Penelope Trunk on How to Stand Out at Work As a Woman

Sep 10, 2014
8 Min Read

I spoke to Penelope Trunk, the influential and often controversial serial entrepreneur, about how women can stand out at work and what their priorities are. Trunk is also the founder of Quistic, her fourth startup, and the author of the books Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for SuccessThe New American Dream: A Blueprint for a New Path to Success, and The Power of Mentors: The Guide to Finding and Learning from Your Ideal Mentor. Her career advice runs in 200 newspapers and she used to write for The Boston Globe and Yahoo! Finance. You can read her career blog or follow her on Twitter.

Dan Schawbel: What do you think about gender in the workplace? Will women ever make the same amount and dominate the corporate world?

Penelope Trunk: Women do not care about dominating the corporate world. They care about kids. Women like Sheryl Sandberg comprise less than 5% of the female population, so it's absurd that we ask when women will be more like Sheryl. The vast majority of women don't want to be.

I know this is not a popular thing to say, but it's reality. Pew Research found that 85% of women with kids would rather work part-time than full time. The Economist declared the salary gap a result of women's choices, rather than discrimination. And the New York Times announced that being a stay-at-home wife and mother is the new aspirational life for women. The truth is that women make choices to spend time at home with their kids and men make choices to spend more time at work.

Schawbel: How do women stand out at work in the right way without getting pushed around by other women? What should they watch out for?

Trunk: Before women have kids, women earn more than men. Generation Y women out-learn generation Y men, so not only have women closed the gap, but men are falling behind. The salary gap is not applicable to the new generation. However there are new gender gaps that people should think about, like the fun gap.

Schawbel: So much of success is driven by your personality, attitude and relationships. How do people be themselves while trying to fit in and get work done?

Trunk: Get a job that fits your personality. Nearly every Fortune 500 company pays for top executives to take personality tests because we know that doing work consistent with your personality allows you to do your best work. What I wonder is why don't more people take a personality test? There are sixteen personality types. If you find out which one you are, you will know what type of work suits you best, and then it will be easy to be your true self at work because you are getting paid to be your true self at work.

The most basic example of this is that you can get a top-tier job as a developer if you are socially incompetent in the interview because no one is hiring you for your social skills. Similarly, you can get a top sales job without remembering any details about your prior history because sales people get hired because they are good with people, not memorizing random factoids.

A lot of companies charge hundreds of dollars to give you a personality test. Here's a personality test you can take for free:

Schawbel: What are some ways to network at the office even if you are an introvert?

Trunk: Being an introvert does not mean you are socially incompetent. It means you need a lot of alone time to think. A great way to understand this is by understanding personality types. Both ENTJs and INTJs are great at running teams. If you look at personality tests, the difference between and ENTJ and an INTJ is that an ENTJ (E for extravert) needs to talk to think and an INTJ (I for introvert) needs to go away and be alone to think.

If you're an introvert and you want to network, just make sure you have time to be alone both before and after the social interaction, and then you'll do fine.

Schawbel: How do you keep up with the new skills and trends that are happening in your profession?

Trunk: Read or talk to people. You intuitively know which way you like to learn best. Use that method to keep up. Not everyone can peg a trend. Here's how to know if you are good at spotting trends.

The bottom line, though, is that we are each good at something. There is no single right way to build a career. The only thing you absolutely must do is be true to yourself. School brainwashes people into thinking we should learn what we are told to learn, and school enforces the shallow idea that we should plan for an adult life that leverages our school work. The biggest problem is school sets us up to not listen to ourselves. School does not customize learning to personality type even though the workplace does.

What this means is that in order to succeed at work you need to unlearn what you've been taught in school and you need to learn to identify your own interests, your own needs, and your own idea of fulfillment. That's what builds a good career.

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