The folks at PORTFOLIO Magazine have joined those at the American Bar Association in documenting the ground we professional women have lost recently.
The statistic about female JDs is probably familiar to you. In 2005, you were earning weekly 77.5 percent of what your male colleagues were. In 2006, that declined to 70.6 percent. As for board seats, we only hold about 14.8 percent of them. And some high-profile members of our sex - Katie Couric, Zoe Cruz, and Hillary Clinton - have taken more the usual hits for their lines of work.
What's happening? I have a theory about the why and a plan of action to remedy it. In fact, at the end of this post you can download a free e-book I published this year about the solution.
My theory is politically incorrect, at least in some circles. But here it is. I put it together from my own 180-degree change from The Professional Woman to My Best Self; through coaching newbies to the workplace; and by helping older women keep in the game.
The mess we're in somehow got started when we took seriously the message that success will come to us only if we morph into the office version of the Stepford Wife. That version is The Professional Woman.
Experience, of course, has disproved that, over and over again. That dates right back to the time The Professional Woman put on her power suit and tied her bowtie in the late 1970s. The Professional Woman wasn't the ones who got those plum opportunities. They still aren't getting much of them and if they are it's not for long.
For instance, think about the ultimate The Professional Woman Carly Fiorina. She not only got the ax at Hewlett-Packard. She is trying [e.g. GOP Campaign08] to put together a second act but still hasn't. Her interview in the current BUSINESS WEEK reeks of The Professional Woman persona.
Think also how once lively Jane Pauley and once catty Tina Brown took on new roles as solitary talk-show hosts by taking refuge in the persona of The Professional Woman. Both got the gong. Yet, even in the face of these disasters, they continued being the Professional Woman.
What are the traditional specs on The Professional Woman? Here are some:
- All business, all the time, even on trips to cool places
- Tense, and all moods are contagious so who wants her nearby
- All rational, all the time, even when it's time for intuition, being mystical, turning over to the mysteries of the universe
- Chilly or simply controlled emotionally
- Strict limits on the length and size of smiles
- Talent at making others feel less-than
- Attempting to demonstrate that one is the smartest girl since even parallel play dates times.
Those specs generally replaced what charmers, including in my family where I was the only The Professional Woman, used to get in, get ahead, and hold onto the goodies. Here are some of those non-The Professional Woman characteristics and behaviors:
- Subtle Southern Belle Flirtiness, which often were/are adapted to Northern/Western/Midwestern girls come to the big city or, with reverse commutes, the suburbs. Flirting makes work something to look forward to.
- Not only the ability to be cagey but to love manipulating the system, the power structures and the guy in the cube next to us. Our mothers and Sunday school teachers might have told us that we were the guardians of civilization. That heavy mission meant we had to be more ethical, more humane, more trustworthy, and more compassionate than men. Those who blew that socialization off early, like my younger sister, rose to fantastic heights. Since so few of us ex-capitalist virgins are naturally arrogant or reckless, we usually avoid prison, losing our licenses or worse.
- We create just the right pull force for mentors to flock over to help us. We need at least two. One to educate us about the shrewd moves. The other has to have the actual power to get us concrete goodies like promotions.
- We allow ourselves to be underestimated, at least a little, as often as that could work for us. When underestimated, The Professional Woman gears up to show off knowledge, boast about accomplishments, make others feel small. We non-The Professional Woman, on a just-in-time basis, don't take it personally. That gives us the calm to flash our smarts and social know-how at the right time to the right people. Purely Machiavellian, this throws everyone off their game. We will come to be treated with awe.
- Share in the humor of things, but not in a hearty fashion. Staid professions still penalize funny ladies
- Give small gifts. That's a bulletproof way to maintain a network. Your colleague moves to Chicago. Snail mail gourmet tea.
- Find joy. It lights up the office and everyone wants you on the team.
How I got to be The Professional Woman was, like most of us, gradually. And one day, there we are in a cabal badmouthing the non-Professional Woman who is charming our boss.
How I exited all that was through five months of communing with a Shaman aka Cognitive therapist Amy Karnilowicz [860-216-5116, firstname.lastname@example.org]. Somehow through her ministrations I was released from all that nonsense. I went back to being myself and am making a bundle, on my terms.
Still not convinced to ditch The Professional Woman Persona? Here's a secret: No one likes The Professional Woman - not women, not men, not children, not animals, not even The Professional Woman.