Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Advice to Professional Women

[Note to readers: This first post from our newest contributor, Le Loup-garou, discusses some of the advice she's received over the years on how to be a 'professional woman.' You can expect a longer introduction to the amazing Loup later this week, but for now we hope you'll say hello in the comments, as well as leaving your own stories about the gendered 'success advice' you've received over the years, and your reactions to it. And now, Le Loup-garou...]


I have been in entrenched in academia for all of my adult life. I have accumulated a number of "tips" about being a successful woman from various mentors that I thought I’d share.

  • Work harder than the men. A female doctor once pulled me aside and told me her tip to success, which is let the men leave work first. According to her, in order to be seen as an equal, a woman is required to work twice as hard as a man and accordingly will be judged harder for "laziness."
  • Speak in a professional, deep voice. My graduate school mentor teaches all of his female students to speak clearly in a deep voice to command attention and respect. I realized the strength of this after I heard a talk by a woman with a high voice and began to unconsciously dislike the data. I also have heard women give professional talks like kindergarten teachers, with excessive enthusiasm and too much of a chipper attitude.
  • Be aggressive. In the operating rooms, there is typically one person in charge of organizing the instruments and handing them to the doctors called the scrub tech. As a medical student, we stand nearest to the scrub tech, furthest away from the actual operation. We’re mainly there to just observe. There was this operating room nurse that every time I scrubbed into one of her cases, she would constantly whisper things into my ear. Typically it was “A boy would be more aggressive and involved!” It was disarming that, as the surgeons were trying to teach, I had this angry bird in my ear, but I did see her point.
  • While at work, never talk about wanting children. It’s fine to want children someday, but until you are actively pregnant it’s none of their business. I spoke with one doctor who did not choose to go to more prestigious residency programs because the other residents and applicants there spent their time talking about their future pregnancy desires.
  • Wear skirts. This is the classic thing we’re taught for medical school. Almost all of the women wear skirts to their interviews. I even once had a patient tell me he was glad I wore a skirt into clinic because “women today just don’t dress like women anymore”. I also had a country patient who called me “Honey” after every sentence. I was slightly offended, until I saw he did the exact same thing with the male doctor.

What advice have you gotten, good or bad, for being a professional woman?

13 comments:

Another Anonymous Poster said...

Good advice, all. The problem is that those tips are necessary, and that I found myself nodding along to all of them. Does that make me a bad person? Or is it more a problem with the way the system works?

Mächtige Maus said...

I will need to ponder upon the professional advice I have received as a woman before I can answer that portion of this post.

Before that, however, I want to add an observation on the "Speak in a professional, deep voice". I'm not convinced it is entirely that. What I tend to notice with female counterparts is not the deepness of the voice. What I hear is that women, more often than men, finish sentences on an up note that makes the entire sentence sound like a question.

When an individual, man or woman, finishes a sentence in the form of a question it negates the answer. I run into that issue in court. Answer a question with what sounds like another question and it discounts your authority, regardless of gender.

Le Loup-garou said...

I agree with the importance of making definitive statements. Also, I've noticed women in talks needs to cut out the 'uhhs', 'likes', and giggles.

Mächtige Maus said...

Indeed...uh, like, um...all of those make me stop listening, regardless of who is presenting.

Mächtige Maus said...

I've had a few moments to think about this post. Surprisingly, I cannot add anything specific. Thinking back on my life, the strongest influences I had as far as challenging me to excel all came from women.
It started in third grade for me. My teacher left the room for a break. While she was gone, my best friend and I started making a "tower" with the stackable Crayola markers. When she came back to the classroom, we got into trouble. To teach us a lesson we had to stay after school. The "lesson" was to build castles with the play blocks. Maybe there was a different take home lesson. What I learned was, if you are going to play...play big.

The next lesson I received was in sixth grade. We were allowed to play the reading game. The class split into two sections. From there, we took turns as a team reading a section of some book. Each team had to listen to the reader to "catch" them reading the selection incorrectly. What I learned from that was to be precise, don't rush, and understand what you are reading/doing.

