GIVE UP YOUR WORK FANTASIES
o Woman in those high-paying jobs have something I don’t.
o If I work hard and do well, I will be recognized and promoted.
o All people at the same level make about the same amount.
o I need to go back to school if I expect to earn more.
The door has been unlocked. There are more women than ever in high-paying jobs. Yet
most working women, even those in management, are clustered into predominately
female jobs and career paths. These women are almost always lower-paid than men and
women who work in male-dominated positions. None of us can single-handedly change
the way things operate in corporate America. But, we can change jobs. If we want to earn
more money, the most assured way is to do the jobs which pay more. You are much more
prepared to do this than you may think.
Landing and keeping a job held by men as well as women does not require enormous
differences in ethics or skills. Awareness is the first step. Small adjustments in attitude
and behavior can allow us to make big changes in our careers. This report covers some of
the common fantasies that many women have about work. When we work with women,
they don’t seem like fantasies, since most of those around us see things the same way. If
we want to jump the tracks, we need to recognize and discard those attitudes which are in
Fantasy 1: Women in those high-paying jobs have something I don’t have.
I believe there are three reasons why most women do not pursue positions which they
know to be higher-paying.
o They believe they lack sufficient ambition
o They see the sacrifices as too great
o They view themselves as unqualified
Let’s look at these, one at a time.
Think about how you define the work “ambition.” Many people believe that people either
have it or they don’t, and there is no middle ground. Of course, ambition is not an either/or
concept. The majority of working men do not aspire to be president of the company for
which they work, yet they expect to earn enough to support themselves. They do not
worry about unbridled ambition ruining their lives. They know that business is not a
conveyor belt that they get on and cannot control. People are not promoted against their
The issue of ambition may cloud your view of a specific job opportunity. You may
decide that a particular level of ambition is necessary for a specific job, when other things
are actually much more important. You may be wrong about your own ambition level, or
unsure of it. This uncertainty may seem to be an important obstacle to overcome.
You may not want to be ambitious. You might think it is unfeminine or unattractive to
have ambition. You may feel it is selfish and greedy to want a lot of money. You may
feel it is more noble to work hard for little pay than to work hard for a lot of pay.
Some people would have you analyze your feelings about ambition until they are completely resolved. You will probably retire before you can accomplish it. Try to simply put these bad feelings and all thoughts of ambition out of your mind. Ambition is a vague concept, defined by different people in various ways. You work for many reasons, and one of them is money. If you had enough ambition to get out of bed this morning, you have enough to pursue a new career.
You see women anchoring the news, selling cars, and developing new software products.
If you’re like many of us, you may see these positions as requiring more sacrifice than
your current job. You may believe that these women will pay any price to climb further
and earn more.
The fact is, different jobs require different kinds of sacrifices. Yes, there are high-stress
jobs which require long hours and travel. But many, many jobs which pay more than
yours require far less sacrifice than you imagine. I am constantly amazed at the sacrifices
women are willing to make in long hours, extra work, harassment and belittling
treatment, when their paychecks hardly warrant any sacrifice. Many working men and
women who go home to their families every evening earn much more than you do. Be
realistic, but don’t count yourself out of a new career just because you have other
priorities in your life. Everyone does.
The issue of whether or not you are qualified for a different career path is probably more
simple, and at the same time, more complex, than you thought. The word “qualify” has been overused and abused in the workplace. In fact, it remains undefined and means different things to different people, even when they are talking about the same position. Women are much more likely to consider “qualified” to mean technically competent. We believe direct prior experience in that exact kind of position is necessary. We believe some kind of unique technical training is required. In fact, the
position may require someone who is politically savvy, and is able to bring a new prospective to the job. Generally speaking, men with the same level of skill are more likely to consider themselves as “qualified” for a job while the woman next to them sees herself as unqualified.
