I work in technology, which I feel is one of the career fields less prone to old-school stereotypes and norms than some older fields. It’s not all rosy or equal: We have a lot more men developers than women, there are too few women on the executive team, and women occupy most senior positions in areas where they’ve traditionally been more numerous, namely, marketing and HR. But I can’t point to any time when I felt like I was given less chances because I was a woman and generally it feels like if you’re good, you’ll do well, regardless of your gender.
But in a conversation with a friend recently he made a comment that caused me to pause for a bit. He said that women have to work harder to get ahead.
Do you agree?
I started to think through my own career to see if this were true. Right out of college, I worked for a top consulting firm where every entering business analyst worked 18 hours a day, without exception. I then worked in a series of start-ups where everyone on the small founding team busted serious butt, all the time. Then came the world of finance and venture capital and here perhaps my friend was right. I’d often find that my male partners would get support for their proposals without needing to back them up with as much analysis as I’d put in. And too many times I felt like I had to prove over and over again that I was smart enough for my opinion to count when I was at a board meeting with other male investors, who’d known me for years.
Thinking about the last few years of my work in large and medium-sized companies a few women come to mind who I feel went above and beyond what they needed to deliver in order to get to the same place as their male colleagues. But here’s the thing: I’m not sure that we, as women, don’t sometimes choose to work harder vs. smarter. We don’t play politics as well as the guys, with some exceptions. We don’t advocate for ourselves as well or negotiate for what we want as hard. We are sometimes afraid that being confident will make us appear bitchy and so we understate our opinions.
None of this is our fault entirely, of course — we don’t operate in a vacuum and we can’t just ignore how our actions are perceived. (For example, men don’t like to work with women who negotiate well.) But still, I wonder if sometimes we wouldn’t be better off making slightly different choices, trading in some of our work ethic for work strategy, borrowing a page from the guys’ book.
I’m curious what you think:
Do you think women need to work harder to get ahead? Are there things women can learn from guys to work smarter, or more strategically, or is it silly to assume that we can play like the other gender?