What Jessica Day Taught Us About Work and Play

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By Erika Harrington

So my latest Netflix obsession is New Girl.

Have you seen the episode where the main character, Jess, joins a local politician for a game of golf with the other powerful women of Los Angeles. Her mission: to get new books for the middle school that she works in. It was a funny play on the ‘seal the deal over a game of golf’ trope that is associated with television CEO’s and senators.

At first I was pumped up at seeing all women in a traditional male dominated scenario, but then I became annoyed at how satirical the scene was. A game of golf, talking highlights from football Sunday, or (at least in the world of Wolf of Wall Street) going to a strip club, are all ways people have connected with their bosses and coworkers. They’re also incredibly gendered hobbies.

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Don’t get me wrong, I am all for these out-of-work recreational activities. Spending time with the people you work with, in a relaxed setting, is healthy and beneficial to professional environments. The problem occurs when the activities are based on traditionally masculine interests because women are informally, and probably unintentionally, excluded.

This is where Rachel Aslop comes in. Aslop was interested in different channels of informal networking used by professionals, so she studied the characteristics and benefits of four employee book clubs by interviewing their members. The results were basically what you expect to hear at a ‘key to success,’ motivational talk seminar about the importance of golfing with your boss. These book groups allowed coworkers to come together in a welcoming environment, get to know one another better, and make connections that strengthened their professional networks.

Thank goodness I don’t have to worry about blowing money on expensive golf clubs.

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But what if I hate reading and golfing and strip clubs? Then what do I do?

Well the beauty of this study isn’t that it’s suggesting that book clubs are the best way to network. Rather it shows the importance of exploring new and creative ways to develop professional relationships.

Don’t buy into the traditional image of sucking up to the boss while riding in the cart to the next hole. Think outside the box.

Network channels don’t have to be complex. The Economic Times recently published an article with the story of four women from different departments, frustrated with being stuck in their mid-level management positions. They began to meet for lunch once a month to talk about their work lives.

Over time, they began to progress in their jobs. How? When one woman was talking to people in her departments, she would mention one of other three women and the great work they had done. This got their names circulating throughout the company and allowed their accomplishments to be shared without them having to brag about themselves (something women have been known to struggle with, but that’s for another post).

So find something you can do with your coworkers to bond with each other, that is free from the stress of the 9 to 5 work day. Go bowling every Wednesday, set up a carpool, etc.

BTW, anyone interested in binge watching New Girl together?  

Talk Like Me

By Rachel Garretson

You know all those self-help books proclaiming revolutionary, catch-all formulas for success in this male dominated business world? Right after that chapter that tells you how you should stand and sit, they always tell you to learn their language.

Well…. Not to give those self-help books too much credit, but there is some scientific evidence supporting this although it’s not so straightforward. It turns out that there are different styles of language but while it’s true that many women grow up learning a more tentative style of speech, not all women do!

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Powerless speech (typically thought of as female) is characterized by things like hesitations (“well,” “like” or “um”), tag questions (“right?” or “don’t you think?”), and disclaimers (I’m not sure, but…”). Powerful speech does not include these characteristics.

Of course, rules are made to be broken! Many men use powerless language, just as many women use powerful speech. I mean come on; do you think Daenerys’s language could ever be considered tentative?

Even so, many studies like this one by Rob Thomson, Tamar Murachver, and James Green demonstrate that in addition to gender, things like situation influence the speech pattern you take. They learned this by having participants talk online with a “friend” (experimenters) who used either powerful or powerless speech styles. They found that participants often adapted their speech styles to mimic the one being used by their friend. The speech styles of those around you, power dynamics within a group, and even the topic of your conversation can influence the speech styles you adopt!

Unfortunately, in our individualistic society, which values standing out, powerful language is touted as the best and those self-help books we mentioned are constantly telling women they need to use powerful language or they won’t get ahead. This is not the always the case!

Each style has benefits. Alison Fragale had participants complete tasks online with a “partner” (really a scripted computer program) then they were asked to make judgments and confer status to their partner. In groups that didn’t need to cooperate as much, individuals with powerful speech were indeed considered more competent and intelligent. In groups where cooperation was key, however, this pattern reverses! Powerless speech, which emphasizes relationship building and consensus, was considered the better speech pattern!

