Last week, the blogosphere got hold of a month-old post that listed Citigroup's advice to women who wanted to succeed in their careers. Dealbreaker and Jezebel linked to the original post by David Xia, who had entitled it "Citibank's Advice to Women: Grow a Pair." We also linked to the post, but took the view that these suggestions were helpful ways for women to do well in finance.
Many others disagreed.
"Women who actually followed Citi's advice and did all these things would be perceived as rude and bitchy and treated as such," one commenter fumed on Jezebel.
Another wrote on Dealbreaker: "If I were a competent female Citigroup employee I'd be seriously [pissed off] at this. Totally insulting. A woman doesn't get ahead in this biz by acting like a douchebag guy with no sense of humor. She gets ahead like anyone else-- being good at her JOB."
We decided to go straight to the source of the polarizing list. Citi had derived the suggestions from "Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office: 101 Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers," a guidebook written by Dr. Lois P. Frankel, and we asked her about the ensuing controversy.
The list was taken out of context, Frankel said. Without the accompanying explanations of how women have been socialized to be too nice, it's easy to chalk up the list as just another way to force women to mimic men's behavior.
"But no woman should try to act like a man," Frankel said. "A woman will never be a good imitation of a man, nor should she try to be." A woman doesn't have to ignore her femininity when attempting to move up the ladder. Rather, the guidelines, which say to lean forward to appear interested and to speak early in a meeting, are meant to obviate societal learned behaviors.
Women tend to smile too much when speaking, which can dilute the message, and also tend not to claim credit for their work. These rules emphasize making yourself known -- a necessity if you're going to get that raise or promotion.
"The women who say they don't have to do these things are naïve," Frankel said. "There are different rules for men and women in the workplace. To be successful, you have to figure out the boundaries on the playing field and figure out where to play your game on the edge. All games are won at the edge."
In an ideal world, there wouldn't be different expectations for different genders. But in the male-dominated financial realm, where it's often difficult for women to penetrate the ol' boys' club, certain techniques can help bring you to the front of the pack.
Frankel added: "This is the nature of financial services. If you can't handle it, find another playing field."
Write to Julie Steinberg