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Why You Must
Play on the
Let me tell you two very different stories. The first concerns Lily, a fiery young entrepreneur who started her own computer software business. This enterprise was so successful that a much larger firm eventually bought Lily out, but they asked her to continue running her company as an executive vice president. She accepted.
Unfortunately, Lily has run into a problem. The qualities that helped make her so successful as an entrepreneur-her independence and her verve-aren't necessarily working for her as a member of her new company's male-dominated corporate culture. It's clear to top management that while Lily's ideas are sharp and her company has proved to be an excellent acquisition, Lily herself isn't working out. The men aren't used to someone as openly passionate. Furthermore, Lily still acts as though she were running her own show, and without realizing it, she has been stepping on toes throughout the corporation.
As luck would have it, sitting on this company's board of directors is a well-known woman of great stature in this particular profession. She is fully aware that the board will do Lily in if she can't meld into the good old boy network. But this board member also sees how Lily's demeanor could be changed with some smart advice. So instead of taking the easy route of sitting back and watching Lily self-destruct, this woman, along with another top female executive, has decided to help-they are coaching Lily to get along better with the men, they are advising her on her management techniques, they are even modifying her choice of clothes, which are both too flashy and quirky, to blend in with the corporate culture.
To do so, these women are aware that they are risking political capital. The guys wouldn't be pleased to know that they're trying to save Lily's career-she's already history to them. But the women are well aware that as secure and nice as it is for them in such high positions, things will only change for women if they help the younger ones along.
So far, the word is that these women have made a difference, and that Lily has turned a corner. It looks as though she will make it after all.
The second story concerns Jenna, a fast-rising executive in the retail business. Jenna works at a company where most of the customers are women, and where half of the employees are women, but the firm itself is run entirely by men.
Recently these men have made it clear that they intend to add a woman to the senior vice president level. Jenna is certainly a candidate for this position, as are three other women.
But the pleasant camaraderie that existed between these women before the announcement was made is slowly disappearing. More than ever before the women see each other as rivals rather than compatriots, and the situation is becoming ugly. "We all know that there's room for only one of us," Jenna says. "And each one of us wants to be that one."
The women, divided and unhappy, are spending their time fighting among themselves, gossiping bitterly about each other, asking friends to support only one over the others, creating factions throughout the company. Meanwhile, the men above are watching warily. My fear is that none of the women will survive what is turning into an out-and-out war, or even if one does get the job, the others will have to leave.
My advice to Jenna: Try to find a way for the women to work together, because if they can't stop undermining one another, there may not be any female-friendly changes forthcoming at all.
The point is that it's only a win for women if all the women survive intact. If one of the women so bloodies the others that their reputations are badly damaged, it's not a win for the team. A real women's win is one where everyone fights fair and everyone is acknowledged for the effort, even if only one person ultimately is picked for the job.
I wish that stories like Lily's were more prevalent than stories like Jenna's. Unfortunately that's not the case, as I learned after the publication of my last book, Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman. In that book I said that business is a game, and that men, having written all the rules, know how to play this game well. If women are to succeed, they need to know these rules so they can act out of knowledge rather than ignorance.
Due to the book's subject matter, I was invited to speak at seminars, conferences, and meetings around the world about the role of women in the workplace. The women in the audiences represented all levels of the business world, from top executives to entry-level assistants. And almost without exception, they found the book quite beneficial. They also realized that even if they didn't want to comply with some of the rules, they should at least know them all, and were setting about doing so. But even though women are now playing the game of business more than ever, and better than ever, are we actually winning?
The answer is no. Statistics as well as my own observations bear this out. Time after time at these conferences I meet women, like Jenna, who have everything going for them: They're intelligent, they're ambitious, they're talented-but they aren't climbing the corporate ladder as fast and as far as they should.
I hear their frustration in the questions they ask me at the end of each speech, I hear it in the comments they make to each other, I see it in the e-mails and letters they send me.
"I'm smart, I work hard, I'm successful," they say, "but I feel that I'm playing the game alone." "I don't know whose team I'm on." "I have no place to go whenever something upsetting happens to me and I need advice."
Or they ask: "When one of my best friends was promoted over me, we stopped being friends-why does this happen?" "Why do women always become one of 'them' when they get promoted?" "Why does my female boss talk so much about helping other women, but, when the moment of truth arrives, she hires men?" "Why do so many women often act much tougher toward the women who work for them than the men do?"