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Thus neither style is more appropriate for a certain gender or even better over all, merely better in certain situations. We don’t need to avoid powerless speech, we need to become more aware of which style we’re using and which would be best in this situation.

Guess your mom was right after all when she always told you to think about what you say before you say it!

Balancing Bias

By Jennifer PeeksMease

Is the challenge of balance a hill only women climb?

usatsi_9431971_168381878_lowresFact: tune into any gymnastics competition, and you’ll only find women flipping, turning, and twisting on a strip of wood just 4 inches wide.

Whether you’re on a beam, or at work, it seems the ability to balance is a necessary virtue for any woman who wants to bring home the dough. 

But as we’re sure you, your besties, and Simone and Laurie have clearly demonstrated: women ARE master balancers. We will find a way to get to that charity event, console our friend going through a terrible breakup, hit the gym, read a book (to our kids if we have them), do the laundry, feed the mouths that need to eat, and still find time to make sure our family knows they are loved.

The moral of the story—we’ve got this.  

But I’m afraid there’s more to it than that.  

While you may think you have this work life balance thing down, your boss may not…and that can spell trouble for you.

Jenny Hoobler, Sandy Wayne, and Grace Lemmon of the University of Illinois at Chicago conducted a survey of employees and their bosses to assess perceptions of work/life conflict and its effect on promotability.  

As it turns out, women employees actually reported less work life conflict than men who were surveyed, but that didn’t change the fact the bosses were more likely to perceive women employees as having greater work life conflict.  

More importantly, this perception of women’s work life conflict impacted boss’s perception of female employee’s “fit” with the organization and promotable roles, two factors they found to be most important to a boss’s perception of promotability.  (Yep, these two things mattered even more than their perceptions of an employee’s performance.)

Let me recap this for you: If your boss perceives you to have work life conflict, they are less likely to see you as “fit” for promotion.  And, bummer for you ladies, they are more likely to perceive women as having this work life conflict.

But what good does it do us to know this?

First, if you’re a person in the position to promote, check yourself! (And we mean all of you, the sex of bosses in this study didn’t significantly change this bias.)  Don’t let even casual conversations about an employee’s “fit” for a promotion digress into speculation about her obligations outside of work.  

And while we hate to put the burden on women to navigate yet one more hurdle, we encourage you to monitor how you talk about your obligations outside of work.  

Show your love for your family by talking about how wonderfully supportive they are of your career, and how much they help you out at home. (Oh, and don’t waste your time on a partner who isn’t worth bragging about in the first place…but that’s another blog post.)

Finally, make sure you’re managing your relationship with your superiors to position yourself well for promotion, to….balance out….this bias.

Not sure what you can do? Check out some of our other posts on promotion, networking, mentoring, and self-promotion.

American Horror Story: Earning more money than your husband

By Erika Harrington

Lions, tigers, and high-earning women! Oh, my!

Framing a situation where a woman makes more than her husband as a marriage-dooming horror story is nothing new. From family to friends to tv shows, we’re constantly told that if we ever find ourselves making more money than our partner, we’ll be welcoming a host of problems into the relationship.

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Now you’re probably wondering, do you have to choose between a fulfilling marriage and a fat paycheck?

Not quite. Don’t let this myth crush your hopes of a decent future, and allow me to ease your stress. I’m happy to report that these fears, instilled in you by society and the media, are just as real as the boogeyman.  (Assuming, of course, that you don’t believe in the boogeyman. You do know he’s not real, right?)

According to Gregory Eirich and Joan Robinson, there is no evidence that the wife being the higher-earning spouse has any effect on financial satisfaction and marital stress [in the context of a heterosexual relationship]. Although some marriages may face finance-related strains, Eirich and Robinson report that those strains have little to do with who makes more money.

Amazing. Who would have ever imagined that which person makes the most money does not actually matter in the relationship? Oh but wait, because the best is yet to come.

giphyThe best part about this study was the finding that at the end of the day, what really matters isn’t who makes more money, but how much money a couple makes combined. It turns out that no one really cares who’s picking up the bill for a five-star dinner, or whose credit card the tropical vacation gets charged to. The only thing that matters is actually eating that steak and laying on that beach. The moral of the story: Marital strife is influenced by how much money a couple makes combined—not by who is making it.

