Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers

Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers

by Lois P. Frankel PhD


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Before you were told to "Lean In," Dr. Lois Frankel told you how to get that corner office.

The New York Times bestseller, is now completely revised and updated. In this edition, internationally recognized executive coach Lois P. Frankel reveals a distinctive set of behaviors—over 130 in all—that women learn in girlhood that ultimately sabotage them as adults.
She teaches you how to eliminate these unconscious mistakes that could be holding you back and offers invaluable coaching tips that can easily be incorporated into your social and business skills. Stop making "nice girl" errors that can become career pitfalls, such as:

Mistake #13: Avoiding office politics. If you don't play the game, you can't possibly win.
Mistake #21: Multi-tasking. Just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should do it.
Mistake #54: Failure to negotiate. Don't equate negotiation with confrontation.
Mistake #70: Inappropriate use of social media. Once it's out there, it's hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube.
Mistake #82: Asking permission. Children, not adults, ask for approval. Be direct, be confident.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781455546046
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: 02/18/2014
Series: A NICE GIRLS Book Series
Edition description: Revised
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 38,323
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Lois P. Frankel, Ph.D., is the President of Corporate Coaching International and sought-after for speaker engagements all over the world. She is a recognized expert in the fields of workplace behavior and female empowerment showing that half of the American workforce is made up of women, and they still earn 76.5 cents to every dollar earned by men.

Read an Excerpt

Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office

Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers

By Lois P. Frankel

Hachette Audio

Copyright © 2014 Lois P. Frankel
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4555-4604-6


Getting Started

Here's your first coaching tip: Don't begin reading this book until you've learned how to use it to your advantage. You'll only end up thinking everything applies to you in equal proportions when in fact you're probably doing better than you think. I'm always surprised when a woman tells me, "I make every mistake you list in the book!" You know how we women can be—more critical of ourselves than necessary and reluctant to take credit where it's due. When I coach women, I often tell them that changing behavior is much easier if they can understand where it comes from and what purpose it serves. All behavior serves a purpose—take a few minutes now to understand what purpose yours serves.

From the outset I want you to know and, even more important, believe that the mistakes impeding you from reaching your career goals or potential don't happen because you're stupid or incompetent (although others might want to make you think so). You are simply acting in ways consistent with your socialization or in response to cultural expectations. Beyond girlhood, no one ever tells us that acting differently is an option—and so we don't. Whether it's because we are explicitly discouraged from doing so, because social messages inform our behavior, or because we are unaware of the alternatives, we often fail to develop a repertoire of woman-appropriate behaviors.

Why do smart, capable women act in ways detrimental to their career mobility (not to mention mental health)? During my career, working with literally thousands of professional men and women and comparing their behaviors, I found the answer to that question through inquiry and study: From early childhood, girls are taught that their well-being and ultimate success are contingent upon acting in certain stereotypical ways, such as being polite, soft-spoken, compliant, and relationship-oriented. Throughout their lifetimes, this is reinforced through media, family, and social messages. It's not that women consciously act in self-sabotaging ways; they simply act in ways consistent with their learning experiences.

Even women who proclaim to have gotten "the right" messages in childhood from parents who encouraged them to achieve their full potential by becoming anything they want to be find that when they enter the real world, all bets are off. This is particularly true for many African American women who grew up with strong mothers (something I address in Mistake 3). Whether by example or encouragement, if a woman exhibits confidence and courage on a par with a man, she is often accused of being that dreaded "b-word."

Attempts to act counter to social stereotypes are frequently met with ridicule, disapproval, and scorn. Whether it was Mom's message—"Boys don't like girls who are too loud"—or, in response to an angry outburst, a spouse's message—"What's the matter? Is it that time of the month?"—women are continually bombarded with negative reinforcement for acting in any manner contrary to what they were taught in girlhood. As a result, they learn that acting like a "nice girl" is less painful than assuming behaviors more appropriate for adult women (and totally acceptable for boys and adult men). In short, women wind up acting like little girls, even after they're grown up.

Now, is this to say gender bias no longer exists in the workplace? Not at all. The statistics at the beginning of this introduction speak for themselves. Additionally, women are more likely to be overlooked for developmental assignments and promotions to senior levels of an organization. Research shows that on performance evaluation ratings, women consistently score less favorably than men. These are the realities. But after all these years I continue to go to the place of "So what?" We can rationalize, defend, and bemoan these facts, or we can acknowledge that these are the realities within which we must work. Rationalizing, defending, and bemoaning won't get us where we want to be. They become excuses for staying where we are.

