We’re not the Problem - The advice that’s getting in our way

I’m disruptive. I challenge expectations. I make some people uncomfortable when I fail to do my gender. And I've tired of the advice about how to act like someone else so that I may be perceived as who I am.

As a woman, I face many challenges and disadvantages. Luckily, there’s an overabundance of advice out there to teach me how to either be less like a woman, or how to behave as expected. Wait… what?

The New York Times published an article about advice for women in the workplace from their readers. Here’s what they had to say:

Keep your head down
Watch the highlights from last night’s game
Smile – your warmth as a woman helps counter the “B” word
Stop apologizing
Stop volunteering to help others out
Bring cookies from the grocer to work; it goes a long way toward softening the word “no” when you have to use it a lot
Say “yes” more than you say “no”
Say “yes” to everything that comes your way in the early years of your career.
Say “yes” to everything (assignments, opportunities, work travel, staying late, etc.). It will not impede your chance to find a mate
When you are in the office your focus is the work and not to set up shop with the gossip girls
Don’t give out mixed messages to your male counterparts
Try not to whine

How unfortunate that I live in a culture where this is a thing. I’m not sure how to respond to this article, except for just — “No.”

This sounds absolutely ridiculous to many of us, but it really does seem that society’s answer to gender inequality is for women to not be themselves.

Studies show that men brag more than women at work. Well great news! If this is causing men to be promoted faster than women, here’s an article explaining to women how to brag more. I was unable to find a reference explaining to employers why they shouldn't promote people based on bragging.

Studies show that a woman going into a male dominated field is far more likely to get the job if she has more masculine-like traits. Luckily, Glamour magazine shows us how to “man up” and dress more like men, and as they say, “we’d promote you instantly.” While the focus should be on how to educate employers to become more self-aware of their biases. This is yet another example of how socially irresponsible marketing continues to be part of the problem.

While an aggressive man is seen as having great passion for his work, an aggressive woman is seen as unlikable. But we’re in luck! Here’s an article explaining how to not appear aggressive. Some of the tips:

Don’t Speak First
Don’t Disagree, Agree (Even When You Really Don’t)
Don’t Make Statements, Ask Questions

I've found that advice about the body language used to show leadership is surprisingly similar to advice given to women about how to attract men. I’m not sure what to do with this information. If I use the body language with a man that’s meant to show leadership, I’m at great risk to appear as though I’m attempting to attract him. So, if I wanted to follow this advice, it seems it still wouldn't work out for me. But really, what does my body language have to do with actual leadership skills?

Leaders have deep (read: male) voices.

A strong handshake says who you are.

How to negotiate like a man.

I've no interest in any more of this advice. Please stop.

We live in a culture where men are expected to be successful and women to be supportive. So, to make a lot of people feel comfortable with a woman’s success we need to think of her as being like a man. And that’s the problem.

The problem is that so many people expect to see in a successful person these things that have absolutely nothing to do with success. And worse yet, these irrational assumptions are being embraced! So what is the answer being supplied? To learn how to appear to have these irrelevant traits so you can be seen as the person you are, or to do your gender as expected so that you don’t make anyone uncomfortable.

If you find yourself looking for advice, here’s some of mine: Go out there and start making some people real fucking uncomfortable.

We’re not the problem. We shouldn't need to waste a single second of our lives proving that we’re not a stereotype. We shouldn't have to spend any amount of our time pretending to be someone else so we can be recognized for who we are.

We’re not the problem, what people expect to see is the problem.

I’m not going to change who I am, I’m going to change how I’m perceived.

Let’s get disruptive.