6 Ways Women Undermine Themselves at Work

Are you one of those women who carries a handbag big enough to hold all your essentials? Like lip balm, a change of shoes, a first responder medical kit, a small sewing machine and a hair straightening iron? If so, you’re obviously prepared for any event that may arise while you’re at work, rather it’s frizzy hair or a small dagger wound. But you’re also sending a very strong signal to others in your office that you’re not someone to be taken seriously.

It’s a common pitfall for women: They want to be prepared to help anyone at anytime. But in the workplace that can also be perceived as “playing mommy.” Or seen as a deep-seated need to be liked, which makes them ripe for someone to take advantage of them.

There have been several books on the subject of perceptions of women in the workplace, with some advising women to channel their inner witch (OK, the word rhymes with witch) to get ahead and stop being a “nice girl.” But if the thought to becoming Cruella De Vil holds no appeal for you, think about ways you can stop sending the wrong signals.

Among them:

  • Talking about personal issues. This can range from how you’re “PMSing” to how your significant other is a total jerk because he got you a Swiffer WetJet for your birthday. Men in your office could care less and wonder why you’re bringing it up. And, yeah, you’ve just given them license to hint that you’re “PMSing” whenever you disagree with them.
  • Showing cleavage. Here’s the deal: If you can see your cleavage, so can everyone else. Despite the idea that maybe you’re attracting the men in the office with a little boobage, the truth is most of them are disgusted by your behavior and women like it even less. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, cosmetics company founder Bobbi Brown shared the story of how she had “be talked into” hiring a woman who showed up for an interview in a low-cut top.
  • Playing mommy. Are you always the one who spearheads the office potluck? Sends around the sign-up sheet for the community fun run? Provides the cake for a colleague’s birthday? There’s nothing wrong with taking your turn for such events, but make sure it’s not your job more often than anyone else in the office. Learn to think like a man: Adults are capable of doing things for themselves, whether it’s getting a cookie or finding the 5K race sign-up sheet on the office wiki.
  • Being the office supply closet. Are you known for having antacids, ibuprofen, Band-Aids and a spare bicycle tire in your cubicle? Cut it out. You’re sending the message that others aren’t capable of taking care of themselves, and you are ready to jump in a save them from whatever boo-boo or flat tire comes their way.
  • Gossiping. Let me just say I know that men gossip, too. But there’s something about a woman being catty – especially about another woman – that can make it seem especially snarky. Some men will relish a “girl fight” but it’s one of the fastest ways to label yourself as an unprofessional female.
  • Stop channeling Oprah. Many women love to offer relationship advice, and while your colleague may appreciate it, it won’t garner you any respect. Again, adults are capable of taking care of their own problems, or at least TiVo-ing Dr. Phil.

There’s nothing wrong with being female in the workplace. Women bring more collaboration, better communication and teamwork to the table. But if they want to be taken seriously for their talent, they need to make sure they leave the curling iron at home.







Anita Bruzzese

Anita Bruzzese is a syndicated columnist for Gannett/USA Today on workplace issues and the author of “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy.” She has been on the Today show, and quoted in publications such as O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, Self.com and BusinessWeek.com. Her website, 45things.com, is listed on the Forbes top 100 websites for women.

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  • Leacg1797

    Very interesting feedback…. I’m off to buy a new bag to start my new job. Thank you.

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  • Patricia Marko

    Nothing wrong with a large bag, I have one that’s a genuine, black leather laptop bag, so it looks professional.  I think if the bag speaks of quality, has a business and professional look, and you keep the few grooming things discreet and out of sight (I sit in an open concept office, cubicle) then it’s o.k.
    The woman’s bag is an extension of the total look, so this would also apply to choices in clothing, hair, makeup, nails and shoes (a business and professional look that’s not too loud).  We can still be feminine but strong at the same time.  There are resources out there on how to present ourselves in the business world. Example of one place is http://finaltouchschool.com/corporate.htm

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  • Anita

    Patricia,
    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a nice bag that holds your laptop…it’s the other stuff that women cram in there that can undo that professional image. A curling iron peeking out one end, Spanx out of the other….well, you see where I’m going with this. There’s a happy medium, and we just need to find it.

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  • CHANTELSHAM

    What BS!!!! Be who you are and don’t bend is what makes you not the size of your hand bag… the same could be said for the package that a man carries and you know what I mean… SO IM CALLING  THIS A BS EXCUSE FOR SOMEONE WHO COULD NOT CUT IT! 

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  • Anita

    Chantel,
    Maybe you call it BS, but I call it a reality check. Any woman who doesn’t understand that the alpha males that currently rule the majority of workplaces won’t take women seriously if they behave a certain way are kidding themselves. I’m not saying you have to be fake…just leave out the tendencies to “mother” colleagues or wear your boobs half hanging out. 

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  • Monica_cuello

    Interesting and, unfurtunatelly, 100% true. However, women shouldn’t try to be men, but be ourselves. The Real challenge is being able to be ourselves without that meaning we’re underminig ourselves. Women should be taken seriously by both men and other women even if we act as the real women we are. Why are men “allowed” to spend hours talking about cars and or football but we are not allowed to talk about a cooking receipee?

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  • Anita

    Monica,I think until more women are in the C-suites and in the boardrooms making decisions, then the workplace is still going to revolve around alpha males and what they talk about. As I said, women bring a lot to the table (collaboration, communication skills) and they shouldn’t abandon that. But, they need to be aware of how some of their actions are perceived and make adjustments. Women are smart. They just need to use that intelligence to use strategies that will pay off.

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  • Tanner Volz

    This is disgusting. Do not concede to misogyny. Challenge it. Defy it. Wear what the hell you want, carry whatever bloody bag you want. Arbitrary bullshit, all of it.

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