Revolutionary.

With that said, this wouldn’t be a proper InformHer post without reminding you that a problem still persists. If people don’t really get divorced because the wife is bringing home all the bread, then why are we talking about it? Sadly, even though a woman out-earning her husband isn’t the life ruining issue that so many American dramas say it is, this myth can still impact the important professional decisions of many women. Further, it can have an impact on the egos of some men. The idea that each spouse has certain marital roles to fulfill and that a woman should be afraid of being more successful than her partner can seriously alter a woman’s intended career path.

So let’s use this research as a guide to closing the gender gap, and to shoot down any excuses keeping women from the top. It’s time to readdress our priorities, and start putting a possible beach house and a new Mercedes over an overly protected male ego.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to comment. We love to hear what you have to say, and as always, thanks for reading The InformHer.

When collaboration becomes overkill: How collaboration can kill your career

By Erika Harrington

“Women aren’t authoritative.” “A commanding voice is a masculine one.” “Women are too dainty to lead.” We get it. You think it takes a certain type of a person to be a leader, and that type of person is usually a man. Thankfully, when it comes to the success of a company, what you think doesn’t matter; what actually matters are performance and results.

With that in mind, it’s high time that we face the truth that women can produce as well as men. Don’t believe me? Well, maybe you’ll believe British sociolinguist Judith Baxter, who published a study on the leadership abilities of males and females. Baxter wanted to find out if different, gender-specific language characteristics affected an individual’s ability to become a leader, and how well people  respond to them as such.

mulanclimbingUsing groups of all male, all female, and mixed gender participants, she was able to see who stepped up to the plate and hit a home run. Her findings—women were just as likely to exhibit leadership qualities and deliver respectable results. While women did communicate differently, they weren’t any less likely to take command or any less effective in command.

So why aren’t we seeing more balance in top-level professional positions?

There are many explanations for the scarcity of women leaders. One especially was noted in this study; Baxter found that the all-female group did not allow for a leader to emerge, and reacted negatively to one woman trying to take control of the group.

I know what you’re thinking: Here we go again with cattiness and women tearing each other down.

Not so fast, though—this article pointed out a more probable explanation; Baxter noted that the all female group seemed to value a group where everyone was equal. This approach allowed for a more diverse set of ideas to emerge. Nice job, ladies!

However, it is important to remember that there is also value in having a leader. The downside of this diversity enhancing collaborative approach was that no single idea gained significant focus. Kinda like when you spend 20 minutes driving around town with your friends trying to decide where to eat before Natalie finally caves and (in a truly hangry manner) screams, “Screw it! Let’s just get McDonald’s!”

Sometimes, having a leader just makes final decisions easier.

So, what can we learn from these findings?

Allowing a single individual (or a small group of individuals) to have power over a group or organization is important for productivity.  But, ensuring that these individuals can do a good job is just as important (let’s be real, McDonald’s was not the best choice, Natalie).
What isn’t important is that every leader fit the same mold. Masculine and feminine styles  differ, but these differences do not mean one is better than another. So let’s end the illusion that there’s one right way to get things done, because thinking that way is how one social group gets an unfair advantage. There is a time and place for all of these styles, so let’s all acknowledge strong women leaders for what they are. Let’s get more ladies in top-level professional positions and watch them thrive with their male peers.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to comment. We love to hear what you have to say, and as always, thanks for reading The InformHer.

The betrayal of badass boss ladies

By Jennifer PeeksMease

A few weeks ago I was on the phone with my mom. We were talking politics. Don’t worry, it’s a relatively safe topic in my family.

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No one insulted anyone’s intelligence. No feelings were hurt. It was just good ole’ fashion discussion. Then, the topic turned to Hillary Clinton, and my mom said something along the lines of this: “I think Clinton is well qualified to be president. She has the best set of experiences…I’m just not sure that I like her.”

There it is: She’s good. She’s competent. And what does the research suggest? We don’t really like that.