Although there are plenty of mistakes made by both men and women that hold them back, there are a unique set of mistakes made predominantly by women. Whether I'm working in Jakarta, Oslo, Prague, Frankfurt, Trinidad, or Houston, I'm amazed to watch women across cultures make the same mistakes at work. They may be more exaggerated in Hong Kong than in Los Angeles, but they're variations on the same theme. And I know these are mistakes because once women address them and begin to act differently, their career paths take wonderful turns they never thought possible.

So why do women stay in the place of girlhood long after it's productive for them? One reason is because we've been taught that acting like a nice girl—even when we're grown up—isn't such a bad thing. Girls get taken care of in ways boys don't. Girls aren't expected to fend for or take care of themselves—others do that for them. Sugar and spice and everything nice—that's what little girls are made of. Who doesn't want to be everything nice? People like girls. Men want to protect you. Cuddly or sweet, tall or tan, girls don't ask for much. They're nice to be around and they're nice to have around—sort of like pets.

Being a girl is certainly easier than being a woman. Girls don't have to take responsibility for their destiny. Their choices are limited by a narrowly defined scope of expectations. And here's another reason why we continue to exhibit the behaviors learned in childhood even when at some level we know they're holding us back: We can't see beyond the boundaries that have traditionally circumscribed the parameters of our influence. It's dangerous to go out-of-bounds. When you do, you get accused of trying to act like a man or being "bitchy." All in all, it's easier to behave in socially acceptable ways.

This might also be a good time to dispel the myth that overcoming the nice girl syndrome means you have to be mean and nasty. It's the question I am asked most often in interviews. Some women have even told me they didn't buy the book because they assumed from the title that it must contain suggestions for how to be more like a man. Nothing could be further from the truth. If I've said it once, I've said it literally five hundred times in the last ten years: Nice is necessary for success; it's simply not sufficient. If you overrely on being nice to the exclusion of developing complementary behaviors, you'll never achieve your adult goals. This book will help you to expand your tool kit so that you have a wider variety of responses on which to draw.

When we live lives circumscribed by the expectations of others, we live limited lives. What does it really mean to live our lives as girls rather than women? It means we choose behaviors consistent with those that are expected of us rather than those that move us toward fulfillment and self-actualization. Rather than live consciously, we live reactively. Although we mature physically, we never really mature emotionally. And while this may allow us momentary relief from real-world dilemmas, it never allows us to be fully in control of our destinies.

Missed opportunities for career-furthering assignments or promotions arise from acting like the nice little girl you were taught to be in childhood: being reluctant to showcase your capabilities, feeling hesitant to speak in meetings, and working so hard that you forget to build the relationships necessary for long-term success. I've observed these behaviors magnified in workshops at which men and women are the participants. My work in corporations has allowed me to facilitate both workshops for only women and leadership development programs for mixed groups within the same company. Even women whom I've seen act assertively in a group of other women become more passive, compliant, and reticent to speak in a mixed group. When men are around, we dumb down or try to become invisible so as not to incur their wrath.

The Case of Susan

Let me give you an example of a woman with whom I worked who wondered why she wasn't reaching her full potential. Susan was a procurement manager for a Fortune 100 oil company. She'd been with this firm for more than twelve years when she expressed frustration over not moving as far or as fast as male colleagues who'd commenced employment at the same time she did. Although Susan thought there might be gender bias at play, she never considered how she contributed to her own career plateauing. Before Susan and I met one-on-one in a coaching session, I had the opportunity to observe her in meetings with her peers.

At the first meeting I noticed this attractive woman with long blond hair, a diminutive figure, and deep blue eyes. Being from Texas, she spoke with a delicate Southern accent and had an alluring way of cocking her head and smiling as she listened to others. She was a pleasure to have in the room, but she reminded me of a cheerleader—attractive, vivacious, warm, and supportive. As others spoke, she nodded her head and smiled. When she did speak, she used equivocating phrases like "Perhaps we should consider ..."; "Maybe it's because ..."; and "What if we ..." Because of these behaviors no one would ever accuse Susan of being offensive, but neither would they consider her executive material.

After several more meetings at which I observed her behavior vis-à-vis her peers, Susan and I met privately to explore her career aspirations. Based on her looks, demeanor, and what I had heard her say in meetings, I assumed she was perhaps thirty to thirty-five years old. I was floored when she told me she was forty-seven, with nearly twenty years' experience in the area of procurement. I had no clue she had that kind of history and experience—and if I didn't, no one else did either. Without realizing it, Susan was acting in ways consistent with her socialization. She had received so much positive reinforcement for these behaviors that she'd come to believe they were the only ways she could act and still be successful. Susan bought into the stereotype of being a nice girl.

