The color of money

Michelle Singletary: The book on women in business

 

Washington Post Service

I get a chill whenever I listen to James Brown soulfully sing It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.

I especially like to shout “you got that right” when he says, “but it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl.”

Those lyrics come to mind as we celebrate Women’s History Month. It’s not a man’s world anymore.

Last Sunday marked 100 years since thousands of women marched down Pennsylvania Avenue demanding the right to vote. They were taunted and pushed but they pressed on. So too have women pressed their way into jobs in the private and public sector. The pay for many still isn’t quite equal to that of men, but it’s getting close.

Up to 1 billion women around the world are expected to enter the workforce over the next decade, according to management consulting firm Booz & Company.

“This is such an incredible, unprecedented time to be a woman in business,” says Emily Bennington, a career consultant. “Never before has our style of leadership been so needed, and never before have our choices been so vast and our opportunities so great.”

Despite the gains, success in the workplace or moving up the corporate ladder into executive positions is elusive for so many women. It can be frustrating and excruciating, like stuffing your feet into pointy-toe stilettos.

But it can get easier with some guidance, Bennington writes in Who Says It’s a Man’s World: The Girls’ Guide to Corporate Domination (AMACOM, $21.95).

What I like most about Bennington’s book is the focus on self first. “You must be a magnificent woman first to have a magnificent career,” she writes.

Don’t cringe. Stay with Bennington on this point. It’s not psychobabble or girly, touchy-feely stuff that some men and some women might scoff at. Through a series of exercises, coaching and cheerleading, she helps you reach a point where you can overcome the attitudes and behaviors that hold you back.

As she writes, corporate domination “isn’t about kicking the door down as so many of have been (mis)led to believe. … It’s about melting it down one thought, one interaction, and one person at a time. … Business is a game about people — like everything else in life — it all starts with you.”

To get ahead, you have to “cut the crap” — her words, not mine. Yes, there are bumbling sexist bosses and scheming co-workers who may stand in your way. But often the roadblock to success is you. Thus her focus on getting you to be honest with yourself about the things you do to derail your career.

The three biggest career-killers are negative attitudes, holding grudges and worrying too much, Bennington says, calling those behaviors “muddy career sludge.”

Then there are the busy people who get success but at a high price. They over-schedule and overexert themselves.

If that’s you, you’ve got to slow down. Take on less. Get rid of some things (hey, I’m preaching to myself here).

And of course, what would a career-coaching book be without the ubiquitous mommy guilt chapter?

But rein in the guilt, Bennington says.

“There will be times when you have to leave work to deal with your kids and times when you have to leave kids to deal with your work,” she writes. “There is guilt in both, but you will save yourself a lot of heartache if you decide — up front — that ‘having it all’ doesn’t mean being it all.”

To help on this front, she offers some good simple get-rid-of the guilt advice such as a list of must-have tradeoffs for working moms. One of my favorites: Unapologetically guard your calendar. “It’s often a bellwether of your happiness.”

I most like the counterintuitive advice she gives about setting goals. Don’t measure yourself by checked boxes, she says. Set goals but don’t be ruled by them or crushed if you don’t reach them.

In the end, Bennington offers these six words for success. “Who. You. Are. Has. No. Ceiling.”

I’ll be hosting a live online discussion about Who Says It’s a Man’s World at noon on March 28 at washingtonpost.com/discussions.

Hear Michelle Singletary’s personal finance reports on www.npr.org. Readers may write to her c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St., NW, Washington DC 20081.

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