Women at Work: Are You a Workhorse or a Show Horse?

A woman’s guide to improving how she’s perceived in her organization

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Although there have been a number of studies that demonstrate profitable value in how women behave in business, some of those same characteristics that are innately female such as intuitiveness and flexibility are often still seen as weaknesses by managers who hold stereotypical views of how these behaviors play out in the workplace. A Catalyst study called “Women Take Care, Men Take Charge: Stereotyping of U.S. Business” clearly outlined this attitude in it’s reporting that women in corporate positions are often seen more as nurturers than they are as problem-solvers.

As a woman in business, you can do little to change attitudes and the stereotypical mindset of the people you work for; but you can work smarter in how you develop your professional profile in the office.

As part of our continuing coverage of Women at Work for Women’s History month, here are some suggestions of how to reposition your standing on the job.

Attitude: There’s a huge difference between expectation and hope, and depending on which attitude you bring to business projects affects how colleagues and managers respond. Expectation is intrinsically speaks to confidence about your abilities and the anticipated outcomes. It also creates confidence in knowing how you should be treated in the workplace and the compensation you should receive. If you are a woman who constantly hopes for a good outcome, you are probably waiting to see how events play out based on your efforts. For example, you’ve worked really hard, so you hope your manager will recognize your contributions and give you the raise or promotion. There’s little ambivalence about who you are and what you’re worth when you operate from a place of expectation.

Act Now: Moving into action requires some level of risk – even when you don’t have all the information or when all the pieces aren’t properly aligned. Women tend to want to have all t’s crossed and all i’s dotted before they act. Planning is important, but execution is what gets the credit – and the respect. In the book Women Don’t Ask by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, “If optimism is about how we believe is available, risk taking is about going for it – taking a chance to get as much as we can – and men seem to be more comfortable than women taking risks….Men’s greater propensity to take risks may teach them, in contrast that challenging the status quo and pushing their own agendas can work to their advantage. Many women learn this lesson much more slowly, if at all.” Because risk aversion is a result of fear, it’s difficult for the cautious worker to stand out as a leader in any organization. “Ask for forgiveness, not permission,” is a phrase I’ve often heard from male bosses.

Take Credit: Most studies show that women get hire points for rallying, supporting and nurturing their team to do great work, but men know how to take full credit for what they create. Women tend to use the “we” pronoun more often than they say “I”. Don’t be timid about taking ownership. It obviously takes a team to see a project to fruition, and the group should always be recognized for their efforts, but it’s important for women to demonstrate how they led and directed the process of implementation to success in formal presentations, professional networking sessions and in performance reviews.

Feedback: There’s a difference between job description, which is the basic outline of what’s required for a position and job performance and expectation, which is the level at which you deliver these tasks. Getting regular feedback is the only way you will be able to discern your standing in a company, which will in turn inform the decisions you need to make. Feedback helps you make strategic decisions. That’s why it should be viewed as two-way communication and should happen regularly. If you are only meeting with your manager for performance reviews, it will be impossible for you to execute at the level of your boss’s expectation. If your manger tends to offer general responses, be specific with your questions and comments to elicit detailed accounts of your work and progress.

Enlist Support To become a powerbroker in your company, you need a support base. Colleagues, mentors, and sponsors – a network of professionals that can aid, testify and even brag about your successes for you. Working alone, in isolation or wanting to shoulder the burden keeps you narrowly focused on doing the tasks, which will only define you as workhorse. Men know how to be show horses. Make time to develop the necessary relationships in and outside of your organization that will not only provide you with proper guidelines and opportunities on how to impress your bosses, these relationships can be far more influential in presenting your case.

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