In 1977, Betty Harragan (Games mother Never Taught You, Warner Books, Inc.) quoted
from a study in which men and women were asked how many of the appropriate job
skills they would need to have in order to “qualify” for a job. Women responded that they
would need all of the skills. Men, on the other hand, believed they needed an average of
40% of those skills. Personally, I think this study would have the same results if done
today. Consider the difference between 40% and 100%! Yes, this is an overgeneralization,
but you can probably think of several examples of this in your own experience. This alone can account for the difference in confidence levels we often see in business. If one person considers himself qualified with far fewer skills than another, he will automatically feel more confident and appear more confident. In fact, he will be better able to execute the job, since self-doubt is a barrier to success. Well-paid women have learned to live with this. They have recognized that if they wait to be 100%
qualified, they’ll miss their chance entirely. So will we.
What we consider to be good performance on the job may be impossible for any human.
Until we can adjust our view of competency, we will never see ourselves as qualified for
the jobs we so deserve. Until we can see ourselves as qualified, we will not be. Change
your view of competency from perfection at all times to excellence in the context of the
job. Make your demands on yourself more realistic, and you will be able to do more.
More women must learn to “fake it until they make it.” We must assume authority,
instead of waiting for it to be handed to us. We must see self-doubt as a faulty
misperception that we must rise above, instead of an indication of our unworthiness. We
are able to do this in other areas of our lives, we must learn to do it in the workplace. For
most people (men and women alike) self-confidence is learned rather than earned. We
simply do not have enough time in this life to overcome all traces of self-doubt before we
act. When we act in spite of our own self-doubts, and succeed, or at least survive, we gain
In other ways, women often differ from the men around them in how they approach
work. We are more likely to feel powerless and doubt ourselves. We are more likely to be
paralyzed by that self-doubt, unable to act until we are certain of the outcome. We often
have a different, and unhealthy view of risk. We are sometimes more task-oriented than is
advisable in decision-making positions, and we may lack negotiating skills. What we can
do about this is the subject of Each of Us: How Every Woman Can Earn More Money in
Corporate America. It is important to remember that all the highly-paid men and women
you know have learned these skills, they weren’t born with them. They are only people
doing their jobs, they aren’t perfect at the business game. With a few minor adjustments,
we can make an enormous difference in our incomes.
Fantasy 2: If I work hard and do well, I will be recognized and promoted.
An executive recently told Working Woman Magazine (March, 1999, The Big Payoff)
“Women are the best bargains around… They think if they work harder, they’ll be
recognized.” Do we really want to be known as “the best bargains around?” While we
faithfully execute the job at hand, people around us are promoted to higher-paying
positions. I believe there are several factors which contribute to this misconception.
Women are more likely to value modesty, and we are cautious not to over-state our
abilities. We prefer to have our work speak for itself, rather than pointing out our
accomplishments to anyone. Meanwhile, our savvy colleagues have learned to speak up
for themselves, perhaps even take credit for others’ efforts, and ask for (sometimes
demand) more responsibility and pay. Everyone is so busy doing their own job, they
don’t recognize our achievements the way we think they will. We are left with the jobs
we have. Perhaps we decide that someone else was more “qualified.” Perhaps we decide
that things were done unfairly this time, but that things will change. We hold tight to our
fantasy and to our current position with its corresponding pay.
Because we may define competency differently than men (see fantasy #1,) we may tend
to over-emphasize our mistakes, and under-emphasize our achievements. We are
convinced that anyone who has performed less than 100% perfectly, accurately, completely, 100% of the time is not yet ready for another assignment. We stay in the same position longer. We convince ourselves that we will speak up and speak out as soon as we have earned that right. We watch others around us move into high-paying positions and wonder why such incomplete, shoddy work is rewarded.
We are more likely to want to perfect things where we are, before we will consider a
promotion. “I’m not ready to move on, I haven’t done everything I want to with this
department.” What’s the difference how we leave things? As soon as we’re gone, things
will change, no matter what we have accomplished. We need to point out our
accomplishments and our ability to learn and expand. We need to move on, leaving
unfinished work behind.
Women are more likely to leave our jobs and careers in the hands of others. We let
someone else decide what we can do and can’t do, or when we are ready to move on.
They’re waiting for us to speak up. They decide we are happy where we are. We are seen
as “patient and cooperative.” While these may be nice attributes to have, they usually do
nothing to increase our incomes. We need to take charge of our own careers and lives.