High school was rather a bust for me, but college was a whole different story. My anatomy professor showed no mercy. She lectured at the pace of a cheetah. What I learned there was attentiveness. From there, I went into genetics and independent research. I am still close friends with my professor from those years. I learned from her a passion for science that had been lacking for me. She taught me to see the question before trying to answer it. She also taught me how to put in long hours because that is what science requires.

At no time did any of my mentors ever sit me down and say you should do "this" or "that" in order to succeed as a woman.

As I write this and reflect upon my swimming career, I realize that I was an extremely blessed woman. Yes, my family might have been (is) a bit sexist, but the influences I held on to in sport and school sent me on the right path.

Habladora said...

Hey, interesting first post.

I'm with Another Anon, though, in questioning whether or not it is savvy to play along with the system by accepting that our naturally higher voices must be changed, that we will always have to work twice as hard and be twice as aggressive in order to be seen as putting in 'equal' effort, and dressing in a 'feminine' way. Doesn't not challenging other people's sexism make it harder for women in the future? We don't want to be sexism enablers.

Another Anonymous Poster said...

It's true that I've asked the questions above, but I think that it comes down to this: there's a way we'd like things to be, and a way things are. And until the time that the former comes to pass, we must act in a certain way to play along with the reality of the latter. And so, though I wish it weren't true that women must lower their voices and must work twice as hard to be taken seriously, it's not bad advice for the time being.

Le Loup-garou said...

The only piece of advice I object to is the skirt one. This one was only that was never directly made towards me. All of the hospital housestaff also call the residency applicants penguins because everyone's in all wear black, and they trot along in orderly lines.

Habladora said...

AAP writes: "there's a way we'd like things to be, and a way things are." This is true, and you're not going to find many people here who will argue with your assertion that we live in a sexist society. What I, and a lot of our readers, will disagree with is the second clause "And until the time that the former comes to pass, we must act in a certain way to play along with the reality of the latter." The problem is that this attitude seems to ignore that it is up to us to make the ideal into reality, and that doesn't generally happen through conformity.

As far as which pieces of advice I 'object to', it is a strange wording. All the advice listed in this post points out the sexism still rampant in our society, and I object to sexism's being accepted as the norm. Yet, as AAP points out, we are all working within that sexist society and must decide as individuals how to cope, which means deciding which of these sexist pieces of advice to follow, and which to reject.

petunia101 said...

I tell women that there is strong data showing that women and men undervalue women's professional achievement and overvalue men's professional achievement. The good news from this is that women who persist in a non traditional profession are likely much more qualified than they or their peers and bosses think they are. So, keep your chin up, you are good at your job.

feministblogproject said...

When I was looking for jobs, I was told to only wear skirts to interviews. But I only owned pantsuits, and as a grad student, I didn't feel like investing the money in a skirt suit. I decided that if a company was going to judge me as an employee and a woman for wearing a pantsuit rather than a skirt suit, I wouldn't want to work for them. And somehow, I managed to get a job.

I also remember that when I was looking for jobs, I was told to not wear my engagement ring to interviews. I took that to heart; I did not want to be discriminated against due to relationship status (for some reason that matters more than pants), but I also felt that it was nobody's business, and I didn't want to bother revealing irrelevant information. Wearing pants to an interview doesn't necessarily convey any information. However, after not wearing my engagement ring to interviews, and then wearing it to work and getting married a month after I started, that made for some slightly confused colleagues who had assumed that I was single.

Le Loup-garou said...

FBP, your post reminded me of my most disasterous medical school interview.

I wore my engagement ring, the interviewer saw this immediately, and asked my finance's profession. Things went down hill from there because he was already employed in another state. The remainder of the interview focused on how she thought there was a slim chance that I would ever choose their school. It was painful.

Habladora said...

Wow, collecting stories like these could be a whole side project... I'm getting ideas...