They also ask: "Why is it that the women in my department are always there to support one another when someone fails, but when someone gets promoted, they distance themselves from her?"
A rising young comer at a major investment-banking company told me that one of her male coworkers took her to lunch and said that everyone in her group was upset because she was generating too much revenue (the others were all men). She left work that day bewildered and confused. Was she supposed to make less money for the company?
"You work at one of the most aggressive places in the world," I said, "and you took this man's complaint seriously? Do you honestly think your CEO feels that you're making too much money for him?"
Once she heard the idea uttered aloud, she realized how ridiculous the conversation had been. She even started to laugh. But because she had no one to talk to about it openly, the humor hadn't been evident before.
Another woman, an executive at a large public relations outfit, told me that all the men around her were vice presidents, yet she wasn't-even though she did as much work and had as much responsibility. When she finally got up enough nerve to ask her boss for a promotion, he said, "You're doing an excellent job, but we're not into titles at this company."
She left his office feeling she had violated some secret code and decided not to mention it again. Still, she couldn't help but wonder-if the company wasn't into titles, why did all the men seem to have them?
"Did you discuss this with the other women at your company?" I asked.
"No," she said. She felt the other women were her rivals so she didn't feel comfortable bringing up the subject. I suggested that one reason why none of the women had received the titles was because they kept the information to themselves, never discussing any of these issues with the others.
These questions and stories all have different scenarios and outcomes, but they represent something that I hadn't considered when I wrote my first book, which presents the rules of business as written by the men. The more I thought about it, the more I decided that women needed rules of their own, rules that apply only to women.
But when I sat down to write these rules, I came to realize that there's only one rule that will help eliminate women's confusion and unhappiness. There's only one rule that matters, one rule that I have not seen written about in any book, article, or Web site.
That one rule is: Every woman must always play on the women's team. Why?
Because every time any woman succeeds in business, your chances of succeeding in business increase. And every time a woman fails in business, your chances of failure increase.
Women aren't playing on the same team with each other right now. We don't talk to each other. We don't support each other. We don't rainmake for each other. We act as though we were a minority at work (which is barely true) with no hope of ever changing that situation (which isn't true at all).
Like it or not, women are indeed treated like a minority in the world of business. But are we really? Women currently constitute a healthy (and growing) 47 percent of the work force. But we make up only 12 percent of the upper executive ranks. And female enrollment in business schools has plummeted over 15 percent in the past five years-in part because women are being given the message that while a business school education can help for the first ten or so years of a career, after that the playing field stops being level.
There's more. Women comprise only 12.5 percent of corporate officers, and only 12.4 percent of the board seats, in five hundred of America's largest companies. We represent only 4 percent of the top earners, and only 6.2 percent of the clout titles (chairman, chief executive officer, chief operating officer, vice chairman, president, senior executive vice president, and executive vice president). There are just four women CEOs in the entire Fortune 500.
Comparatively, we don't make enough money, either. Women who worked full-time, year-round in 2000 earned only 73 percent of what men who also worked full-time, year-round earned, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The wage gap has narrowed by about ten percentage points during the last seventeen years, with only slight improvements in the most recent years.
A recently released Congressional study shows that the difference in managerial salaries for men and women actually increased from 1995 to 2000, despite the fact that the country was experiencing an economic boom. In certain key industries where women are supposedly making great strides (entertainment, communications, finance, insurance, and retailing), the gap increased by as much as twenty-one cents for every dollar.
There is a widely held perception that in the not-for-profit world women do much better than men, but the reverse is true. A new study from GuideStar, a national database on not-for-profit organizations, shows that over three quarters of the larger organizations are run by men. Alarmingly, even when women hold top positions, they earn, on average, significantly less money than their male counterparts-$170,180 compared to the men's $264,602.
Some of this lack of financial parity occurs because, as I said, women don't band together in ways that create power.
But it's also because women have been reluctant to admit that by banding together, we are more likely to succeed.
As a result, we are constantly being forced to second-guess ourselves, even when we decide to follow all the male rules. We are always expected to jump through hoops without understanding why. That's because our own way isn't the accepted way. The female's psyche is not the role model for the business psyche; the male's is-and if you don't believe me now, read Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman and see just how men have written all the rules of business, and why the rest of us need to learn them. Because women think we have to succeed in the way men want us to, we have spent too much time looking in the wrong places: We keep trying to improve ourselves, we keep trying to reinvent ourselves, we keep learning more; we keep thinking if we try harder, somehow things will change.