Things won’t turn out exactly as we plan, but it is a great improvement over leaving it up
The way we work causes us to appear unqualified for other kinds of positions. Women
are more likely to be task-oriented, rather than results-oriented. We pride ourselves on
our ability to get a lot done and check off long lists of duties. We are more often
comfortable taking orders, preferring to understand exactly how we are expected to
perform a job. We want to be measured on how hard we work, what long hours we put in,
and how accurate our work is.
The jobs in American business which pay more are much more likely to be resultsoriented.
They require the individual to focus on the end result; profit, profit margin,
expense reduction. Tasks often have to be abbreviated, delegated, or abandoned, if they
don’t directly contribute to the end result. In fact, the higher paid the position, the more
likely that the goal will be defined, but the job will not. “Increase new business by
$400,000, reduce the reject rate to .03%, increase productivity by 20%,” are goals which
might define a position. The process for achieving these goals is as least partly undefined
and must be authored by the person doing the job. To do the jobs which pay more,
women must learn to live with these job descriptions. We must learn to work toward
accomplishing goals. Many, many women have learned to live with these undefined
positions, so can we.
Awareness is the first step. Small adjustments can make a big difference. This is a
process, we don’t have to be perfect at the game of business, no one is. We just have to
Fantasy 3: All people at the same level make about the same amount.
Almost no position or level of job reflects an income that is pre-determined. A salary
range usually exists, and the difference between the high and low end of that range may be very significant. Don’t assume that the person with the most “seniority” earns the most
at any given level. It is not uncommon to hire someone new at a higher income than
someone who has been there a long time. This is because the new person negotiated for
more and presented him/herself as more valuable.
Too many women cling to the notion that the workplace should be “fair,” whether it
appears that way or not. To hear that workers at the same level receive inequitable
incomes, goes against that fantasy, which we refuse to discard. We continue to hope that
things will be done correctly someday. I suggest we accept the situation as it is, and make
it work to our advantage. Negotiate for raises and bonuses. If you have had a significant
accomplishment, trade in those bargaining chips for more responsibility and more pay.
Take a look around you, and go for a higher-paying job.
One of the great distinctions between jobs in business is that of line and staff positions.
Two vice presidents, one in charge of development and one in charge of administration,
will usually earn significantly different incomes. Usually, every person working under
the line VP earns more than every person under the staff VP. Too many of us are unaware
that this distinction exists and the huge gap in pay between them. Become aware of this
distinction between line and staff, and go for a position on the line, at your current
company or another one.
Line positions are those jobs seen as making a direct contribution to the company’s
profits. Jobs directly involved in the design, manufacture, and sale of your product or
service are line positions. Briefly put, production and sales are line positions.
Staff positions are those that support the line. Human resources, billing, and public
relations are examples of staff positions.
Line people are seen as contributing to the profit of the organization, while staff people
are viewed as expenses. Line people, by the nature of their jobs, almost always have more
power than staff people. Almost without exception, line people are paid more. Over the
course of a lifetime, the difference in pay is staggering.
One of the most blatant differences between the careers of women and men is that
women typically spend their lives working in staff positions, while men move between
line and staff. Most line positions are held by men. This is partly due to the fact that
women do not recognize the difference and gravitate toward staff positions, erroneously
believing them to be safer. Far too many of us choose staff positions to avoid the risk or
visibility of a line position, doubting that we are capable of succeeding at a line job. The
price we pay in lack of recognition, job security, advancement, and compensation does
not warrant this choice.
Women have many more choices than we used to. As we make choices concerning
careers, we should know and understand the difference between line and staff. We need
to land a position on the line. You are much more prepared for this than you realize.
Fantasy 4: I need to go back to school if I expect to earn more.
As an adult, earning a degree requires making enormous sacrifices to your financial,
social, and emotional well-being. Sometimes, additional training or education is just what
we need. Other times, however, our reasons for going back to school are not valid. Learn
to examine your reasons for returning to school, just at you examine your reasons for
acting and reacting in other ways. Maybe you are interested in returning to college for
one of these reasons:
o You believe a certain education will bring you opportunities that you don’t have
o You think a degree will help you gain a level of confidence or competence that
you don’t Have currently.
o You don’t know what to do, and you want to go to college to find out.
o Someone recommended that you go to college.
o You want to be in college.
