Is Playing by the Rules Killing Your Career?

Steen Sunland

Yes. That's the startling conclusion of Damned if She Does, Damned if She Doesn't, by Lynn Cronin and Howard Fine, who examine how the tried-and-true rules of business undermine women workers. Here, they share some of their eye-opening findings:

MC: You claim corporate America is rigged against women. How so?

HF: Only 15 CEOs in the Fortune 500 are women, even though the overall management pool is made up of about 50 percent women. When we explored some of the fundamental rules of business, we concluded that corporate culture, which rewards things like being a team player and bonding with coworkers, seems to work better for men than for women.

MC: How could being a team player favor men over women?

LC: When working in teams, women just don't receive recognition commensurate with their contributions. But when a driven, competent woman says, "They don't know how good I am, I'll show them!", she's perceived as not being a team player.

HF: Women pay a higher price than men for not being team players. They have to fall in line or they're screwed.

MC: You say being a go-getter at work can also undermine women. How can that possibly be?

HF: If a woman is committed to her job, she is presumed to have a deficient personal life. But if she has a fulfilling personal life, she is seen as not committed to her job. It's particularly cruel because men aren't subjected to that.

MC: Any findings that really blew your mind?

LC: We were really surprised by how pervasive the pay differential is across all occupations. It's not just male engineers making more than female engineers; it's male teachers making more than female teachers. And it hasn't been getting better — things are really stalled right now.

MC: So what can an alpha girl do to best negotiate the system?

HF: Say you think you haven't gotten a fair raise. Don't accuse your boss. Instead, ask him questions like "What could I do differently so I can get a better raise next time?" This is helpful to you and forces your boss to justify himself.

LC: There's also a little bit of sucking up and tolerating that you have to do until you've risen to a position of power and can really do something about it.

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