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No, You Don’t Have to ‘Think Like a Man’ to Get Ahead

Topics: Career Advice
One of the biggest myths about professional women and success is that it's easier to get ahead in the workplace if you exhibit traditionally "masculine" qualities. Often these perceived traits include being assertive, confident, solution-focused, and ambitious. If it were true that men always behaved this way, and women never did, "think like a man" would be great career advice. But, there's one glaring flaw in that wisdom.

One of the biggest myths about professional women and success is that it’s easier to get ahead in the workplace if you exhibit traditionally “masculine” qualities. Often these perceived traits include being assertive, confident, solution-focused, and ambitious. If it were true that men always behaved this way, and women never did, “think like a man” would be great career advice. But, there’s one glaring flaw in that wisdom.

wonder woman

(Photo Credit: JD Hancock/Flickr)

The problem is, of course, that these are behaviors women are just as likely to demonstrate. The notion that they are not feminine seems to stem from longstanding sexist assumptions about men being more competent and keen to succeed in their careers, and that’s simply not true. It’s not even true that men and women think differently, for the most part. 

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“Physically, men and women did fall into very distinct categories in categories like height and waist-to-hip ratio. But psychologically, not so much,” writes Shaunacy Ferro at Popular Science, discussing a review of previous studies on gender that found smaller disparities between men and women than previously thought. “Men and women consistently overlapped in attitudes and traits like empathy, fear of success and mate selection, indicating that sex differences are not categorical, but more a matter of degree.”

Beyond that, there’s something to be said for much-maligned feminine qualities, that is behaviors often coded as female. Acting “like a woman” might actually help contribute to your success and that of your team – especially, but not necessarily, if you’re female. 

Being Nice Can Help You Get Ahead 

Sadly, unconscious bias can mean that women pay a higher social cost compared to their male counterparts if they try to negotiate pay. Perhaps as a result, data compiled for PayScale’s Salary Negotiation Guide showed that 31 percent of women who didn’t negotiate salary said they’d failed to do so because they felt uncomfortable, compared to 23 percent of men.

Women sometimes have better luck getting the pay they deserve if they tie to their request to a communal concern, says Margaret A. Neale, Adams Distinguished Professor of Management at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, in an interview with The Muse.

Being perceived as nice, friendly, and grateful for what you already earn is unfortunately more important for women approaching the salary talk. By presenting your request in relation to how an increase would benefit both the employer and your co-workers – in addition to yourself – it is more likely to be seen as a solution that shows what you can offer in exchange. The offer won’t appear to come from a place of self-interest in the same way that a simple demand for more money might.

Communication Builds Bridges

Communicating both effectively and politely is important when it comes to getting along in the workplace. And while communicating is often inexplicably considered something that women are naturally better at, it’s something we all need to practice and keep in mind. When discussing work with colleagues, maintain eye contact and pay attention to what people are saying.

Don’t just listen, but make sure you then agree on subsequent actions that will move towards positive solutions. Basic manners like not interrupting, but allowing people to finish what they have to say, are crucial and will go far in making work easier.

Creative Approaches Can Solve Problems

While the idea that men are data-driven and women are more visual and creative is just built on stereotypes, it can be a plus to tackle projects from multiple angles. Everyone absorbs information differently – some visually, some aurally, some by simply looking at the data itself. When you next give a presentation, consider building in a couple of different ways to convey your findings or argument, so that different people can process it in their own preferred way.

Teamwork can help to lighten the load, too. If you know which ways you prefer to collect and prepare information, perhaps approach someone who’s skilled in a different yet complementary manner. This way, important data and industry insight can be passed around and taken on board both efficiently and engagingly.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you feel pressure to “think like a man” in order to succeed at work? Let us know in the comments or join the discussion on Twitter.

Kirsty Wareing
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