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Damned If She Does, Damned If She Doesn't: Rethinking the Rules of the Game That Keep Women from Succeeding in Business

Damned If She Does, Damned If She Doesn't: Rethinking the Rules of the Game That Keep Women from Succeeding in Business

by Lynn Cronin, Howard Fine

Forty-five years after Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, women have yet to achieve parity with men in the workplace. Men continue to make more money than women, and women’s representation in the higher management ranks continues to lag behind men’s. This book asserts that certain respected rules of business actually work against gender


Forty-five years after Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, women have yet to achieve parity with men in the workplace. Men continue to make more money than women, and women’s representation in the higher management ranks continues to lag behind men’s. This book asserts that certain respected rules of business actually work against gender equality. The rules inadvertently create paradoxes that put women in no-win situations, limiting their opportunity to succeed relative to men. Written by a woman and a man who have lived in the trenches of the corporate battlefield, this perceptive analysis exposes five of these paradoxes and concludes with a new model for business, which the authors call a coed corporation.

The tacit rules of corporate culture creating these parity paradoxes are:

-Be a team player: While women rarely receive recognition comparable to men, if a woman seeks recognition for herself, she is seen as not being a team player.
-Attract mentors and advocates: Talented women who work hard often don’t attract the respected mentors or win influential, loyal advocates to the same degree as men.
-Show commitment to the job: A woman fully dedicated to her career is often perceived as lacking a personal life. Conversely, a woman with a fulfilling personal life is dismissed as not seriously committed to her career.
-Bond with coworkers: A woman who tries to bond with her male peers is seldom successful and tends to alienate both men and women.
-Recognize your role in the system: If women accept their role, nothing changes; if they challenge it, they are stigmatized and their careers are limited.

With the insights that these two seasoned consultants provide, changes can be made that will finally achieve true gender parity in the workplace.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Married couple and management consultants, Cronin and Fine tackle the persistent gap in workplace equality and payment parity between the sexes. After witnessing how much more quickly Fine advanced in his career—despite their near-identical education and work performance—and observing the difficulties that their daughter was facing in her job search, the couple took a long look at the factors holding women down. The book breaks down the corporate culture mantras (e.g., find mentors, be prudent in challenging the power structure) and the hidden impediments they pose for women. Despite major gains for women elsewhere in society, little has changed for women in corporate America; sexism is insidious rather than overt, and in dealing with men in the workplace, women are still presented with two options: fight them or become them. But “becoming them” can backfire, as Cronin and Fine demonstrate through stories of women struggling to break into corporate culture and bond with co-workers. This intelligent and substantive work is a must-read for all businesspeople—and will make an excellent graduation gift for young women entering the workforce. (May)
From the Publisher
"This intelligent and substantive work is a must-read for all businesspeople—and will make an excellent graduation gift for young women entering the workforce."
-Publishers Weekly

Product Details

Prometheus Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

Damned If She Does, Damned If She Doesn't

Rethinking the Rules of the Game That Keep Women from Succeeding in Business
By Lynn Cronin Howard Fine

Prometheus Books

Copyright © 2010 Lynn Cronin and Howard Fine
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-61614-174-5

Chapter One



The restaurant was humming with conversation. Men and women from the halls of corporate America were engaged in a hallowed ritual: the business lunch-a time when deals are advanced, successes are celebrated, networks are built, and, sometimes, unguarded opinions are shared. At one table Howard sat with two other men, Robert, a tall, dark-haired asset manager, and Stephan, a trim, graying senior human resources (HR) executive. While the predefined purpose for their meeting was to discuss how Robert's new investment fund could be marketed to employee 401(k) plans, the conversation took an interesting twist.

"By the way, how's your son doing? Didn't he graduate from college last year?" Stephan asked Robert, intermingling the personal with the professional in the time-honored tradition of business bonding.

"Yeah, he graduated. But he's having a tough time finding a good job. It's very competitive out there now. Frankly, I think he'd be having an easier time of it if he was female," replied Robert.

"Why do you say that?" inquired Howard.

"Well, I think women have an advantage nowadays. The talented women are courted and treated with kid gloves. My son was a strong student, but guys like him don't get anything special."

