Do women need to be jerks to succeed?


This week I’m excited to be on TechnoGirlTalk‘s podcast!  And the buzz of the week, Clay Shirky’s post, “A rant about women.”  We all know how many people spew off nonsense day after day on the internet, but this post stuck a cord all over the place.

Shirky’s idea?  Women need to be more ballsy to get what they want.  And act like an arrogant jerk.  All successful men do this. (Sure.  All arrogant ones is probably more accurate.)

This post reminded me of a life changing incident early in my career.  I have never had an especially loud voice.  I tend to speak quickly, and quietly.  Some people possibly mistake this for being shy and soft-spoken, but the only accurate adjective here is soft-spoken.  As you can imagine, sometimes people might miss my comments during a conversation.

Anyway back to the story, one day in a company meeting we were brainstorming where to go next with a client.  I chimed in with a great idea.  No one heard my idea, so i started to speak up to repeat it, and my so-called “friend” repeated my idea word for word REALLY loudly.  Suddenly everyone was praising his awesome idea.  Fast forward a couple of weeks.  Suddenly everyone thought he was a “strategic thinker” and he landed the best projects and a promotion.  Oddly, I never noticed any exceptional performance or anything else to differentiate him from the other people on our team.  Was it because he was a guy?  A better employee?  Something else?  I’ll never know, but I learned a couple of important lessons after that meeting.

  1. Get to your meetings early and sit near the important people.  If you sit right next to them they’ll always hear your comments.  😉
  2. The best way to get your idea implemented is to be the #1 cheerleader.  But this doesn’t mean you have to be a traditional cheerleader.  One of my favorite approaches is find other cheerleaders.  Talk to other influential people about the challenges and problems you notice, and potential avenues to solve them.  You want them to espouse your message without the full details.  Then when you present your idea, they’ll chime in with messaging consistent with your reasoning.
  3. Confidence is your #1 ally in selling your idea.  If you believe in it wholeheartedly, everyone else will.
  4. Don’t be afraid to interrupt people trying to talk over you. You can do this in a polite and effective way.  And still get your point across. I used to err on the side of letting people finish their spiel, but tactful interruptions are sometimes the best defense.

These days I am know as the “idea girl.”  My co-workers come to me to brainstorm or help them figure out if their plan makes sense.  A role I’ve always wanted to have.  🙂  And lots of my ideas get implemented, no megaphone required.

And how about that rant? Every time I think we have all seen the many types of “role models” for women in business, another sad story about a girl who spends too much time letting her self image be influenced by someone else’s crazy ideas.

The best path for women to success at work: be yourself, and ignore all of the jerks out there with their unsolicited advice.

3 thoughts on “Do women need to be jerks to succeed?

  1. Tina S.

    Love your insights – however, I would challenge that it goes beyond gender: it is about being yourself. Minority males often face many of the same challenges as women in the workplace due to cultural differences or insecurities from not being part of the perceived “club”. There is a book called “The Power of Nice” that I really enjoyed reading – it helped me learn to be who I am. I am not always nice, I am not always loud, but I am me and comfortable with it. And I know this has made a difference in my career!

  2. Jame-Ane Ervin

    Thanks for chiming in guys! @Tina I absolutely agree, many of us “don’t fit in” at the work place.

    One of my friends interviewed at a big internet company. When she left she knew she wasn’t getting the job because she wasn’t into mountain biking and snowboarding!

    Another friend interviewed at a local startup, and felt like since he wasn’t into iPhones and used Windows Mobile it wasn’t a good fit.

    I hope one day soon we can get over having coworkers who look like us, like the same stuff we do, or have the same ideas and focus on what’s important: getting the job done efficiently and working together towards success. It doesn’t matter what package that person comes in.

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