I first learned of the “likeability penalty” from Sheryl Sandberg’s TED talk. Sandberg references a study in which MBA students were asked to read a scenario involving a leader, and were then asked to evaluate the competence and likeability of the leader. The good news? The assessed level of competence didn’t change much when researchers changed male and female names.

Believe it or not, that’s an improvement. The bad news: women were deemed less likeable. And that, my friends, is a downer.

But, in 2011, two researchers noticed that most studies showing a likeability penalty dealt with hypothetical scenarios, so they set out to assess the situation by conducting a nationwide study that asked people to assess their real-life bosses. One of many conclusions was that people assess a likability penalty less often when they are assessing the boss they actually work with.

Whew! Uh, sort of…

What does it mean that we assess women more harshly in imaginary relationships than we do in actual relationships? On one hand, it’s good to hear. It suggests that women can be powerful, competent and liked by the people they manage.

But there’s still a troubling catch: despite the fact that real relationships with women leaders don’t support the need for a likability penalty, when we imagine relationships with powerful, competent women, research indicates that we assume they aren’t likable.

That goes for you too, Secretary Clinton.

But there is something we can all do, men and women alike: We can interrupt this somehow shared imagination. We can call people out on it. We can question our own judgment of successful, competent women.

Let’s be honest. We believe our gut feelings have some kind of intuitive authenticity to them, and so we often trust them blindly. While I believe that intuition matters, it’s important to recognize gut feelings aren’t always unique insights.

Anyone can earn your distaste, women included. But if you’re looking for things to justify that nagging feeling that you “just don’t really like” that kickass, successful woman in your office—whom you don’t even know—then check yourself. It may not be your intuition talking, it might just be patriarchy.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to comment. We love to hear what you have to say, and as always, thanks for reading The InformHer.

Negotiating your salary: it’s not just for the boys

By Rachel Garretson

We’ve heard it from every teacher, parent, and sappy teen magazine relationship columnist alike: healthy communication is the key to success. But what about when those coveted communication skills need to translate to the workplace, and no one ever taught you how?

Welp.

It turns out men generally have the advantage here. Researchers have found evidence that they attempt to negotiate salaries more often then women, and when women apply for jobs, they tend to assume negotiations aren’t even an option.

Picture1This same tendency can hurt women even more once they do land the job. Unfortunately, there are no massive neon signs conveniently posted along our professional journey telling us when we should ask for a raise. Thus, once again, we find that women are less keen on initiating these negotiations.

Here’s where women do shine, though; a study done in Chicago found that just including the words “salary negotiable” on job listings reversed the trend, and women actually negotiated more often than men. So, if it isn’t listed in the job offer, look online, or work with the vibe your potential future employer is giving off when it comes time to talk salary. If negotiations aren’t possible, they will say so, chica.

Interestingly, however, according to this study this imbalance was seen less often when the evaluator (interviewer) was a woman. In that scenario, women were just as likely as men to attempt salary negotiations. Unfortunately, we can’t choose our evaluators, can we?

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This could be because when when both genders negotiate, women still tend to walk out with the lower salary.  More research is needed on this, but part of it may have to do with women already dreading the awkwardness of being told “no”, and part of it may have to do with the techniques women use to approach negotiations in general.

In fact, studies have shown that specific beliefs women often hold can be detrimental during negotiations. For example, 83% of women surveyed subscribed to the belief that it’s a company’s responsibility to determine a fair salary.

Word to the wise: unless you vouch for your own worth, not all companies are going to try to pay you more than the bare minimum. Don’t be cheap labor. Do your research, and come into your negotiations knowing the average salary for your job title. Then aim a little higher. You know you’re worth it.

On that note, don’t wait till you finally start your job to prove yourself. Negotiations are a time to lay out everything you have to offer the company. If you believe the time to start proving your worth is after the deal is done, you’re already behind.

So, to sum it all up: Stepping up to the table is not invite-only. But when you do step up, know your value beforehand and sell yourself like you’re a refreshing box of brand name Rice Krispies in a sea of Great Value imposters. You’ve got this.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to comment. We love to hear what you have to say, and as always, thanks for reading The InformHer.