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A Survival Guide for Women in the Workplace

by Theresa Christine Johnson on 06/12/2017 | 11 Minute Read

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By: ThoughtMatter

The workplace is often tough for women, and sometimes downright awful—so it’s important for us to work together, to have one another’s backs and do our absolute best to elevate our own.  Because, sadly, there’s a lot of progress to be made when it comes to equality, respect and basic human decency in the workplace.

The women at ThoughtMatter, who have worked in a variety of environments in roles ranging from junior to mid-career to executive level, feel lucky to now be in a place where our voices are heard and celebrated, where we don’t feel like we have to fight for our professional survival on a daily basis.

But we shouldn’t feel lucky. Being treated equally and with respect in the workplace shouldn’t be a perk. It should be the norm—and we feel strongly that women can shift the model.

We asked each woman in our studio to talk a little bit about how she’d describe her archetypal traits, and to give some tips to women who may act or feel the same way.  

The Ticking Time BombWednesday, Designer

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You absolutely love being a part of the team—not apart from the team. But unfortunately, not everyone plays it that way. Sometimes, while you’re quietly reflecting on your perfectly kerned type and the insightful concepts making their way into your team’s pitch deck, there’s a male coworker thumbing through the pages, announcing to the room that his work is dope and the client is an asshole if he (why is it always a he?) doesn’t see his genius. Your silence makes room for his noise.

It’s great to stay quiet, work hard and get shit done, and to celebrate by taking what you’ve learned and applying it to your next project. But you know what else is great? Taking the time to say “Fuck yeah” loud and proud. Otherwise, when you ask for a promotion, no one will be aware of the work you’ve done, which will likely result in a big ol’ “Fuck no.” Try not to always be a silent assassin–celebrate yourself (and others)!

Oh, and while it’s great that you’re helpful or whatever, you’ll drown if you’re always picking up everyone else’s slack. It’s not the best way to create great work, and it’s also how you put yourself in a position to have your male coworkers handing off all the bitch work and deck-building to you. 

The HustlerJessie, Executive Director, Strategy

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You’re a working mother, and you know what? That’s OK.

It’s OK to have some morning hate for your coworkers who have only themselves to care for—especially when they complain about how tough their mornings and their days are. Because each morning you run a successful get-out-of-bed campaign while organizing an entire meal program and negotiating what often feels like a nuclear treaty to get everyone out the door on time. And you do all this before your coworker even hits the snooze button.

It’s OK that you cried uncontrollably in the bathroom after your coworker embarrassed you in front of the entire office. People expect mothers to be emotional during “mother things,” but completely emotionless at work. Well, that’s not how it works, and you should use your emotions all day every day with confidence. Isn’t that the most motherly thing you can do?

It’s OK to hate your male colleague who uses the word “mother” like it’s an insult. He doesn’t know that you’re a powerful badass, and he doesn’t know shit about your new mother adventures—the time spent in the bathroom with your boobs leaking everywhere, the moments asking yourself if you have what it takes to keep everyone alive or the hours spent attempting hacks to mask the smell of poop and pee. Because that guy? He is not like you and me.

It’s OK to love your job as much as your children. Of course, when you’re bestowed the “mother” title, the word “priorities” takes on new meaning—but that doesn’t mean they don’t shift every day, or even every hour. You may be scared, you’re definitely tried, but you’re also tough, resilient and powerful. And it’s all going to be OK, because you are one seriously badass mother fucker. 

The People PleaserKatie, Account Manager

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You’re the person who always wants to make everyone else around you happy—even when, occasionally, it comes at the cost of some of your own personal productivity and happiness. It’s great to want to please people, and gratifying when you do, but it’s also important to set limits for yourself.

If you’re a people pleaser, you likely find yourself saying things similar to the following pretty often. Well, next time, consider leaving out the parts that are in brackets!

  • “I need to send out that document tomorrow. [Or whenever is convenient for you!]”
  • “I actually took a vacation day that day, [but I can cancel it if you need me there.]”
  • “This thing is something only you will be responsible for handling, [but I can just do it for you, I can spend more than half my day figuring it out for you.]” 
  • “It’s 3 p.m. and I haven’t had my lunch yet…I can try to help you afterwards [or if you really need it now I can do it now.]”
  • “Can you send that document to me as a PDF instead of a Word Doc? [Unless it’s going to be a total nuisance for you, whatever is easiest for you!]”
  • “I think it makes sense to go with the other idea. [But if you don’t want to that’s totally fine, you’re right.]”
  • “I had dinner plans for my mom’s surprise birthday, [but I can stay late and help you with that thing that’s definitely not my responsibility.]”
  • I’m actually in the middle of something on a tight timeline, [but I can drop everything I’m doing and help you now with your thing!]”
  • “I’m home sick with aggressive diarrhea, [so I’ll only be able to make the meeting if you conference me in. I’m sorry!]”
  • “I planned the whole thing, worked over the weekend, and came in early to set it up, [but I’d be happy to stay late and clean everything up for everyone too—it’s no problem!]”
  • “Hmmm I don’t think that’s what we agreed to[…but if that’s what you want to do I can be flexible.]"

