27 Sep 2017
Over my many years, I’ve received lots of advice.
Overwhelmingly, it’s been good advice.
Like from my mother:
“If you have to choose between getting a chore done and having fun, pick the fun. Years later, you won’t remember how many chores were done late, just how much fun you had.”
And from my father:
“If you need a really big favor, go right to the top. People with only a little bit of power are often stingy with it. People with lots of power don’t have anything to prove. They can afford to be generous.”
And from my “Aunt” Rachel:
“Use the good china. Treat yourself like company every day.”
And my first boss:
“Hire the brains, not the experience. You can teach someone smart any job. You can’t someone to be smart.”
I’ve had lots of good advice like this over my lifetime, and it has served me well. And I’ve been happy to be able to pass it along.
But as I was thinking about all the good advice I have been lucky enough to have, I started to think about the bad advice I’ve received too.
And interestingly, I can’t really think of too many times I was given bad advice.
There are a couple of reasons for this:
First, because I was lucky enough to have extraordinary parents and extended family. I had mostly good advice because I was raised by good people.
Secondly, because I think I was prone to dismiss stuff that just didn’t suit me. I don’t remember bad advice because I disregarded it so readily. And how did I know as a kid what to disregard? Because of the first reason.
Here’s a piece of advice I dismissed that I do remember – because I was not a kid any more, and because it is part of a time that was important to me: An unpleasant boss told me in a review that I was too soft on my subordinates. I needed to be tougher. I never considered for one moment taking that advice. Because I did not want to be tougher. I like being kind. That boss was mean. I am not mean.
So what was the worst advice I ever got?
I’ve thought about this a lot lately.
I can’t think of anything too terrible.
But there is one piece of advice where I can clearly see a consequence that did not serve me well.
I’m not sure whether this advice came from my mother or my father. My guess is both. Because it is part of an ethic that runs very strong in my family.
“Don’t brag. If you are good at what you do, people will see it. Excellence shines on its own.”
I can see the truth of this.
There’s a lot of mediocrity in the world. At best, there’s a lot of average shit. That’s why it’s AVERAGE, for God’s sake – because there’s so much of it. So good performances do stand out.
And it worked for me – in some ways. I worked hard and I was bright, creative and honest. So I got ahead. In school and in work.
Here’s how it didn’t work for me. And doesn’t work for a lot of people. Most especially: For GIRLS.
Being modest. Not bragging. Waiting to be noticed.
I’ve had ideas dismissed. The same ideas that are praised when someone more forceful (like a MAN) presents them. And I’ve had ideas stolen… because no one noticed when I said it.
Worse – way worse, and I mean it – I have belittled my own ideas, because I presented them with overly modest disclaimers.
“This may sound silly, but…. “
“I’m not sure this would work, but what if we try….”
And what I should have said? What most men WOULD say:
“I’ve got a great idea! We should….”
Self-deprecation with girls seems to be insidious, pervasive, and counter-productive. We seem to apologize for even having ideas.
We girls need to stop it.
(Some might criticize me for saying ‘girls’ instead of ‘women.’ But I’ve always liked the the word ‘girl’. It’s not a subset of ‘boy,’ like ‘woman’ is to ‘man.’ I like being a girl. I am a unique person – and a girl.)
And for a very practical reason, we girls should brag a lot more.
I NEVER (and I’m not exaggerating) got the same pay of any man who had the position before me. NEVER. If I got a job – or a promotion with the same employer – and a man had held the position previously, I was offered less money than my predecessor.
And here’s the real crime: I took it. I ALWAYS took it.
And the reverse is also true. For every job I left – through promotion or whatever – where I was replaced by a man, he ALWAYS was offered more money TO START than I ever made at the SAME JOB. ALWAYS.
No wonder girls make 80% of what men make at the same job.
Check out this chart from the Department of Labor. It doesn’t matter the occupation, girls make less.
And look at the HUGE gap for Financial Managers. Guess what position I held before I retired?
And this haunts girls all their lives, since Social Security and pensions are based on your earnings.
I am not entirely blaming my employers for paying men more. Although they certainly seemed to have little problem offering me less and offering men more.
I did not sing my own praises. I did not claim my own worth. I was modest.
The man who replaced me when I retired last year is paid considerably more than I ever made on the job. I’m not angry with this guy. From what I hear, he’s doing a great job. But the company DID NOT KNOW he would do a great job when they made him the offer. I WAS doing a great job, and they DID know it. So why did he get more money? BECAUSE HE ASKED FOR IT.
And I did not.
On job interviews, when asked about salary requirements, I always started my answer with:
“Well, although salary is always negotiable, I think….“
Oh, how I wish I had said:
“I know that the responsibilities of this position usually command $xxx – and I am worth every penny of it.”
I sound like I am blaming myself for a societal problem. Yes and No. I will say again that my employer may have been more than willing to pay a man more. Which is just not right. But we girls have to help make it right.
Of course, there is a risk to women speaking up. In claiming their worth. In bragging. Oh, my, it is SO unattractive for girls to brag. Am I right?
Here’s my advice to girls today:
Brag more. Claim your worth.
Nancy Roman is the author of:
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Nancy lives in Connecticut with her husband, her adorable pest of a dog, and two well-behaved cats.