"You know, I can understand how you feel," Stephan, the HR professional, thoughtfully concurred. "In my company, we go out of our way to recruit women with high potential and go to great lengths to celebrate their promotions. Can't say we do that for men."

Three blocks up Sixth Avenue, while Robert, Stephan, and Howard were enjoying their dessert, Lynn was sitting in a diversity training class led by Marilyn, a middle-aged woman with a grandmotherly manner. The session was a required course in the management development program of the entertainment company Lynn was working for. Marilyn, a consultant with a renowned human resources firm, was recognized as an expert on corporate diversity and was frequently quoted in the press as a pioneer in the field. Standing in front of the seventeen managers from a cross-section of departments, Marilyn began with a sobering question: "How many of you believe that men have an advantage over women at work?" Every woman in the room hesitantly raised her hand. Marilyn continued, "I have been getting the same response from women for decades." The women in the group nodded knowingly in agreement.

These are two perspectives from what purportedly is the same world. One portrays a work environment where the pendulum has swung too far, where women's fight for equality has resulted in a reverse sense of inequity. The other shows a degree of frustration, a weary resignation that after years of effort the fight is far from over. This contrast raises questions about the true state of gender equity in business and whether the sexes will ever agree.

Entering a local Barnes & Noble bookstore, we were confronted with more disjointed images. In the periodical section, a photograph of the stunning, dark-haired beauty Gina Bianchini graced the cover of Fast Company next to the heading "This CEO Has Silicon Valley Buzzing." Her youth and T-shirted casualness attested to the power and triumph of today's businesswoman. Annually, Fortune trumpets the "The Power 50: 50 Most Powerful Women in Business"; the magazine stated in 2007 that "ten editions of the Most Powerful Women list prove it: Women have come a long way (don't say "baby")-and they're not slowing down." Moving down the aisle to the management section, we found book after self-help book on what women need to do differently to succeed in business. The message hasn't changed much in thirty years. Both in the recently published books and in those from the 1970s, women are seen as outsiders trying to break into the world of business. But in order to succeed, they simply need to be smarter and wiser in the way they work. The undeviating, not-so-subtle message is that if women would just learn to do what men do, the problems of today's businesswomen would disappear.

But if the solution is so simple, why do working women continue to need so much coaching? Instead of being inspired, why do most women roll their eyes at photographs of female executives who have reached the top rung of the corporate ladder? And why do most businesswomen continue to feel a keen sense of inequity, while so many businessmen feel that the playing field has not only been leveled but may be tilting in favor of women? The polarity of these points of view makes us wonder: just where are we today?


While business magazine covers showing high-flying female executives paint a vivid image of women's success in the workplace today, it's the everyday anecdotal experiences of working women that provide a truer picture. Individual stories like Kim's are parables for what women encounter throughout corporate America.

Craig, a St. Louis office manager, wanted to fire Kim. "She is so hard to work with," he thought. "Always challenging, excessively vocal. Ever since the merger last year, she has been just a pain." Though he couldn't dispute her talent and commitment-she had a proven, twenty-year track record with clients-he, along with several other senior leaders, accused Kim of having a negative attitude and being a primary contributor to the recent dysfunction in the office.

"This doesn't seem right," lamented Kim to the regional manager, Craig's boss, when he was visiting their office and sharing with her the feedback from her peers. "I'm a senior person here and I care about what's happening. When poor decisions are made, decisions I'm expected to live by, shouldn't I speak up? Haven't I earned the right to express my opinion? Sure, I may have lost my cool a couple times, but who hasn't around here lately? Things are so tense. Why am I being singled out?"

After listening to Kim, the regional manager intervened and stopped Craig from firing her that day. But though her job was saved, her career at that company was not. Within eighteen months of her conversation with the regional manager, she decided her reputation had suffered so much damage that she wasn't able to do her job effectively. Her peers and subordinates simply weren't giving her the degree of respect they had given her in the past. Kim decided she needed to leave the organization.