Unfortunately, change hasn't happened. We do need to know the male rules of business. But we must also create and play by our own rules. We should be talking to each other; we should be planning with each other; we should be working to improve the situation for every one of us, not for just one of us. We should launch a new strategy to advance our careers as a whole, rather than advance our own careers at the expense of other women.
Few experts in the career-counseling area concern themselves with these ideas. In fact, they run contrary to what other businesswomen are currently telling their audiences-these people are still trying to solve our problems by recommending we play the boys' game better than the boys. Instead, it's time to make the case for creating a girls' game, for advancing as a group rather than as individuals. Because the truth is, women are a definable group, just like any other minority. And because we are, whether we are working for a company with a strong team environment or a weak one, women are always simultaneously working on another team, and that's the women's team.
This team cuts across the boundaries of business, eth- nicity, age, and nationality. It's a reality for which there is no exception.
There's nothing wrong with tending your own desires. Women struggle so hard to figure out what we want. We know what our kids, our parents, and our husbands want; we even know what our dog wants, but we seldom have time to know what we want. We don't think it's right to be out there trying to fulfill our needs. We want to help others get theirs.
In the meantime, we hope that if we do all this, someone will notice us, and reward us. But the truth is: That isn't going to happen. The only way we win is to take care of ourselves. And that means taking care of other women too, because that's how we will all succeed-when we take care of each other.
Men like to say that there's no "us versus them" issue at the office. Then, too often, they go ahead and treat us as if we were a "them." We've all been in those situations where the work team suddenly seems to have left us out, or where we seem to get only so far before we feel frozen out by the men, or where we feel we must compete not just against our competitors at other companies, but against the few women at our level at our own company.
While we all recognize these predicaments, what we don't do is help each other deal with them.
I say: The more we help each other, the more we all move toward greater success. Even more than that: When we don't help each other, we all take a step backward. Our mantra has long been "I can do it." But this notion that we can accomplish our goals individually is antithetical to who we truly are. Our real mantra should be "We can do it."
Women will only make it if we make it together. One isolated success here or there won't do the trick. Only when we achieve a critical mass at the highest levels can we fully realize our potential at the office.
In the world of business, women have rarely operated as though supporting other women was an important part of the job. In fact, many of us have come to believe that another woman's gain is our own loss, and conversely that another woman's loss is our gain. Why? Because we are convinced that only a small number of executive slots are open to women. If that's really the case, then other women are the enemy-as anyone would feel while fighting for survival when resources are limited. A young friend puts it succinctly: "As a woman, when I play the game of business, I always operate out of scarcity."
It's true that in the past many women have fought hard, and fought alone, to advance into certain rarefied positions. Therefore many of us have felt that we made it on our own, and that's the only way success should be achieved.
Women have also traditionally believed that speaking up too loudly for another woman, or for women's issues, can hurt us. What if that woman you recommended so highly performs poorly in the new job? What if the men begin to suspect that you are a secret feminist-couldn't this mortally wound your career?
No. Men feel safer around women who speak up for what they believe in-when it's appropriate. There is a big difference between expressing support for someone or something and beating others over the head with diatribes. When you demonstrate that your general ideals are greater than your personal ambition, you usually gain the admiration of both men and women.
Women have also been hesitant to give special treatment to other women for fear of being seen as Someone Who Favors Women. Singling out one individual for special attention can fly in the face of our image of ourselves as fair, objective people who don't play favorites.
But the guys mentor young men all the time. We all know who the boss's favorite is, and that he'll do anything he can for him. In fact, it's considered somewhat unusual if the boss doesn't have a protégé.
Some women who resent the fact that no male authority figure helped them because they were females respond by saying, "I don't want to lower myself to play that game. I want to help anyone at all who is deserving of my support."
I don't want you to stop helping deserving guys. I don't want you to feel like a bad person. I just want you to be willing to take care of other women. The boys are doing a great job of taking care of themselves already.
We need to identify the women around us who are comers and become integral to their success-and not worry that the men will attack us for playing the same game they do. Not long ago a young friend of mine quit her job at a weekly newsmagazine because she saw no chance for advancement. The senior male editor routinely gave the best assignments to his three favorite male reporters, but the top woman refused to do the same for the female reporters. When confronted, she explained, "That would be wrong." Perhaps, but the result is a magazine that can't hang on to its women because no one is willing to stick up for them.
