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Is putting in your absolute best effort important? Of course. Does that mean you have to be the last to leave every night to prove a point? Not at all. "So many junior-level employees confuse working hard with forfeiting every hour of the day to the company," says one senior software engineer. "These are the same smart young people I see getting fed up and leaving after a year." Protect yourself from this sort of burnout by blocking off personal time on your daily calendar and honoring it the same way you would a meeting with your boss. Even if it's just a walk around the block or a quick cappuccino run, taking a moment to check in with yourself can serve as an emotional reset.
Also, get into the habit of turning down random requests that would interfere with the core responsibilities listed in your job description. "When someone's being lazy and asks you for information they could easily find themselves, don't do it," says Rhonda A. Kolaric, a researcher in the NYU Department of Neuroscience, Psychiatry, Biochemistry & Molecular Pharmacology. "You have better things to do than hand out simple answers on a platter." Instead, politely tell your coworker that you're busy, detailing exactly what's keeping you occupied. This will remind him or her that you have your own impressive weight to carry.
While the whole self-made (wo)man ethos has a certain cachet, it's time we stop equating asking for advice with incompetency. Yes, you could wait forever to figure out what that commonly emailed abbreviation means or where the coffee filters are, but is there really any shame in asking? Think strategically about what knowledge you can glean from the people around you when it comes to the bigger stuff, as well. "When I first started out, I worked with a boss who'd climbed way up the ladder, despite being considerably younger than all the other higher-ups," says one advertising vice president. "By asking her to mentor me, I learned business strategy I would have never otherwise had access to."
Even reaching out to friends or acquaintances in other fields — whether to set up a skill-share across disciplines or for a fresh perspective — doesn't get the credit it deserves. "I like to rehearse hard conversations with people who aren't in my industry," says Kae Burke, founder of House Of Yes, a nightclub and event space in Brooklyn, NY. Examining (and re-examining) your points with an outsider's eyes can prove quite valuable.
Given the number of think pieces that posit how a woman should or should not present herself at work, it would seem that adopting the most neutral, non-objectionable version of yourself — in both dress and behavior — would be the way to go. "Slipping into an office-appropriate role from nine to five is actually a major mistake," warns one architect. "It leaves you at risk of blending into the crowd." Also, unless you're a terrifically skilled actor, your persona will likely come off as wooden and, well, fake.
Instead, embrace your quirks (your offbeat humor, for example), and treat them as a way of making a name for yourself. Clothes-wise, don't buy into the idea that caring about how you look makes you "less serious" about your work. "As a culture, we're actually still in the early stages of figuring out what 'women's workwear' even means," says Tory Hoen, editor-in-chief of fashion startup and digital magazine MM.LaFleur. "I understand why workwear from the eras when women first started carving out their place in the corporate world often looked like feminized (and not all that flattering) men's suiting. But now we have the space and confidence to get more creative — and, yes, to embrace the fact that we are women." The goal is to feel comfortable, confident, and competent.
Women regularly hear that they'll only get ahead if they learn to roll with the punches and act like one of the guys. For this reason, we're incentivized to look the other way after sexist comments and even go so far as to fear disclosing a pregnancy in case it's viewed as a liability. Make strides for yourself (and your coworkers) by fighting this sort of behavior as a real-time feminist advocate. "We're trained to go around like 'please-oh-please, don't notice I'm a girl,'" says one senior software engineer. "What we really need is to be loud, talk about gender, and start conversations."
If you're in a position of authority, take action to correct gender inequalities. "Do not book men for a panel until you’ve booked an equal number of women," says Feminist Fight Club author Jessica Bennett. "If you’re hiring for an open position and the candidates are only men, insist on seeing an equal number of qualified women. The only way that we truly break down the tendency to compete against one another is to get more of us in power."
At some point in the last few decades, the sandwich technique — i.e. the act of carefully "sandwiching" a negative statement between two positive statements — established itself as a managerial tactic for softening criticism. By adding extra fluff, though, you'll water down the praise you give when it is actually warranted. "It's better to be strong and direct with your communications," says Eileen Carey, founder of Glassbreakers, a software company focused on building more inclusive workplaces. "You will not get ahead because you are on everyone's good side; you'll get ahead because you work hard and generate results."
If opposing somebody else's ideas, especially if they happen to come from a man who ranks higher than you, still makes your palms sweat, show up to the discussion extra informed. "If you have a logical or fact-based argument, you really shouldn't be afraid to speak up," says Frida Polli, CEO and cofounder of job-matching platform Pymetrics. "You won't hurt anyone's feelings, and you'll get your point across most effectively."