Ask The New Girls: I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Not in College Anymore
Dear New Girls,
I went to a large co-ed university where I excelled in school, athletics, and in other extracurricular activities. I graduated with honors, had tons of friends, and was well-liked by teachers, coaches, and teammates. Because it was such a big school, I learned that to be heard on the court and in the classroom, I had to adopt a direct, no-nonsense style. I was confident, and nobody seemed turned off by it. I’m now in my first job, and things have definitely changed for the worse. I get weird looks, people tell me I’m being harsh and mean when I’m not, and I’ve subtly been called arrogant a few times. I’m not close to being fired or anything, but co-workers are more likely to avoid me than befriend me. What gives?
Speaking My Mind
Repeat after us: I am not in college any more. I am not in college any more. I am not in college any more.
It sounds like college was a fantastic experience for you. You did well academically, socially, and athletically. We are so happy for you, and many of the skills you’ve develop with transfer over into the work world.
But not all. School and work are different worlds with different rules.
Let’s start with demographics. Young women are more likely to graduate from college, and most campuses have more women than men. And while women also make up almost half of our work-force, the landscape for women changes dramatically after college. Men hold 81.7% of seats in Congress and run 95.8% of Fortune 1000 companies.
That’s why we at The New Girls’ Network crystallized the four patterns of gender bias, to give women tools to navigate unfamiliar territory. Familiarize yourself with the four patterns, because you will likely, although unfortunately, run into one or more of these types of biases in the future. What you describe facing in your message is what we call The Tightrope; the double bind women face between being liked, but not respected, and being respected, but not liked. This bind exists because norms about the ideal leader and the ideal woman are at odds—what works for one really doesn’t work for another. For example, leaders in the workplace are supposed to be direct, assertive, risk-taking and independent. Women, on the other hand, are supposed to adopt a softer communicative style, be more cautious and collaborative.
So those are the norms at play, but what does that mean for you? Mix the masculine with the feminine. It will help you ace your social interactions, and as an added bonus, it’s what really makes the best leaders. Unfortunately, you are going to have to think more consciously about how you are being perceived: be a notch more polite than you think you need to be, at least for a while. Ask your co-workers questions that show that you care about their well-being.
Of course, young men don’t often have to do this sort of self-editing. That’s not fair. But, you know what? Wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone—men as well as women—mixed a direct, assertive style with empathy? Maybe that’s where we should all end up. Best of luck!
The New Girls
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