Another issue: Many women want to play the game as though there were no differences between us and them. "Aren't we all equal?" they ask. As the statistics discussed earlier show, the answer is no-we're not equal in the business world. In a recently released survey of women in finance conducted by Catalyst (the leading not-for-profit organization for female professionals), 65 percent of the women reported that they have to work harder than men to get the same rewards. A third of the women surveyed described the workplace as a hostile environment where sexist comments are tolerated and women are subjected to unwanted sexual advances. And only a fifth said that the opportunities to advance have increased greatly in the last five years. Many women cited exclusion from important networks as a barrier to their moving up.
"Every broker but me got invited to certain events," one executive woman told Catalyst, "so they all got input as to what they might be doing wrong or how they could improve their business. But not me." And several executive recruiters said one effect of the sluggish economy has been the decline in the position and status of women in corporate America.
Corroborating this perception are the dire predictions I recently heard from the women who invited me to speak to the female employees at a major financial firm-when times get hard, they said, the first people let go are always the women. So although we are all just people, at work women are not as equal as men. As observed by George Orwell in Animal Farm, "Some animals are more equal than others."
Furthermore, too often women accept the fact that the men will give us only so many openings at the top. After all, you keep the minorities down by keeping them separated. Give a little here and there, but let them kill each other. How can you counterbalance that attitude? Every woman who gets that one-and-only-female top job must be aware that half of her job, once she gets there, is to get another woman there too.
A disproportionate number of women who have gotten close to the top have fallen in love with the idea of being that single special woman. There's no reason to abandon your team just because the other team has picked you out as an ally.
Rather than letting the men decide which woman gets the job, it makes more sense for the women to decide ahead of time whom to choose-and, once she gets there, to support her to make sure she does the job well.
When they wish to, women can and do work very well together. For example, Carol, a very successful friend, started receiving signals that her department was about to undergo significant budget cuts. Much of her staff, many of them women she had hired, would be let go. Carol herself was in jeopardy.
One day Carol called and asked for my advice. I knew her job was in danger, but I also knew she'd have no problem finding another great position. I told her that, given her talents, her next job should be running her own company. Since Carol was woman friendly and hired more women than her male counterparts, I knew this would benefit not only her, but all of us.
I had just heard that a CEO position was about to open up, and I, along with Carol's other allies, suspected she would be perfect for it. But we all knew that landing this job would require intense and careful politicking, so we had to plan carefully. First, we compiled a list of the most important women each of us knew who could influence the company's board, and we made sure that everyone on the list received a phone call. We then checked to see which search firm would be handling the position, and when we discovered it was one where we knew one of the female partners, we enlisted her in the battle too.
When Carol became one of three people being considered seriously, we increased the pressure, enlisting at least a dozen more women to help. The campaign worked. Carol landed the job, and today she is one of the most powerful women in her field. This isn't to say that sometimes these ideas don't backfire. They do. I once knew some women at a midsize Southern California company who began meeting regularly and sharing knowledge. They thought they had a powerful group going that would advance all their careers.
After two years, one of the women was laid off. The other women, knowing how smart she was, found the firing unfair and were incensed. Feeling their power as a group of successful executives, they thought they could right a wrong.
What they didn't do was stop to ask a million and one questions. Why had the woman been laid off? Was there trouble in her department? Were there financial pressures? What was the real story? These women didn't do the research. Instead, they organized a quick protest, they made their opinions known both inside and outside the company, and they received some bad media coverage the company did not want.
Soon these women were called in by their bosses, who told them they didn't understand the specifics of the situation, and then read them the riot act. If they couldn't do the appropriate fact-finding work, they should have gone to their bosses and asked them for the real story. In other words, true team players would have kept the company's concerns in mind.
None of the women was fired, but the incident put a damper on the group. Feeling humbled, the women returned to their corners to try to make up the territory they'd lost with their bosses.
When one of the women in this group told me of their woes, I urged her not to give up. Life isn't always fair, I said. The woman in question was good, the rest of you protested, you landed in trouble, and that's the way of the world. It doesn't mean you should stop organizing. It just means you need to do your homework next time. The moral: Being on the women's team isn't always about changing the world or righting all wrongs. It's about working with other women to become smarter and more successful. When you're smart, not only do you know the rules of the game, and the best strategies, but you keep in mind all the other games taking place around you.
--from She Wins, You Win by Gail Evans, Copyright © 2003 by Gail Evans, Published by Gotham Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.