Kim's story is one of many. Listening to women throughout the business world, we hear murmurings of disquiet, feelings of discomfort and unease with the current work environment. Most women will quickly acknowledge that the blatant harassment and overt discrimination so prevalent in the past have virtually vanished. No longer is there a daily need to express a sense of outrage and intense anger at flagrant inequities. Yet things are still not quite right. Today a more subtle malaise prevails-a troublesome awareness that equality with men has not been achieved, coupled with a nagging suspicion that the situation is not getting any better.

The continuing sense of inequity many women feel is fueled by a series of day-to-day slights that may individually be dismissed as occasional bad experiences. But cumulatively, over time, these slights leave women feeling they are treated unfairly and more harshly than men. Kim's tale is a good example. Too often, women feel that their mistakes and shortcomings are magnified relative to men's. While there are no perfect employees-everyone has strengths and weaknesses-the women we speak with feel that their foibles are treated more severely and with less tolerance than those of men. Their male co-workers will lose their tempers, bungle an assignment, or turn in a submission late with few or no consequences, while women who trip up in the same way receive a heavy reprimand or a note in their personnel files. This inconsistent treatment leaves many a woman wondering "Why me?"

Even more disheartening than the "Why me?" treatment, though, is its converse: "Why not me?" Time and again, women feel that their successes are minimized in comparison to those of their male counterparts. One saleswoman saw it this way: "When I win a new account, my managers are pleased. But when one of the guys wins, everyone shoots off fireworks." Whether it is a major sales win or the development of an innovative concept, working women see that their contributions don't receive the community recognition that those of their male co-workers do. "You're not as good as you think you are" is the tacit or even explicit message of the feedback they receive.

Certainly, some companies go out of their way to celebrate the successes of individual women, especially their promotions. Josey remembered the time her investment bank convened a luncheon at a four-star restaurant for all the newly named female vice presidents. "The head of human resources stood up in front of us to say how pleased the bank was that they were elevating so many women. That, with this round of promotions, our bank had the highest percentage of female officers of all our competitors." Josey paused, then continued: "Look, I appreciate the bank's efforts, but something in the way it was said left me and most of the other women in the room pissed. We have worked hard-really hard-for this company. We earned those promotions. They made it sound like we were promoted just because we were women." These women were left with the sense that the company was praising itself more than the women it was promoting. To them, the company was essentially saying, "See how progressive we are? Aren't we a good company to be doing this for women?" Whereas the women receiving the promotions felt that their elevations were hard earned and long overdue.

Women have told us that it is not only the formal but the informal recognition that goes disproportionately to men in the corporate world. The pat-on-the-back praise that comes from a boss or a peer doesn't flow their way as frequently, or is given almost begrudgingly. The casual compliment ("nice job") is what many employees say keeps them motivated and coming to work each day. Though the lack of acknowledgment is a fairly trifling matter, it is deeply felt by these women.

These relatively small slights can catch women by surprise, or become clearer in hindsight. Debra, a member of the new generation of women entering the business world, recalled a particular incident occurring within two years of her being hired for her first job. Coming out of the Ivy League, she landed a position with a youthful, vibrant, and successful New York management consultancy. The company sported a modern, open office design, high technology enabling employees to work from anywhere at any time, and a supportive culture with work buddies and career mentors. Debra hit the ground running as soon as she started the job. It was a work-hard, play-hard environment, and Debra found herself excelling.

After a year and a half, those joining the company at the same time as Debra had their first opportunity for promotion. In this company, employees had to nominate themselves by submitting their names for consideration and a written rationale for why they should be promoted. Though Debra's semiannual reviews said that she was performing as well as or better than anyone else in her "class," she thought it a bit premature to self-nominate so early in her employment with the company. She presumed her peers would reach similar conclusions and would all wait six more months, at least.

When the congratulatory e-mail announcing new promotions was distributed, Debra was caught completely off guard. Right at the top of the list was the name of her co-worker, Matthew. He was in her class, started the same month as she did, and now he was a rung ahead of her on the ladder. To be honest, Debra found Matthew somewhat pompous and self-absorbed, so initially she assumed that it was his bravado that motivated him to submit his name. Then she got word through the office grapevine that Matthew had been encouraged by a senior manager to self-nominate and had been assured that his manager would support him. Debra didn't understand. In fairness, Matthew's work was good, but it wasn't that good. Why would management select him and not her? And if not her, there were definitely several other individuals worthy of selection. Though Debra was promoted in the subsequent round six months later, she was left with a queasy feeling of inequity. She asked herself, why six months later? Was it her fault or was it a gender thing?

