Good Girls Need to Go Bad to Excel at Work?

Have you ever had a feeling that being a good girl when you were younger and while in school did not help you to build your career or go up the ladder?

As this article about The Dark Side of Girls’ Success in School says, girls often perform better than boys in almost every subject at school. This is partially attributed to girls being good at following rules, following a regular study time, doing the assignment, reviewing what has been taught that day and then doing advance reading. These girls were good in pleasing the teacher, who was the most important person in the classroom and would not do anything to disappoint him or her.

While boys are also taught to follow rules, they are more often ‘active’ in the classroom, resulting in them earning the anger of the teachers and other school personnel. It is also thought that boys love the attention they get when they are ‘caught’, while girls behave so that they would be able to please the authority figures.

This training then carries over the behaviors and attitudes in the workplace. Men go out there and show their work to their colleagues or bosses even before they have completed it. They are confident to present it even if it is still in its early, messier stages. Women, on the other hand, want to present ideas and samples when they are already fixed and perfect (or almost perfect). The desire to please superiors continues, but in a professional environment can be harmful with the ideas and work are being buried or hidden behind other work that gets put out there more quickly.

In a related Forbes article published late last year the same dilemma was discussed. It talked of a “good girl curse”. Girls are taught to behave well not just in school but everywhere, especially at home. We are told that we need to act with kindness and a sense of timidity (at time pushing us to become introverts, at least around certain types of people).

In an organization, especially during brainstorming meetings, it’s important for people to voice their opinions. Individuals who were given tasks or projects need to be able to present them in a way that would convince the bosses that they are the ones adding value and are on the right track. But many times, women will back down from being a project initiator or leader to being a do-er and order taker. Women again do what is expected of them – always trying to please the authority (parents at home and bosses at work) and avoid conflict and discussions.

So do good girls need to go bad to excel in the workplace? I don’t think it’s going ‘bad’, but good girls do need to learn and practice how to be great leading women while at work. The rules that you learned at home and grew up with need to be adapted to excel professionally. As is suggested in the Forbes article:

  • Women should understand that conflicts and discussions are acceptable in the workplace and are necessary. You should be able to manage conflicts.
  • Women need to recognize that time in their careers when ‘working hard’ alone is not enough to move you along – your skills and competence that you have learned along the way will. So arm yourself through trainings, seminars and workshops.
  • Women should stop pleasing everybody because they can’t. Being respected is more important than being liked – so be sure that your focus on pleasing everyone else isn’t undermining your credibility and ability to build respect in others. In the workplace you need to choose between being liked and being respected.
  • And finally, women need think of themselves and what they want, and not just focus on the needs of others all of the time. Make your own choices, especially when it comes to your career path.
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About Tamra Johnson

I’m an entrepreneur and a recent MBA graduate from UCLA Anderson. I have 10 years of experience in IT Management and Systems Engineering. I love learning, helping others, exploring the world around me, running at the beach, going to concerts, and visiting family and friends. I grew up in Helotes, Texas, went to undergrad in Cambridge, MA, and now live in Venice, CA.
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2 Responses to Good Girls Need to Go Bad to Excel at Work?

  1. Pingback: Aero(space) Engineers Wanted! | Tamra Johnson

  2. Pingback: A Male Boss – Good or Bad? | Exploring the Challenges and Opportunities for Women in Business, Technology and Leadership

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