A while back, I wrote a blog post entitled, "Is There Such a Thing As Interview Foreplay?" discussing a gender difference that I've observed during the interview process. The bottom line on that post was that it's always good to keep in mind that female candidates might just be a bit more about the journey than are their male counterparts, and it doesn't hurt to take a few side trips into small talk land before getting to the destination. I wouldn't classify this particular gender difference as a good or bad characteristic - it just is what it is - but as I continue to meet HIT professionals (both male and female), I've noticed some common mistakes among my sisters that need immediate correction. Let's face it ladies, it's already tough enough out there. If you find yourself doing any of these five things, it's time to make some changes (and know you're not alone - I've been guilty of every one at one time or another, too).
1. Dressing inappropriately for the environment or occasion. You'd think by the time a professional (in any industry) reaches the executive ranks this item would not make the list, but unfortunately it does. Yes, healthcare IT is a male-dominated profession, but you are still a woman, and that's OK. There's no need to wear a tie to the interview to appear less feminine (actual question asked), and if you feel more comfortable in a skirted suit then, by all means, wear it! BUT, or should I say BUTT . . . do not sabotage your credibility by proudly flaunting your femininity for all your colleagues to see. Leave your short skirts and cleavage in the closet for your weekend fun. This advice applies both in the work environment and in company-sponsored play environments. In other words, the company pool party is no place to break out your new thong - even if you look fantastic in it (and if you do, kudos)! Again, this item seems so obvious and inappropriate for an executive audience. But anyone who has been to HIMSS knows there are still executives who need to be reminded.
2. Failing to toot your own horn. Men seem to be much better at this skill than women, don't they? According to a recent article in Forbes, "Research shows over and over again that, too often, women wait to be recognized rather than being proactive in seeking out recognition for their accomplishments. Successful women in business find appropriate ways to summarize their achievements and take credit for their performance." Many women I've talked to (myself included) are hesitant to bring attention to their successes due to a desire to showcase their team's success ("Thanks, but I owe it all to the team!") or due to the fact that they don't want to appear conceited or egotistical. Understood. But it's important to let the person you report to (and the person s/he reports to, if appropriate) know how your hard work and, let's face it, brilliance are paying off.
3. Displaying girly body language. An article from business coach Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D lists 10 body language mistakes that women leaders make. It's a great list, and other than having a delicate handshake (a personal pet peeve - I've written about that, too), I've been guilty of every single one. Some of them are very unconscious behaviors, such as this one: " Head tilting is a signal that someone is listening and involved -- and a particularly feminine gesture. Head tilts can be very positive, but they are also subconsciously processed as submission signals. Women who want to project power and authority should keep their heads straight up in a more neutral position." From one head tilter to another, commit this list to memory, gals.
4. Talking like a girl. This fault can take many shapes. Maybe you were born with a baby doll voice, maybe you are just naturally soft-spoken, or maybe you tend to end your sentences with an upward intonation that makes you sound like you're asking a question instead of delivering a declaration or directive (very common female tendency). Penny Herscher, CEO of FirstRain, writes about the fact that the same issue comes up every time she mentors technical women:
"I offer an idea at a meeting, no one listens to me and then a man says the same thing and everyone listens."
Herscher says, "Often the woman is the only woman on a team and so the only woman in the room. Often they are smart, nerdy and not very assertive. Sometimes, not always, they are very polite too. Their ideas get overlooked and it's very annoying (and career stifling) for them." Penny's suggestion for the malady? "If you work in a world of all men, you need to learn how to talk Man." She highly recommends reading Deborah Tannen's "You Just Don't Understand." Professor Tannen points out that the way women talk creates connection while men's language transfers information. Women are creating community as they speak; men are establishing status. This distinction is certainly not a liability outside the work environment, but establishing status is critically important for women in any workplace, so perhaps Tannen's book is worth a look, even though personally I would call it "the need to speak more assertively" rather than the need to speak "Man." And if you come across like Georgette Baxter, I highly recommend Toastmasters.
5. Failing to negotiate. I have never had a male candidate ask me, "Do you think it would be okay to ask for more money?" It is expected that they will negotiate, but I don't see it nearly as often from the women. Why? Back to the aforementioned Forbes article - Susan Fleming Cabrera, a researcher at the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell, has found that women simply do not negotiate as often or as effectively as men, due to a complex mix of socialization, stereotypes, and bias. Cabrera cites research demonstrating that only 7% of MBA women asked for more money during salary negotiations, while 57% of men asked the same. And can you guess the result of that disparity? Starting salaries of the male MBA grads were 7.6% higher. If negotiating skills are missing from your bag of tricks, you're in luck - great articles abound online, YouTube has videos, and Amazon has much to offer, as well. (Note: From my personal experience I have found if you have teenagers at home, your newfound skills will definitely come in handy.)
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and not all women are sabotaging their careers in these ways, but for those who see yourselves in these examples, there's no time like the present to make some changes! I'd welcome comments - ladies, are you guilty? Gentlemen, anything to (tactfully) add?