What Working Women Want

Liz Ryan

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Women have been in the white-collar workforce for a generation, but plenty of things about them still puzzle many a male manager. As an HR leader and working women for a generation myself, I've compiled this Top Ten list of tidbits that the women in your workplace would love for you to know.

1) View me as myself, not a stand-in for The Working Woman.

Women tell stories, when they get together, about being the token woman in the management meeting, the only woman in the sales meeting, the only woman on the business trip. That's not the bad part - the bad part is being viewed as a specimen, representative, and spokesperson for the entire gender.

2) Don't compliment me by saying that you wish you could compliment me.

Ten years ago, it was irritating to have to listen to boorish male co-workers say “Gee, that skirt really shows off your legs. " Today, it's almost worse to hear them say “I'd tell you that you look great in that skirt, but I'd get in trouble!" Just can it - the lame disclaimer doesn't help.

3) Don't assume that I don't know what I'm doing.

It shouldn't happen, after all these years, but female software engineers still report that their male colleagues say things like “Check her code again, just in case. " Because she's a woman. And it shouldn't happen, but when a woman gets promoted, someone is sure to say “Well, they must have needed more women in management. " What if she's just, well, qualified? Can we assume that men and women are equally equipped to do their jobs?

4) Don't ask me about my child-bearing plans.

If you and I are friends, that's one thing. But if we're not, you have exactly no right to ask me a) whether I plan to have children; b) whether I plan to have another one, once I've had one child; or c) anything else relating to my family planning. Why do some managers assume, that because my three-month absence for maternity leave might have some impact on the business at some point (if I'm still working here, when I have kids, if I even make that choice) that they have a right to know about it?

5) Don't put me in the Girl Ghettos.

If I apply for a job in PR, Marketing or HR, that's your cue that I'm interested in one of those jobs. If I don't, please don't jump to the conclusion that I need to work in one of the designated Female departments. If I'm succeeding as a mechanical engineer or the Director of IT, that's because I like the work. Let me succeed or fail in it!

6)Don't get freaked out when two of us arrive.

Many a female manager has noticed that as long as she's the only woman in the group, her male co-workers do okay. But when the second women leader shows up, people get nervous. . . . as in, The Women Are Taking Over! That's ridiculous. Men still rule the roost in corporate America, for better or worse, and two (or three, or four) women in leadership does not a coven make.

7) Don't worry about my family - they're fine.

Working women report being caught in a vise - when they're going great guns at work, their bosses still give them less challenging assignments or stall their career growth “for the sake of your kids. " They're my kids, for Pete's sake! I'm perfectly capable of deciding how many hours at the office, how much travel, and what size job I can manage while parenting them. You, as my boss, have nothing to do with it.

8) Don't dismiss my non-linear judgment.

It's well established that women's and men's brains operate differently. But there's a great tendency in the corporate world to pooh-pooh and belittle the non-linear, intuitive decision-making that so many women are so good at. If I'm getting the right answer most of the time, I deserve to get airtime: even if I don't lay out my argument in your favored Powerpoint-style, data-driven format.

9) Don't freak out when I get emotional.

Look, male managers pound their fists on the table and everyone's supposed to deal with it. But let a woman show a little mist in her eyes, and people say “She's emotional, " “She's hysterical" and “She's not playing fair. " You've got your emotional expression, and we've got ours. We're tired of hearing that our hard-wired emotional reaction to an emotionally tough stimulus is any less PROFESSIONAL than yours is.

10) Don't make me your mother, or your child.

It happens every day: a working woman realizes that her male boss or co-worker has substituted her for his mom or daughter, to her utter dismay. If you're treated with respect, kid gloves, deference and have no influence in decisions - and are “protected" from bad news - then you're Mom. If you're treated graciously and carefully and kept out of difficult or thorny situations, you're somebody's surrogate daughter. Women won't tolerate that. We are just who we are - women that you hired, women who will make your company thrive and flourish, if you let us.

Liz Ryan is a former Fortune 500 HR executive, workplace expert and founder of WorldWIT, the world's largest online network for professional women (http://www.worldwit.org ). Liz lives in Boulder, Colorado.


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