A degree means opportunity
As an adult who wants to change the direction of your career and earn more for your
efforts, this may seem like a logical first step. It may even be true. However, there are
many, many positions which have no specific educational requirements. Most positions
in business are filled by people with a variety of educational backgrounds. It may be
much easier to change companies than to get a degree. In this way, business differs from
the fields of education and healthcare, where many women come from to business, and
where specific educational requirements are a prerequisite to specific jobs (principal,
registered nurse, neurosurgeon.)
A few courses in computer programming could mean much more to your paycheck than a
bachelor’s degree in liberal arts. If you ask people what training meant the most to their
careers, it is often not college, but the training provided by their current or previous
employers, or a smattering of courses taken at various places.
If you insist on going to college, make sure you earn a degree which will, in fact, enhance
your career. If you don’t have a degree now, don’t earn one unless it is in a specific field
which in fact holds opportunities. If you are going to take the time, effort, and money to
go back to college, make sure it will pay off. Higher education is a top priority for so
many women, and yet the great majority of us remain in low-paying careers. What’s
A degree means confidence and competence
Earning a degree might seem like a simple, if not easy, solution. The lack of an education
is one of those concrete, well-defined reasons for not being where we want to be. We like
to think there is a sure-fire way to get where we want to go, a straight path that no one
will question. Life in the business world is not like that.
You may feel insecure about not having much education. Not surprisingly, the people
without a college degree often make it more of an issue than those who have one. Don’t
get a college education just because you think it will make you feel better. If it does not
help your chances for advancement, you certainly won’t feel better. Don’t allow a lack of education to pull your confidence level down. Don’t be the one who makes your lack of
education an issue.
College will help me define my goals
Women are too seldom in positions which expose us to the total workings of a
corporation. We often decide to make choices later than the men around us, because we
have spent time waiting for others to tell us what to do. We don’t even know what there
is to choose from when we get around to choosing. College seems to be the only place to
figure it out. If only we had a higher education, or more education, or a different degree,
we would be able to clarify what we want out of life.
Many people in academia have never worked outside a university, and their experience in
business may be more limited than yours. Course material will teach you something
about the opportunities that exist, but not nearly as efficiently as you can learn on your
own. Instead of going to college, do some investigative work on where the jobs are. If
you don’t want to, do it anyway. The entire process may take a few months, but
completing a formal education can take years.
They told me to
Maybe you are considering college because someone recommended that you do so.
Perhaps this was someone you admire or someone who does the job you would like to do.
Perhaps it was your boss. When we already feel insecure, half-convinced that we need
more education, an offhanded comment from almost anyone can cause us to run to the
nearest college and enroll. Whatever the source, carefully examine your need to attend
college before enrolling. What applies to one person may have nothing to do with you at
this point in your life.
Perhaps you were turned down from a job because you did not have the right formal
education. This may have been just a handy excuse to give you. Maybe you did not
impress the interviewer for some other reason. It’s possible the person they hired had no
more education than you have. It is easy to let others convince us that a degree will put us
on the path to success. Meanwhile, we are losing out on opportunities in the job path of
our choice, because our time and attention is on our studies.
I like school
Sometimes we go back to school because we want to be there. College or graduate school
is a safe haven, where success is easily defined (grades.) College is as fair as almost any
place we can find. If you want to go to school for its own sake, do it. Work hard and
enjoy it, but don’t fool yourself into believing you have another motive.
Certainly, there is nothing inherently wrong with education, or earning a degree.
Something else might be better for you right now. Carefully examine your reasons and
your situation before enrolling.
What’s Standing in your Way?
You probably don’t agree with all these generalizations about men and women. Take
what you like and leave the rest. You won’t fit the stereotype, but some things will ring true. Determine if you are taking fantasies to work, and if those fantasies are standing
between you and a higher paycheck. Adjust your style where necessary, it is easier than
you think. Take charge, move forward.