Picture: Getty


Why women shouldn't treat the office like school

Being a hard worker who quietly gets on with things pays off in the classroom. But we mustn't think this is the case at work, says Marisa Bate

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By Marisa Bate on

I was a hard worker at school. Maybe not the hardest in the class (always too much talking, too many boys to be distracted by), but I always got my head down and turned up on time and did my homework. I was organised and enthusiastic. I was always given an A for effort.  

And that worked out pretty well for me. I did what I was told, I showed up (unless it was cross-country or home tech) and I applied myself.  And I was rewarded for it. It was a simple transaction. I do my bit, and I get something back, be it generous reports or good grades. I wasn’t the loudest in the class but I didn’t have to be. My teacher was paid to notice me and what I had done. 

So is it any wonder, like many other women I’m guessing, that I took this mentality into the workplace; that if I work hard and get my head down and go above and beyond, I will get my just deserts, like a promotion or a pay rise? 

Too many of us have behaved like the 13-year-old at the front of the glass diligently taking notes and handing homework in on time only to have missed pay increases or promotions

According to Sallie Krawcheck, CEO and co-founder of Ellevest, this is “the single biggest mistake women make at work” because “your good work doesn’t count if nobody knows about it”.

Krawcheck believes that the transactional behaviour of school is a waste of time: nobody is just going to notice you, reward you and give you what you probably do deserve. You’ve got to go out and get it.  You’ve got to network, she says. 

Krawcheck also condemns women’s habits for believing they have to be an A-grade student in something to give it a go. She refers to women investors who have “bought the investing book, printed out the prospectus”. But, she says, we shouldn’t wait to be experts or top of the class in order to believe we can do something. She writes, “I’m all for more financial education. Believe me. But if you wait until you feel like you ‘know everything’ (i.e, can get that A) about investing, you won’t invest.” This, of course, is no truer for women than when applying for jobs. Women typically believe they have to over-qualified before they try for a new, more senior role. Men, on the other hand, will be much more likely to apply for jobs they are actually under-qualified for. 

I don’t believe it is exclusive to the office, either. In everyday life, we queue patiently, we don’t complain as much, we put up with shit in relationships and friendships and with family,  believing that perhaps if we keep our heads down, we will somehow be rewarded. 

Oh course, we know this isn’t the case. Too many of us have behaved like the 13-year-old at the front of the class diligently taking notes and handing homework in on time only to have missed pay increases or promotions (normally to men who because they louder, bolder and brasher). In the workplace and in life, there are no teachers paid to help you along and seek out and reward your good work. You’ve got to hustle. 

And on top of this, our workplaces are still tripping women up, with a gender pay gap and maternity discrimination and the consistent low-level cross-sector suggestion that women are still not as competent as men. So not only does the transactional nature of education no longer apply, but we are actively discriminated against. For many women, the hard work, the talent and loyalty goes unnoticed deliberately. And for those who do demand to be noticed, they are far too often punished by the workplace and by peers. Society is still not quite comfortable with “pushy”, “difficult”, loud women. 

We are forever finding ways of telling women how to behave in the workplace – often with the best intentions but which can contribute to the constant suggestion there is a right or wrong way for successful women to behave. I reject that idea strongly but I do believe women are still woefully under-appreciated for their contributions; as workers, carers, mothers and members of society. 



Picture: Getty
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women at work

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