What Pieces of Bad Career Advice Women Should Ignore

In the short term it may be better off playing nice and conforming to the status quo than giving bad career advice

Young women entering the workforce are typically inundated by a wide range of bad career advice. Although most of this advice is probably well-intended, that doesn’t necessarily make all of it helpful. Many suggestions are more likely to perpetuate than reduce gender bias, by legitimizing the status quo, focusing on fixing women rather than the system, and blaming women for not behaving like incompetent men.

With so much bad career advice out there, it’s hard to know what to follow and what to ignore. So, we wanted to provide a list of popular suggestions that we believe are best neglected: things women often read or hear that in our view can cause them more harm than good.

The best career advice we have is to simply avoid following any of the following suggestions:

Find a mentor:

We encourage you to strike the word “mentor” from your vocabulary and replace it with “champion.” A mentor is a warm and fuzzy term that suggests amenable chats, advice, and a shoulder to cry on. A champion is someone who makes things happen for you. Women don’t need mentors. Women need what men get all the time – someone prepared to go out on a limb for them. A champion is someone who, behind closed doors, slams their fist on the boardroom table and says, “If there’s only room for one bonus in the budget, it’s going to Jane, not John.” In other words, a champion is a committed sponsor who has the agency to influence people at the top and will use it to help you, someone who will be your loyal brand ambassador and push for you to get ahead — even if it means jeopardizing their reputation by disrupting the status quo.

Change the way you speak:

Women are constantly told to change their vocabulary — to make it less apologetic and more assertive. “Don’t use the word ‘just’ as a qualifier.” “Stop saying ‘sorry’ all the time.” “Don’t ask for permission,” and so on. But guess what? The world would be a much better place, and the workplace a great deal happier, if instead of telling women to say sorry less, we told men to say sorry a whole lot more. The truth is, we need to worry less about editing women, and more about editing incompetent and inappropriate men.

Most of the problems organizations and nations have are from bad career advice which led to the direct results of our failures to restrain or inhibit powerful men, yet we are perpetually worried about censoring women. A better piece of advice for women? Speak freely and speak in any way that you like.

Be more confident:

A vast number of advice columns are devoted to encouraging women to gain more confidence when the problem isn’t women’s lack of confidence, but men’s oversupply of it. Lacking confidence to the point that you are holding yourself back, or too anxious to take risks, is not great. But a surplus of confidence is equally problematic. The right amount of confidence is that which aligns with your actual competence.

If you are equally realistic about your talents as you are about your limitations, then you will be able to close the gap between how good you are and how good you want to be. Self-deception is the enemy of personal development. You only get better if you are aware of your flaws, and are willing to mitigate them.

Find work-life balance:

Men are rarely told to find work-life balance, so why should women be told this? Instead, find somewhere to work that cares about you. Seek out a workplace where those in charge of setting the rules and creating the culture know what matters. Work somewhere where people trust you and your talents, so there’s no micromanagement and over-focus on where you are, what you’re doing, or how many hours you’re putting in.

One benefit of the pandemic is that it’s forcing employers to focus on results, not process — or what’s delivered as opposed to where you are located or how much overtime you’re putting in. Make work fit your life versus the other way around. And if your employer doesn’t get it, then perhaps that’s a signal that you should work somewhere else, where people value your quality of life.

Fake it till you make it:

Don’t fake anything. Instead, do yourself justice. This simply means taking up your accomplishments, your intention, and your vision in a way that gets you recognized. These are mere statements of fact. All you have to do is start saying them aloud.

Of course, things would be different — and perhaps more rational — if we lived in a world that rewarded actual talent and hard work, promoting people based on merit rather than gender.

Just be yourself:

Easier said than done. Unfortunately, in many work environments, career success depends on understanding how others expect you to behave and conforming to existing roles and conventions — and, again as we all know, being yourself as a woman is received differently from being yourself as a man.

Ask for advice:

Why? Your intuition and gut instinct are far more valuable than any bad career advice, and unfortunately, all too under-used in a business world where women are constantly the recipients of excessive amounts of advice, sought out or not. Do something you’re never encouraged to do — less asking advice, more listening to your gut.

To do that, you need to stop caring what other people think. Fear of what other people think is the single most paralyzing dynamic in business, and life. Instead, look within. When faced with a challenge, pay attention to your response. What do you want to do? What do you think the right next move is? Now, try it out.

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