Truth be told, the behaviors she exhibited in meetings did contribute to her early career success. The problem was that they would not contribute to reaching future goals and aspirations. Her managers, peers, and direct reports acknowledged she was a delight to work with, but they didn't seriously consider her for more senior positions or high-visibility projects. Susan acted like a girl and, accordingly, was treated like one. Although she knew she had to do some things differently if she were to have any chance of reaching her potential, she didn't have a clue what those things would be.

I eventually came to learn Susan was the youngest of four children and the only girl in the family. She was the apple of Daddy's eye and protected by her brothers. She learned early on that being a girl was a good thing. She used it to her advantage. And as Susan grew up, she continued to rely on the stereotypically feminine behaviors that resulted in getting her needs met. She was the student teachers loved having in class, the classmate with whom everyone wanted to be friends, and the cheerleader everyone admired. Susan had no reference for alternative ways of acting that would bring her closer to her dream of being promoted to a vice presidential position.

We're All Girls at Heart

Although Susan is an extreme example of how being a girl can pay huge dividends, most of us have some Susan in us. We behave in ways consistent with the roles we were socialized to play, thereby never completely moving from girlhood to womanhood. As nurturers, supporters, or helpmates, we are more invested in seeing others get their needs met than in ensuring that our needs are acknowledged. And there's another catch. When we do try to break out of those roles and act in more mature, self-actualizing ways, we are often met with subtle—and not-so-subtle—resistance designed to keep us in a girl role. Comments like "You're so cute when you're angry," "What's the matter? Are you on the rag?" or "Why can't you be satisfied with where you are?" are designed to keep us in the role of a girl.

When others question our femininity or the validity of our feelings, our typical response is to back off rather than make waves. We question the veracity of our experience. If it's fight or flight, we often flee. Every time we do, we take a step back into girlhood and question our self-worth. In this way we collude with others to remain girls rather than become women. And here is where we must begin to accept responsibility for not getting our needs met or never reaching our full potential. Eleanor Roosevelt was right when she said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." Stop consenting. Stop colluding. Stop being that nice little girl you were taught to be in childhood!


Now it's time to assess where you need the most work. The inventory on the next few pages is designed to help you identify the specific behaviors that may impede your career movement. You'll find there are areas you've already worked to address and that no longer present obstacles to you. If you're like most women, you'll also find a few areas that still require your attention. Take time now to complete the inventory. When you're finished, there are some guidelines for how to apply your score to what you read. You may not even need to read the entire book. Imagine that! Your first lesson in working smarter, not harder.

Excerpted from Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office by Lois P. Frankel. Copyright © 2014 Lois P. Frankel. Excerpted by permission of Hachette Audio.
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.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xv

