Putting an End to the “Yes-Woman”

Business People Sitting Around TableLast week I was reading some quotes from a group of women I interviewed for 40:20 Vision a few years ago. It was a group of eight women from Phoenix, AZ (now), all from a corporate background — most of whom were still working and now also wives and moms.

There was a lot of talk about who to align yourself with as mentors or role models when you are in your twenties and I was a bit discouraged that many of them said you should align yourself with men. They didn’t see the value in aligning with women until later in their career. I was discouraged by this advice. But getting into why they were saying it gave me second thoughts.

It was because of the way they saw men vs. women acting in the workplace. They saw more women being pleasers or “yes women”, happy to take on more administrative tasks vs. men “leaning out” of those administrative tasks. I hypothesize that they saw women as more valuable later in their career because they needed to find role models who had become leaders …who hadn’t followed the yes-woman track. And of course, the gender biases just aren’t there in your twenties when it is more an equal numbers game between men and women in the workforce.

This all was reinforced when the next day I saw the NY Times article on from Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant on “Women Doing ‘Office Housework’. An excerpt:

The Harvard professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter observed that women do the lion’s share of “office housework” — administrative tasks that help but don’t pay off.

Someone has to take notes, serve on committees and plan meetings — and just as happens with housework at home, that someone is usually a woman.

Joan C. Williams, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, finds that professional women in business, law and science are still expected to bring cupcakes, answer phones and take notes. These activities don’t just use valuable time; they also cause women to miss opportunities. The person taking diligent notes in the meeting almost never makes the killer point.

When men do help, they are more likely to do so in public, while women help more behind the scenes.

So perhaps it is worth seeing these women’s learning from 20 years ago. And take it with an eye toward making sure that 20 years from now we aren’t having the same conversation. Their conversation:

“Get mentored by men and women. Early in my career, I aligned with men. Now, I align more with women.”

“I think at the beginning of your career you think that aligning with men is the right thing to do. Then you get the confidence that you need to branch out and say, ‘Okay, I don’t need to align myself with men. I can align myself with women.’ Or ‘I can be independent. I don’t need to really do and care about what other people think and what I’m doing. I can stand on my own and do it by myself.’

“In the beginning, you align yourself with the guys. I did that when I was a teenager playing tennis because I thought it was the better way for me to become a better tennis player. The guys hit harder. I thought they’re stronger. But in work, as you get a little bit older, you realize there are strong, independent, successful, great women out there. I don’t think you learn that until you’re just a little bit older. It’s unfortunate but I think that’s true.”

“I think that in your professional life, you can’t “go girl” in your first 10 years. If you’re consumed with “going girl” between 20 and 30 years old, you’re going to be left behind professionally. I was interested in all the things that my female friends were interested in to a degree, but I was more interested in a career path at that point.”

“The women that I worked with when I was young were “yes, sir,” women. When someone said, ‘I need this report’, they would turn around and go back to their desk and do that report for whoever we we’re working for. I noticed the men were more confident. They would say, “Yeah, we’ll get that to you.” So I saw hanging out with the men was more leadership-oriented than falling into that secretarial or administrative role that traditionally women have served. Sorry but that was my experience. The women were extremely like, ‘whatever you need me to do. I will stay here until 6’oclock at night or 7’oclock at night and get it done.’ Then the men were like, ‘Yeah, I’ll get that to you after my golf game tomorrow.’ So I thought, ‘I want to go to the golf course with them and have some beers instead of staying all night working.’ I do think it has changed a lot and not just with age but just with time. There are women in the workplace and more women as leaders. But I would say to stay away from being a pleaser and a yes-person.”

I would like to see a world where it isn’t a question of man or women do the office housework but that it is equally shared. As the NY Times article pointed out…

“Just as we still need to rebalance housework and childcare at home, we also need to equalize and value office housework. This means first acknowledging the imbalance and then correcting it.”

The article goes on to say that the first step is a shift in mind-set for women: “If we want to care for others, we also need to take care of ourselves.”

Which comes first? Do more women enjoy this type of work or do they do it because they don’t put themselves first? Or is it because the workplace expect it? Does it come back to the confidence gap? What do you think?

I know there are great female role models out there at any age. So I agree with the first 40-something quoted…align yourself with women and men. And be a 20-something role model. The next time you are inclined to say yes to a task you know you can do. Think twice …or at least see who you can share the task with and then go out and have a beer!

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