Similar stories from women at all levels of the corporate hierarchy point to women being promoted later and less frequently than men. Though the slight to Debra may seem to have been trivial and unintended-after all, she was promoted within six months-we believe it is the beginning of a pattern that is built up over a career, leading in the end to a glass ceiling. While the management at Debra's company would certainly disavow any gender bias, small disparities repeated multiple times over the years grow into large inequities-whether or not they are intended.

While the small slights and disparities begin early in most women's working lives and accumulate over time, they seem to accelerate at the end of women's careers. Lynn recalls an experience that literally left her speechless. The incident occurred later in her career when she was a seasoned consultant and account manager who had demonstrated her effectiveness in the marketplace for close to twenty-five years. The firm she was working for had asked her to transfer to Connecticut, and she was traveling there with Andy, her superior, the regional head of account management, to discuss the possible transfer with the local leadership. She had worked with Andy multiple times over the prior two decades and thought she had earned his respect. That was why she was taken aback when, on the way to the meeting, Andy pulled her aside to offer some advice.

"I've seen you work for many years, and I know how good you are. But don't let these guys know how much you know. It will just offend them. Low key it."

Lynn knew that Andy meant his words as kindly counsel, but he was basically telling her to mute herself. When she entered the conference room and was introduced by Andy to the local leaders-all male-she was supposed to impress the group and sell herself, but what could she say? She had just been told by one of the most senior people in the firm to sell herself short.

Lower regard for a woman with long-term experience is common in the corporate world. The graying-at-the-temples man of fifty or so who has gained valuable insight and perspective from his many years of work is an icon of American business. He is the person from whom young employees can learn, whose avuncular attention can be so beneficial to a budding career. Change the graying man of fifty or so to a graying female of fifty or so and the image just doesn't work. In business, we've found less respect for the accumulated wisdom of the veteran businesswoman than for the wisdom of the veteran businessman. And even worse, as Andy pointed out to Lynn, the businesswoman who is confident, accomplished, and knowledgeable can actually be viewed as irritating.

The personal anecdotes of women provide a glimpse of life for a female in corporate America and reveal a business world in which most women struggle more than men. We've listened to these women and consequently were not surprised by the findings of a November 2008 survey of registered voters in the United States. "More than two-thirds of women said they were being treated unfairly in the workplace (68 percent)." Many of the affronts are subtle, sometimes so hard to put a finger on that they leave one questioning whether they were real or imagined. But the stories abound, each unique in its own way. Taken individually, each story can be interpreted as reflective of personal circumstances, rather than as an example of a systemic bias. But when the stories are combined, certain common threads start to appear. When woven together, the threads create a tapestry in which women have a more difficult time than their male peers. They struggle with issues surrounding mistakes, weaknesses, successes, promotions, commitment, and work experience. While no woman is perfect, and women may cause their own problems just as often as men do, we begin to see a compelling case for believing that the business world is just plain harder for women than for men.


Excerpted from Damned If She Does, Damned If She Doesn't by Lynn Cronin Howard Fine Copyright © 2010 by Lynn Cronin and Howard Fine. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Lynn Cronin (New York, NY) is a veteran consultant for many Fortune 500 companies who has also held numerous high-level corporate positions, including vice president of management development with Sony Music Entertainment Co., consultant and account manager for Watson Wyatt Worldwide (a global human resources consulting firm), and partner with Hewitt Associates (the leading global human resources consultancy).

Howard Fine (New York, NY) has a wealth of high-level managerial experience, including Senior Managing Director of the Human Capital Management Solutions division of Affiliated Computer Services, Inc. (ACS), Executive Managing Director of Buck Consultants, Managing Director at Watson Wyatt Worldwide, and partner with Hewitt Associates.

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