Culturally, women are conditioned to be agreeable and cooperative. That, combined with those who feel the need to help a part of society, yields an abundance of women in nonprofit with a calling to serve in a congenial way.
While this is certainly good for society, it’s not always good for the agreeable – and often, non-confrontational – women, particularly when it comes to their careers. Often, all the traits that make such women the ideal candidate to work in the nonprofit arena actually work against them when it comes time to lobby on their own behalf. They frequently learn – too late – that they have been passed over for promotions, raises, or generally left out of conversations that they should have been consulted on.
It has become more important now than ever before, with such a competitive job market, that women speak up and speak out at every opportunity – whether currently employed, or actively job hunting – so that their voices and ideas are heard by management and others on a regular basis.
Bonnie* had discussed her current work situation, where she felt that the director had used the economy as an excuse to whittle down everyone’s position essentially to being his serfs. Bit by bit over the last couple of years, he had made everyone feel that if they didn’t comply with his latest “cost cutting” idea, they might be next on the chopping block. This included petty things, such as his removing the office refrigerator and microwave, to “save electricity.” (Bonnie did notice that, although all of the women in the office now had to modify the types of lunches they brought to eat, the director still managed to treat himself to eating lunch out on a daily basis.)
When Bonnie decided to Forget It! we worked on finding her another position, but kept in mind the dynamics which led to the situation she ultimately found herself in. She wanted to make certain to define what type of treatment she would – and would not – tolerate right from the beginning. I explained to her that a great many parameters are set in the first few weeks of employment, when you make your first impression. Her boss and the other employees would see what they could expect from her during this initial phase.
While it’s important to be eager to learn and get along with others, of course, you still don’t want to project yourself as a doormat, either. If, for example, Bonnie had given the idea that she would be willing to do everyone’s filing (whether it was her job or not), all those on staff would immediately be thrilled to have her do it for them . . . and anything else they could delegate to her.
When Bonnie began her new position, she had difficulty getting her business cards printed in the first couple of weeks. The position that usually handles the task was vacant, and the procedure in his absence was arduous. She learned that the last person who went through the procedure not only waited a long time, but her cards weren’t right.
Bonnie decided this would be one way to define herself. She took action and had her own cards printed and simply submitted the receipt afterward. Her director was surprised at first, but then she explained why, and he signed the expense report. Bonnie was pleased with her first step toward defining her new self as someone who wouldn’t sit around and wait for second best.
Caitlin* defines herself as a “very shy person,” but came to me for assistance, because she felt that she was “invisible” in her organization. She wanted to work on her networking and socialization skills, but didn’t know where to begin.
“I don’t feel as though I can just barge in on the already established social groups at the office and ask to join them for lunch,” Caitlin says. “They’ve been having lunch together for a couple of years now. Nobody has ever invited me along. It’s like they don’t see me, even though I’m right there.”
Since Caitlin didn’t feel comfortable encroaching upon what she already felt was “established territory,” I suggested we Fix It! by trying some new territory, and had her join a local chapter of her professional society. Not only was it good to work on her skills with a new group of people, but, I explained, it’s always best to extend your professional group beyond your immediate workplace, anyway.
One excellent way for someone shy to mingle at professional functions is for them to volunteer to work the function, and Caitlin signed up to help at a few upcoming events. This provides several benefits. Not only did she get the lay of the land beforehand and feel more at ease, but if she ever felt awkward at any time while talking, she could always excuse herself, since she had “something to do,” because she was working the event.
In addition, the leaders of the professional society got to know Caitlin in an informal setting and became appreciative of her hard work. I had given her advice on several talking points to make about herself, as well as targeted questions to ask of others when chatting at these events, and it was working well.
After Caitlin had worked at several of these events and was becoming more comfortable speaking with people she’d recently met, I had planned on having her apply these techniques back at her workplace, so she wouldn’t feel as isolated. It turned out, though, that it became unnecessary. Caitlin made several good contacts with her new networking friends, and one of them offered her a better job, which she accepted!
Now, Caitlin works in an atmosphere that is more inviting, and she no longer feels “invisible.” She also makes a point to participate more actively, to ensure that she’s seen, too.
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
— Rita Mae Brown