build," said Laura Ricci, a consultant for R3, a marketing management firm in Austin, Texas.

Here's a roundup of advice presented at the WITI workshops by Ricci; Helen Turnbull, president of Human Facets, an organizational consulting firm in Plantation, Fla.; and Nora pTC Denzel, a senior vice president at Legato Systems Inc. in Palo Alto, Calif.

* Toot your own horn: Women often fall into the trap of being too modest. Don't be afraid to showcase your best efforts. Be your own PR person.

"A woman will try to downplay her good work and think that whatever she's gotten is through luck," said Denzel, who led a seminar on "The Top 10 Ways Women Shoot Themselves in the Foot in the Workplace."

"A man, on the other hand, tries to trump up his work and say that whatever he's gotten is through hard work."

* Seek and embrace criticism: Denzel believes men are much more accustomed to receiving criticism than women are, having been in "coaching" relationships throughout their lives.

Women can benefit from such relationships, too. Soliciting criticism is what Denzel calls "the answers to the test," in that you will then find out exactly what is expected of you. Use that information to improve and excel.

But be wary of where the criticism comes from. Seek feedback from superiors and peers who you know will evaluate you fairly and honestly.

* Speak up: Women often hesitate to interject their opinions for fear of being rude or overly aggressive, workplace consultants say. They tend to hang back, letting their male counterparts take center stage. "I often go to meetings and see very powerful women there not saying anything," said Turnbull, who presented a talk with Ricci on how women can excel in the business world.

* Watch your nonverbal actions: Ingrained into women's psyches over the centuries are notions that females must behave in a submissive way to be considered feminine, but those behaviors no longer work for today's women, Turnbull and Ricci maintain. Women must fight hard to eliminate innate actions such as tilting and nodding the head and touching the face. All of these nonverbal actions imply subordination, they say.

* Be true to yourself: Men never truly accept women as part of the group, so don't even try to be one of the boys, Turnbull said.

But, Denzel advised, women also should lighten up at work. Don't give the impression that you are easily offended and primed to slap a harassment suit whenever an off-color joke is told.

She believes that if men feel pressured to mind their P's and Q's around women, they will remain tight-lipped, robbing women of potentially valuable information. The most useful tidbits are usually shared before the big meeting, during lunch or over the water cooler, Denzel said. Putting men at ease will give you access to the best information.

* Show confidence: Play a game with yourself by putting your role-playing skills to the test. Denzel calls it acting "as if."

Does your unit need a leader? Then, act as if you are the leader.

"If you're a junior engineer and you act like a manager, people will think of you as the manager," Denzel said.

* Strive for the top: Don't fool yourself into thinking that if you stay in your cubicle and work hard, you'll be recognized and promoted. Don't be afraid to ask for what you want.

Pub Date: 7/27/98

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