Are We Asking Too Much of Our Female Role Models at Work?

Creating a Bionic Female Role Model

“Ladies, we can rebuild her. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world’s first bionic female role model. Jane Doe will be that woman. Better than she was before. Better, stronger, faster.”
                                                                — With no apologies to the $6M Man. He had his run.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the growing debate over women’s rights in the workplace. I’m old enough to remember burning my “binders” in the 60s, and although women today face problems similar to those of my early career (equal pay springs to mind), the debate has a new and exciting twist. The old debate with men over our right to stand atop the glass ceiling is nearing the end of its shelf-life. Women are now debating women over the best way to get to the top and stay there.

One of the surest routes is to follow a leader. All employees need role models. Women employees, in particular, need positive female role models if we want to reach the executive ranks in numbers sufficient to gain real workplace equality. There is a visceral difference between seeing a female name on the company letterhead and actually witnessing the daily exchange between male and female employees, where the woman is calling the shots, is in charge of the project or contributes the winning idea. It is inspiring, and we learn by what we feel.


So, if we could actually create the first Bionic Female Role Model what qualities would we build into her? Here’s my list – and where I’d go on the ‘Net to find the critical DNA.

She is Brave

As many have said, being brave is different than being fearless. Fear keeps you diligent. Being brave is feeling fear and still marching into battle. Read, “Are You Being Brave?” by Katie Clemons at Simple Mom. Once you read about Katie’s first solo flight, piloting a Cessna down the runway sandwiched between two 747s, it won’t feel so life-threatening to stand up at your next meeting.


If you commit to a goal you care about, you will end up liking yourself even if you change your mind along the way. Read, “The 2 Biggest Reasons You Can’t Decide on a Career Direction” by Alison Elisa Horner at Brazen Life. According to Alison, most of us still wonder what we want to be when we grow up. Alas, it may be that we just haven’t discovered what we like to do yet. That’s okay. Think of all the fun things you get to do as you figure it out.


In the age of the Internet, don’t mistake the short time it takes to get information with the time necessary to digest it. Read, “The Art of Listening Well” by Eugene Raudsepp at Inc. Eugene says we only hear what we listen for, what we expect. Real listening (to find the unexpected) is a combination of hearing and thinking, and it doesn’t come naturally. It has to be learned.


Not every decision is popular. (Hello. Marissa Mayer.) But if decisions are fair, carefully considered and calculated to achieve the common good, they will be respected by the people who count. Read, “Study Says Women Make Better Decisions for Companies Than Men” at Phys.Org. I love this quote. “A survey of more than 600 board directors showed that women are more likely to consider the rights of others and to take a cooperative approach to decision-making. This approach translates into better performance for their companies.” On trusting your team and making quick decisions, read, “Businesses Can Learn from Quick Gridiron Decision-Making” by Nancy Napier at The Idaho Statesman.


Not all value is derived from winning the highest salary or the lowest price bargained for. Getting what you want at the expense of another’s dignity or good-will is a pyrrhic victory. Read, “Role of Gender in Workplace Negotiations” at Science Daily. A Columbia Business School survey reveals that, unlike men, women consider societal approval in the negotiation process. Here are suggestions on how to use this natural tendency to our advantage.

And read, “Why You Should Avoid Face-To-Face Negotiations With Your Boss” by Vivien Giang at Business Insider. Oh-kay. Probably not a permanent solution – but this article underscores how intimidating it is to ask the boss for anything in a face-to-face meeting. Let’s make sure to put in extra compassion-genes when building our Bionic Role Model. She should encourage employees to engage with her in real life and must always fight fair when negotiating with subordinates.


No jargon. Less is more. Using short declarative sentences, the goal is to explain and convince, not impress or intimidate. Read “Writing Online (and other places)” by Heather Bussing at HRExaminer. My friend Heather gives you the lowdown on the value of a low word count. (Sigh. Not my strong suit.)


Have a financial plan and understand it well enough to explain it to others. Read “What’s In My Financial Plan,” Part 1, Part 2, by Bryan Janeczko on The Small Business Success Blog. Understanding the company’s finances is an essential function of an executive’s job. Forget your high school math grades. Being good at finance has little to do with math. Take a class, find a mentor — but until you can speak “money,” you’re not talking business.


Get down to the core of your message. What is it that the audience must understand before you leave the room? What choice must they make and what facts are critical to that decision? Why should they agree with you? Everything else is packaging. Read, “Nine Top Questions @ Communication Skills” by Karen Cortell Reisman. My high school chum, Karen knows that the importance of public speaking, of being able to sway an audience from 6 to 6,000 (even on Skype), cannot be underestimated. Start early. Speak often.
To get at your own authenticity, read, “To Be Authentic, Look Beyond Yourself” by Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins at Harvard Business Review. Authenticity is an outward facing task. Amy and Muriel believe that the trust necessary for authentic relations comes from revealing our personal “why” (the real reasons we make the choices we do) to others. Sound too warm and fuzzy? What it means is that you must stop telling people what you think they want to hear, and start telling them what you really think.


Groucho Marx said, “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” If women were a nation, this would be our national anthem. I can hear you saying to yourself, “I know I have to network with successful people. But unless I am already successful, how do I know where they hang out? And if I find them, why in God’s name would they want to talk to me?” Read, “Build a Better Network and Transform Your Business” by Sonia Simone at CopyBlogger. Focus. Forget the outdated and restrictive notion that you must “work the room” to successfully network. The goal is not to leave your next event with a pocket full of cards but with at least one authentic and influential connection. Sonia has some pointed ideas on how to do that. (Hint: It requires you to be brave and speak with authenticity – are you seeing the pattern here?)


The failure to delegate is a career killer. First, it limits your reach to the number of hours in your own workday. Second, and most significantly for women, it conveys the notion that your work is not important enough for anyone but you. Delegation (even the act of passing work to a secretary) automatically increases the perception of your authority. No lie. Read, “How to Delegate Work Effectively” by Eva Rykrsmith at The Fast Track. Handing off your work to others gives them an opportunity to develop. In the most obvious way, it demonstrates that you think they are capable of doing your job and gives them a chance to prove it.


“Hi, my name is Mary and I have a behavioral addiction to my job.” Do you go to sleep by the light of the iPad moon and wake to the astral chimes of your iPhone? Do you hand out your home number just in case a client needs you after hours or on weekends? Read, “I Completely Disconnected for 10 Days. Here’s What Happened” by Tony Schwartz at Lifehacker. All work and no play makes Jane a dull girl. Really dull. You will experience diminishing returns from your efforts (and your life in general) if you don’t give it a rest. Don’t worry. Even if you are lying on a beach reading a trashy novel, your subconscious is percolating to solve workplace riddles. Answers bubble up to the surface if we give them space.


While I search for the keys to the bio-lab, take a personal inventory. I’ll bet you possess a good number of these skills without bionic intervention. And if not …you can rebuild yourself. You have the technology. You have the capability to be the world’s first bionic female role model. You will be that woman. Better than you were before. Better, stronger, faster….

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Mary Wright

Mary Wright is the Founding Editor of HR Gazette, an online magazine for HR professionals and employment lawyers. She is an employment lawyer with 25+ years' experience in helping employers reach workable business solutions to complex human resource problems. She is currently a Shareholder with Ogletree Deakins and the firm's former General Counsel. Connect with Mary.


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