Why it's time to break the rules if you want to get ahead
A new book ‘The Glass Wall’, written by two top UK business women, claims to give women the ‘down and dirty’ advice on how to succeed in the workplace. Delivering frank (sometimes brutal) advice, Kathryn Jacob (chief executive of cinema advertising giant Pearl & Dean), and Sue Unerman (chief strategic officer at media agency MediaCom) claim that ‘equal opportunities do not exist,’ for men and women at work. In fact, they never have, and there’s no point tiptoeing around it.
The ‘glass wall’ that divides men and women they argue, is the new glass ceiling. Women aren’t just being overlooked for the next promotion; they are being shut out behind a glass wall by male-oriented office culture.
‘Men and women don’t speak the same language or have the same cultural expectations and as a result women’s careers are suffering,’ Jacob says. ‘It’s a secret no one wants to admit, but women have to acknowledge it if they want to get ahead.’
So what’s the answer? They suggest a bit of ‘Pragmatic Feminism’. The book aims to arm women with practical, and often subversive techniques to get ahead, under chapter titles including ‘Ambition’, ‘Cutting Through,’ and ‘Resilience.’
Its pretty controversial stuff, not least because it doesn’t shy away from the ‘think like a man’ tropes of the past; in fact, it actively encourages them. Jacob and Unerman are telling us to get angry, aggressively market ourselves, and be noticed in the workplace – just like men. They urge us to ‘speak men’s language,’ ‘use humour to lighten the atmosphere,’ and ‘stand up for your ideas’.
Both women know from personal experience that their techniques can work. After several decades at MediaCom, Unerman looked around and realized that women held four of the five top jobs at her company. Most of them had children and worked a four-day week. It was with this team that they became the biggest media agency in the UK, with offices in 97 countries. ‘It couldn’t possibly be that all the female talent in the industry ended up here,’ she says, ‘which means there is something stopping that happening everywhere else.’
That ‘something’ is exactly what Unerman and Jacob want to address. So we asked them their top seven insider tips for women to get ahead:
Yes you’re being judged, so work it
No one likes to think this is the case, but if you’re in the bar with your colleagues after work, you’re being judged. People will add and subtract brownie points depending on how you behave around them. There’s no such thing as ‘downtime’ with your colleagues – they’re not your family so make sure you’re making the right impression. Always.
Talk yourself up and promote brand ‘you’
Sit where you will be noticed, and don’t be afraid to talk about your achievements. If that feels too much like boasting, include compliments to your team and boss as well. Think of yourself as a brand – don’t be afraid of self-promotion.
Bend the rules
Insisting on fairness won’t get you anywhere. Everyone knows the unwritten rules of the workplace: it won’t hurt to sit near the CEO, or send an email early in the morning, or late in the evening, to show you take your job seriously. And if you have a poorly child that needs looking after, do what a man would and lie; say its you who is sick; you’ll get more sympathy in the long run.
Women are raised to be agreeable – we’re conditioned to be people-pleasers and this can hold us back at work. But there’s nothing wrong with showing your passion, and even anger, when the moment calls for it. Let it be known that you’re a lioness, not a pussycat, when provoked.
Know your worth
We’ve all heard of the well known Hewlett-Packard study that found women will apply for a job only when they meet 100% of the criteria. And yet men, will apply when they meet just 60%. Look at yourself objectively and realise how good you are because clearly that’s why you hold down a job. You’re not sitting in that seat because of your boss’ kindness but because you’re kick-ass at what you do.
Never, ever serve the drinks
If you’re the only woman in the room, don’t even think about making the tea. Yes it really matters how you’re seen. Give as good as you get when it comes to office banter and don’t put yourself in a menial position.
‘Speak up, speak up, speak up!’ There are many things to fear in life. Looking silly in a meeting really isn’t one of them. Expect to fail a bit sometimes, intend to fail a bit sometimes… that’s how you learn, grow your confidence and succeed in future.
‘The Glass Wall’ by Sue Unerman & Kathryn Jacob is out now (Profile Books, £9.99)