Someone recently asked me who I would most like to influence with Matterness. My immediate answer was younger women because they have can craft careers that are better aligned with their values without having to unlearn the lessons from working within fortress that are inherently fear-based and reward ungenerous behavior where the goal is to matter more oneself than to make others matter more.
So, these smart, prepared, professional women are walking into environments that are tilted towards the traditional manly values of competitiveness, always-on and me-firstness that continue to pervade American companies – even if they don’t work, aren’t profitable and make everyone feel terrible. What to do? Take More women than men are graduating with college and advanced degrees; and yet they continue to enter manly cultures where men continue to get paid more and getting ahead faster. And it feels awful. Here is how one friend put it last week:
After our executive presence training yesterday with a client services organization in the financial industry, a half-dozen women came up to us to talk about navigating the strength + warmth balance in a professional context as women facing the double standard of being penalized for showing their strength/competence. All were under 35, and highly educated, polished, and accomplished. …..women told us about the shit they deal with even with younger male colleagues.
We’ve all met that women, the amazing one who has been at the company for 25 years, who shows up more prepared than anyone else every day and knows how to navigate the bureaucracy, hierarchy and sexism of a large company while keeping her humanity intact. She is my hero. I certainly couldn’t do it and most women can’t and either level off at a middle management spot and stay there, opt out entirely, or opt half way in and get paid a lot less than they’re worth. But we all need to start somewhere, and that somewhere is generally in fortress that treats everyone inside and out as a potential enemy.
Should you adopt the practices of the place and learn to be work in ways that are unnatural, exhausting and feel terrible? Or should you be your best self, be generous and kind, make other people matter more, regardless of the environmental norms?
So, now I’m asked to give advice to 24 year-old Sammy, two years out of Wesleyan, a world history and women’s studies major. Sammy took a year to travel (lucky her!) did some volunteer work and then buckled down to search for her first real job the one that will pay her one-third of the rent for the walk up in Astoria her mother won’t visit. After thirteen interviews she finally lands her first job, the crappy one, with lots of photocopying and note taking at meetings and even coffee runs.
Here is what I have would advise Sammy(s):
1. The first thing to figure out is what’s the culture and what’s the people. Sometimes it’s awfully hard to pull them apart, but more often, especially in a large place, you can distinguish good people from the bad cultures.
2. See if there is something to learn here. Can you figure out why good people who came to do good work, are behaving badly? What is it about the systems and culture, the incentives and rewards that are forcing people to be short-sighted and selfish?
3. Write it all down because it will give your brain something constructive to do and be a reminder later on of the kind of place you never, ever want to work in again.
4. Hold onto your humanity! Even in the worst cultures, there are opportunities to treat other people well. To thank them by email after a meeting. To give credit to other people (and no, learning how to grab and hold onto credit is not a good long-term career strategy.) To ask for advice and actually have the humility to use it.
5.. In the end, it may be that the best choice is to look for another job quickly. But one thing to remember is that wherever you are going for your next job, the first thing to ask about is about the organizational culture. Make sure that Matterness is built into the DNA of the new place.