Working Women Should Worry Less About Being 'Cute' And More About Being Assertive

by Katie Gonzalez

It’s OK to cringe; you just received an email from a female coworker in which every sentence is punctuated by an exclamation point, and a serious and legitimate work request ends with an emoticon.

It’s embarrassing... for her. Why do women feel the need to couch their serious side with a giggle or a sickly-sweet demeanor?

Perhaps it’s because she knows that any evidence of her being a commanding figure in her own right would be met with resistance, or end with her designated as the resident office “bitch.”

And it’s true, a lot of the ways women are conditioned to act around the workplace are because their male colleagues — more often in higher senior-level positions — want them to assume a submissive (which often comes across as silly) demeanor.

When it comes down to it, a woman walking through a door is likely simply automatically disadvantaged (or at least poised to be subjected to such biased thinking) in a corporate environment.

A 2012 study from researchers at NYU, UNC and the University of Utah indicate that this is because men who are in a “traditional marriage” — i.e., those guys married to wives who are no longer employed — don’t adhere to egalitarian office etiquette, and are more likely to assume women are more incompetent than men on the job.

But after all of our discussions of how society unfairly treats women (see here, here and here for some of my favorite recent examples), there does come a time, as Moms Clean Air Force cofounder Dominique Browning wrote, when we women need to analyze if we’re also engaging in some self-sabotage.

Sure, there are many ways that the chips are already stacked against us, but are there also instances in which we’re making our already-sorry situation… worse?

For women, our self-presentation is undoubtedly more scrutinized. But it appears as though we too might be victims of the male group-think that tells women to act a certain overtly-“womanly” way.

For example, there’s simply no need to appear excessively chipper or enthusiastic all of the time. If you’re working hard on a tough case, it’s only human to let that show.

If you find yourself a victim of Resting Bitch Face, rock it. Don’t cover up the “you” for the sake of being a male’s “feminine” ideal.

Working women don’t need to be all smiles or exclamation points in order to succeed in the office; they simply need to buckle down and do work, just as their male counterparts would.

Instead of going for “cute,” let's aim for commanding, unafraid to show our intelligence and commitment to the job.

Because gaining respect is done through hard work and a clear dedication to the task at hand, not by appeasing everyone or unnecessarily apologizing.

Still, it’s important, as a woman who already faces unique challenges in a corporate setting, to consider how best to position oneself so that others around the office will notice this quiet confidence and desire to get sh*t done.

Now, a lot of the current advice out there borders on sexist itself. “ALWAYS look good at work,” and be “respectfully feminine” in mannerisms are not necessarily helpful, though that may be their intent.

Instead, these supposedly constructive remarks further restrict women, by telling them there is a (Surprise!) male-created standard that they must religiously abide by because they’re not men themselves. As if the type of shoe they wear to the office should be something that’s fair game in performance reviews.

As The Daily Beast points out, everyone seems to promote a different formula for success — from studies that argue women can’t be doormats, to others showing that aggressive women are the ones to lose out.

But unsurprisingly, the best advice on how women can come off as the serious workers that they are — deflecting both their own tendency to play down smarts and male coworkers’ sexism — is gleaned by those who have been there before.

And their advice doesn’t focus on the material, but rather draws from the things that female employees can actually do to improve their office place gravitas.

Listed below are four pieces of advice from Lois Frankel, author of the 1997 book “Overcoming Your Strengths.” And as the Workplace911 writer who re-articulated this list stated, these are actions that can help both women and men improve their workplace persona.

1. Do present your ideas confidently

2. Do use declarative statements instead of questions

3. Do cut to the chase

4. Don't ramble

Photo Courtesy: We Heart It