Monday, May 17, 2010

Jezebel jumps on the "act like a man!" in the workplace bandwagon

The NYTimes has a new piece on guidelines for women seeking raises.  The article, in general, avoids most of the old sexist tropes and manages to come up with some actual good advice, including that women might be perceived differently when using the exact same negotiating tactics as men.  The article also suggests that an additional barrier women may face is that their reference group for how much they "should" be making is their peer group, mostly other women, who experience same wage gap they themselves are trying to subvert.  My takeaway was "might not be a bad idea to ballpark those numbers with a few men in the same industry, too."  Jezebel's takeaway was "Want a raise?  Talk to a dude!"
While your female colleagues can certainly help and should be consulted (particularly the ones who are natural negotiators themselves), your male ones will probably bring to your negotiation issue the same sense of entitlement that they brought to their own. (Generalizing wildly here, of course.)
....Put yourself in your boss's position, and in the company's position, and if you think you deserve a raise, pick up the phone and call the most successful male friend you have. Chances are, he'll jump at the chance to be a little part of your success.
Lindsay, who wrote the article, is careful to say that she's speaking in generalizations, and that female friends can be helpful, too, but the body of the article focuses on her experience getting a male friend to rewrite a contract for a new job to be more hard-nosed and foolproof.  From the anecdote to the article's title, the message is that men are more competent businesspeople than women, a notion I find both untrue and highly damaging.  After all, if women can't even handle our own salary negotiations, how can we be expected to negotiate on the behalf of our companies?

Jezebel has also implied that the gender wage gap could be partly explained by the fact that women aren't as good at talking about money explicitly as men.  It's fine to phrase these concerns as: "don't be afraid to ask for what you're worth"; "don't hesitate to talk about money explicitly"; and even "don't only consult female friends and colleagues."  But to somehow imply that women are simply less well equipped to deal with matters of salary and self promotion than men is absurd!  Moreover, it's blaming the victim.  The problem we're fighting with the gender wage gap is the component of it that comes from women being treated differently than men despite their equal skill and preparation.  Discussing ad nauseum women's (in my opinion, imaginary) shortcomings in managing their affairs simply provides an excuse for those who don't see gender inequality as a problem.  "It's not discrimination--women are just different," they'll say.

So enough of this sexist nonsense.  The next time you need to negotiate for your salary, ask for a raise, or market-price yourself, talk to your most bad-ass, successful, confident friend (who's in a similar industry)--male or female--and ask their advice.  Then go out there and do it the way that feels right to you, and the way you know how.  I believe in you.


  1. I should add that the fact that women are perceived differently when they behave in the exact same way as men makes female mentorship doubly important. Find a successful woman in your company who you admire both personally and professionally (i.e., someone who you consider to be a role model for how to conduct yourself in addition to how to advance yourself) and ask if she's willing to sit down for lunch or a coffee. Many successful women are extremely open to mentoring younger colleagues, and there's no better way to learn the ropes than from someone who's traveled them.

  2. On first read, I was inclined to disagree with you, but after re-reading the closing paragraph of the Jez post...I think I'm with you. It's good to talk to dudes, too, but it's not always the best idea. Some of the dudes I am close to actually kind of suck at this in comparison to me, actually.

  3. I don't think the argument is that women are incapable of managing their affairs or that men are better at business. A lot of the advice seems to be pointed at the fact that women are less likely to toot their own horn or to be up front about a request for a raise--the things that make promotions and raises happen--because they have spent their entire lives being told that touting yourself or making demands is rude and unladylike. If part of this is about overcoming our socialization to do ten times the work of everyone around us without once mentioning all the stuff we've done to our boss--while our male counterparts barely do anything, but make sure the boss hears about every little miniscule thing they do--then I think that's positive.

    Not that I think you should necessarily talk to a man to help you get a raise. But taking the lead from our male coworkers might not be a bad idea. Not because they are "better" at business, but because they have been socialized to share their accomplishments and make demands on people in a way that most women are discouraged from doing from the day they come out of the birth canal.

  4. I agree with you both that it's not that the premise of this article is totally off, to me it was just the execution of it, and the way it played into a narrative that has become so frustratingly common.

    I definitely buy that many women could improve their business toolkit with skills from male coworkers and friends. What frustrates me, though, is the idea that you have to talk to "a dude" to do things correctly. Rather, I think you should talk to both male and female friends, and that successful female friends might be uniquely positioned to help you, because they probably have experience both with the ingredients of success and how to adapt those ingredients to the still different situation faced by female workers. The key is to talk to someone who has done well at advancing their own career and is savvy about self promotion--not whether they have testicles! I've helped both female and male friends brush up their resumes or prepare for interviews, and I don't think my essential lack of "dudeness" is keeping me from doing it well.

    Moreover, I just wish we could all move on from this narrative that women need male skills to advance themselves (and are so terrible at managing their own careers in the first place). First of all, it doesn't apply to many women I know, and second of all, I think sometimes men need "female" skills, and are even more hesitant to adopt these--why aren't there a million articles talking about that? Women deserve to be treated as equals in the workplace, whether or not they've mastered the art of the dude beforehand.


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