The Girl FridayAmanda, Studio Coordinator

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You’re a “Jane of All Trades.” The glue that keeps the place together and a big piece of the engine that keeps it running.

You don’t simply want to get shit done—you need to get shit done. But what if a decision-maker is being indecisive and not giving you what you need to succeed? Well, don’t be afraid to manage up! Be vocal and direct, and remember this: You know what you’re talking about.

In most cases, you’ll find the old adage “You’ll catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar” holds true, but sometimes a dab of vinegar is the best way to get to a satisfying resolution—and you shouldn’t be afraid to use it.

While you know you can do it all, you also know you can’t do it all at once. You may want to be a “Yes Woman,” but it’s okay to talk realistically about a timeline or project someone has asked you to take on. It is, after all, OK to say no!

By way of your trade, you’re involved in a lot of different projects with different people—which means you might hear a lot of gossip or comments about other employees. You need not entertaining that type of nonsense, and everyone will benefit if you deflect the bad vibes and attempt to turn conversations to more positive matters.

Oh, and you’re not here to run personal errands for people. Someone asks you to pick up their dry cleaning for them? Well, they can take a break and do it themselves, or they can pick it up on their way home (just like everybody else does). They want you to cancel their gym membership for them? Tell them they can work it out on their own.

The Almond Joy*Martha, Client Services Director

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You’ve got a solid, tough exterior, but you’re soft on the inside. People like us are anything except one-dimensional.

Sure, you cry when you’re feeling angry or frustrated. (Sometimes at home. Sometimes elsewhere, like in the office restroom.) That’s a natural reaction, and you shouldn’t be against emoting. And really, how is shedding a few tears any different than a man losing his temper or storming out of the room in the middle of a meeting?

Yeah, you roll with the punches and don’t take yourself too seriously—but this doesn’t mean you want to be the butt of the jokes or that you have any desire whatsoever to be in “The Boys’ Club.”

Totally, you have your bad days. Everybody does, and you shouldn’t accept people reacting like you’re nuts whenever one of these days come around. But also do your best to let people know it’s not personal.

Indeed, you’re the type to say what’s on your mind at all times—but remember you should always strive to do it in a respectful and professional way.

Absolutely, you will always chip in to help out with something. But that doesn’t mean you don’t sometimes need help with things too.

*Or Mounds, if you don’t like almonds or have a nut allergy.

The Silver LiningWhitney, Producer

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You’re a walking contradiction, but it’s not a bad thing and you’re not afraid to admit it.

As a project manager or producer, you can’t take lightly the responsibility of being the pragmatic one in the room. You’re the one who has to break ideas apart to see if they will somehow piece back together—and you’re the one who has to make sure they piece back together on time and on budget.

But you also know things have a way of working themselves out—so it’s easy for you to stay cool as a cucumber when it seems like the project is going up in flames. Of course, that sounds like a great trait for a PM! And sure, most of the time it is. But you shouldn’t take for granted that it takes a village to bring projects through the finish line. While you know all’s well that ends well, it can be dangerous not to establish urgency with your team, reminding them to contribute wherever and whenever they need to.

Because you know what will happen if you don’t. That amazing idea everyone (including you!) was chanting about—the 10’x10’ water tank with inflatable dolphins hanging above on motorized strings dancing to the Nutcracker? Two weeks later, you haven’t slept for four days and almost cut off your finger three different times while the bros on your team left work at 4 p.m. on a Friday to grab Buds with their crew. But can you really blame them? Your even keel sent the message that you had it all under control… and you do… but we both know this wasn’t what you had in mind.

The Lone WolfDana, Director, Operations

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You’re the one who plays the vital role of keeping the lights on—literally—and you take care of a ton of tasks all on your own that your colleagues could not, quite frankly, handle without help (and usually your help, specifically).

You’re not going to be in every single meeting, or may only be on the periphery of projects, but you’ll likely end up involved in some way. You’ve got to be resourceful in seeking out information—sometimes in unconventional ways. And the more you understand about your organization from the ground up, the better things will be, so make sure you’re always looking beyond your immediate sphere.

Your aspirations are many, and you know nobody is going to simply make them happen for you. So make them known, don’t be afraid to push for what you want and embrace the fact that you’re likely going to have to make things happen for yourself.

Just because you’re a Lone Wolf doesn’t mean you always have to go it alone. Know when to ask for help. You may have the tendency to default to “It will be easier or faster if I just do it myself,” which can occasionally land you in the weeds. But, conversely, it’s also important to find the sweet spot between not making decisions in a bubble and overcompensating by soliciting too much input from others.

Finally, when you’re a Lone Wolf and in a position that is less collaborative, your colleagues might wonder what exactly you do all day. The more everyone knows about everyone else’s roles, the better your organization will run. Make the effort to understand what other people are working on and what they do, and be sure to be transparent about your efforts, as well.

ThoughtMatter is a branding studio with an artful perspective. Their focus is on brands with purpose: organizations, companies and people that deliver a sense of personal and social meaning, creativity and thoughtfulness.

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