Introduction xvii

Chapter 1 Getting Started 1

Chapter 2 How You Play the Game 18

1 Pretending It Isn't a Game 20

2 Playing the Game Safely and Within Bounds 23

3 Assuming the Rules, Boundaries, and Strategies Are the Same for Everyone 26

4 Dancing Around Pregnancy 31

5 Sitting Out the Social Network Game 35

6 Overlooking the Importance of Mentors and Sponsors/Advocates 37

7 Working Hard 40

8 Doing the Work of Others 42

9 Working Without a Break 44

10 Being Naive 46

11 Pinching Company Pennies 48

12 waiting to Be Given What You Want 51

13 Avoiding Office Politics 54

14 Being the Conscience 56

15 Protecting Jerks 59

16 Holding Your Tongue 61

17 Unwillingness to Capitalize on Relationships 63

18 Not Understanding the Needs of Your Constituents 65

Chapter 3 How You Act 68

19 Difficulty Transitioning from Nice Girl to Winning Woman 70

20 Failure to Prepare for Social Interactions 73

21 Multitasking 75

22 Ragging on Other Women 77

23 Being Too Thin-Skinned 79

24 Polling Before Making a Decision 81

25 Needing to Be Liked 83

26 Not Needing to Be Liked 86

27 Not Asking Questions for Fear of Sounding Stupid 88

28 Acting Like a Man 90

29 Trying to Be One of the Guys 93

30 Telling the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth (So Help You God) 95

31 TMI (Too Much Information) 98

32 Being Overly Concerned with Offending Others 101

33 Denying the Importance of Money 104

34 Flirting 106

35 Acquiescing to Bullies 108

36 Decorating Your Office Like Your Living Room 110

37 Feeding Others 112

38 Minimizing Your Emotional Intelligence 114

39 Being a Doormat 117

40 Offering a Limp Handshake 119

41 Being Financially Insecure 121

42 Helping 124

Chapter 4 How You Think 126

43 Thinking Like an Employee 127

44 Believing in the Myth of Work-Life Balance 130

45 Making Miracles 133

46 Taking Full Responsibility 135

47 Obediently Following Instructions 137

48 Viewing Men in Authority as Father Figures 139

49 Limiting Your Possibilities 141

50 Ignoring the Quid Pro Quo 144

51 Skipping Meetings 147

52 Putting Work Ahead of Your Personal Life 149

53 Letting People Waste Your Time 151

54 Reluctance to Negotiate 153

55 Prematurely Abandoning Your Career Goals 157

56 Ignoring the Importance of Network Relationships 160

57 Refusing Perks 164

58 Making Up Negative Stories 166

59 Striving for Perfection 168

60 Nixing the Idea of an Entrepreneurial Venture 170

Chapter 5 How You Brand and Market Yourself 173

61 Failing to Define Your Brand 175

62 An Elevator Speech That Doesn't Go to the Top 177

63 Minimizing Your Work or Position 180

64 Undervaluing Your Consultative Skills 182

65 Using Only Your Nickname or First Name 184

66 Waiting to Be Noticed 186

67 Refusing High-Profile Assignments 188

68 Not Sitting at the Table 190

69 Being Modest 192

70 Inappropriate Use of Social Media 194

71 Ineffective Use of Social Media 197

72 Staying in Your Safety Zone 200

73 Giving Away Your Ideas 202

74 Working in Stereotypical Roles or Departments 204

75 Not Soliciting Enough Feedback (or Ignoring it) 206

76 Being Invisible 208

77 Overlooking Opportunities to Re-Brand Yourself 210

78 Ignoring Your Legacy 213

Chapter 6 How You Sound 216

79 Couching Statements as Questions 218

80 Using Preambles 221

81 Explaining 223

82 Asking Permission 226

83 Apologizing 228

84 Using Minimizing Words 230

85 Using Qualifiers 232

86 Not Answering the Question You're Asked 234

87 Talking Too Fast 237

88 The Inability to Speak the Language of Your Business 239

89 Using Nonwords 241

90 Using Touchy-Feely Language 243

91 The Sandwich 245

92 Speaking Softly 248

93 Speaking at a Higher-Than-Natural Pitch 250

94 Trailing Voice Mails 252

95 Failing to Pause or Reflect Before Responding 254

96 Overrelying on One Communication Style 255

97 Ambivalence 258

98 Confusing Problem Solving with Complaining 260

Chapter 7 How You Look 262

99 Obvious Body Ink and Piercings 264

100 Smiling Inappropriately 266

101 Taking Up Too Little Space 267

102 Using Gestures Inconsistent with Your Message 269

103 Being Over- or Underanimated 271

104 Tilting Your Head 273

105 Wearing Inappropriate Makeup 275

106 The Wrong Hairstyle 277

107 Inappropriate Attire 279

108 Sitting on Your Foot 283

109 Grooming in Public 284

110 Sitting in Meetings with Your Hands Under the Table 285

111 Wearing Your Reading Glasses Around Your Neck 287

112 Accessorizing Too Much 289

113 Poor Eye Contact 291

Chapter 8 How You Respond 293

114 Airing Your Feelings in Online Public Forums 295

115 Putting a Stamp on with a Steamroller 297

116 Holding a Grudge 299

117 Internalizing Messages 301

118 Believing Others Know More Than You 303

119 Taking Notes, Getting Coffee, and Making Copies 305

120 Tolerating Inappropriate Behavior 307

121 Exhibiting Too Much Patience 310

122 Accepting Dead-End Assignments 312

123 Putting the Needs of Others Before Your Own 314

124 Denying Your Power 316

125 Allowing Yourself to Be the Scapegoat 319

126 Accepting the Fait Accompli 321

127 Permitting Others' Mistakes to Inconvenience You 323

128 Being the Last to Speak 325

129 Playing the Gender Card 327

130 Tolerating Sexual Harassment 330

131 Engaging in E-Mail Wars 332

132 Going for the Bait 334

133 Crying 336

Appendix: Personal Development Planning and Resources 339

Book Club Guide 353

About the Author 355

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