6 Ways Women Undermine Themselves at Work

Mar 7, 2012
6 Min Read

Are you one of those women who carries a handbag big enough to hold all your essentials? Like lip balm, a change of shoes, a first responder medical kit, a small sewing machine and a hair straightening iron? If so, you’re obviously prepared for any event that may arise while you’re at work, rather it’s frizzy hair or a small dagger wound. But you’re also sending a very strong signal to others in your office that you’re not someone to be taken seriously.

It’s a common pitfall for women: They want to be prepared to help anyone at anytime. But in the workplace that can also be perceived as “playing mommy.” Or seen as a deep-seated need to be liked, which makes them ripe for someone to take advantage of them.

There have been several books on the subject of perceptions of women in the workplace, with some advising women to channel their inner witch (OK, the word rhymes with witch) to get ahead and stop being a “nice girl.” But if the thought to becoming Cruella De Vil holds no appeal for you, think about ways you can stop sending the wrong signals.

Among them:

  • Talking about personal issues. This can range from how you’re “PMSing” to how your significant other is a total jerk because he got you a Swiffer WetJet for your birthday. Men in your office could care less and wonder why you’re bringing it up. And, yeah, you’ve just given them license to hint that you’re “PMSing” whenever you disagree with them.
  • Showing cleavage. Here’s the deal: If you can see your cleavage, so can everyone else. Despite the idea that maybe you’re attracting the men in the office with a little boobage, the truth is most of them are disgusted by your behavior and women like it even less. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, cosmetics company founder Bobbi Brown shared the story of how she had “be talked into” hiring a woman who showed up for an interview in a low-cut top.
  • Playing mommy. Are you always the one who spearheads the office potluck? Sends around the sign-up sheet for the community fun run? Provides the cake for a colleague’s birthday? There’s nothing wrong with taking your turn for such events, but make sure it’s not your job more often than anyone else in the office. Learn to think like a man: Adults are capable of doing things for themselves, whether it’s getting a cookie or finding the 5K race sign-up sheet on the office wiki.
  • Being the office supply closet. Are you known for having antacids, ibuprofen, Band-Aids and a spare bicycle tire in your cubicle? Cut it out. You’re sending the message that others aren’t capable of taking care of themselves, and you are ready to jump in a save them from whatever boo-boo or flat tire comes their way.
  • Gossiping. Let me just say I know that men gossip, too. But there’s something about a woman being catty – especially about another woman – that can make it seem especially snarky. Some men will relish a “girl fight” but it’s one of the fastest ways to label yourself as an unprofessional female.
  • Stop channeling Oprah. Many women love to offer relationship advice, and while your colleague may appreciate it, it won’t garner you any respect. Again, adults are capable of taking care of their own problems, or at least TiVo-ing Dr. Phil.

There’s nothing wrong with being female in the workplace. Women bring more collaboration, better communication and teamwork to the table. But if they want to be taken seriously for their talent, they need to make sure they leave the curling iron at home.

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