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Summary: Nice Girls Still Don’t Get the Corner Office: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers

Lois Frankel wants you to take charge of your career, and stop making the mistakes that women make at work as a result of the socialization they get as little girls. While nice-girl behavior may have served you well at some point, it will not work well in today’s workplace. If you are to have a successful and fulfilling career, you need to change your behavior. This book summary will help you see how you may be engaging in nice girl behavior that hurts your career, and how to address it.

Stop making the “nice girl” mistakes that prevent success at work.


  • Wonder why some women’s careers take off while others do not
  • Wish to avoid the unconscious mistakes that can hold you back from the promotion you deserve
  • Are ready to make the behavioral changes that will take your career to the next level

Did you know that, even after years of progress in women’s rights, women all over the world still earn consistently less than men? Women are also less likely to hold highly influential positions. For example, they make up a mere 3.8 percent of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.

Book Summary: Nice Girls Still Don’t Get the Corner Office - Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers

Even in Western countries, women are still not on an equal footing with men. There are many reasons for this inequality, most of which can’t be changed by one woman alone.

Yet there’s one thing women can change: if you’re a woman, chances are good that over time you’ve learned to unconsciously sabotage yourself. For example, you may avoid assertive behavior for fear of being labeled “bossy” or find yourself reluctant to compete because competing is “unfeminine.”

Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office will make you aware of the typical mistakes that prevent women from reaching their full potential. It will help you learn how to stand your ground in a competitive environment, such as the workplace, and find the right balance between embracing your femininity and not making the wrong move in a game still ruled by men.

In this summary of Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office by Lois P. Frankel, you’ll find out:

  • why some girls sigh in relief when they lose a game of Monopoly,
  • why smiling less might be the key to getting that promotion,
  • why you could work 24 hours a day and still not get promoted, and
  • why there’s nothing immoral about capitalizing on your relationships.


Author, coach and psychotherapist Lois P. Frankel explains how traditionally feminine behavior undermines women’s career growth. She makes you feel as comfortable as possible while teaching you about “girlish” behavior that holds you back at work. As soon as she describes a problem, she jumps in with doable solutions, some easy, some quite challenging or time-consuming. Frankel shares case histories and offers many applicable techniques. She uses humor deftly and warns the gung-ho not to change everything at once. Now the caveats: Frankel does not grapple with the insoluble problem that women who behave in more forceful, unfeminine ways are often disliked and rejected, a maddening Catch 22 if you want to advance. She should warn that even smart tactics rarely help in a truly sexist workplace. She also needs to say that the wish to be liked isn’t girlish, feminine or womanly; it is human. Contrary to platitude, other people can hurt and stigmatize you with their verbal abuse or harassment, no matter how strong you are. Still, although she hasn’t unraveled every knot, Frankel comes a long way toward helping women diagnose – with a self-assessment checklist – and correct inadvertent mistakes that could be holding them back. We recommend her valuable counsel to women who want to become respected leaders.


  • Without realizing it, many women behave more like obedient, subservient “girls” than like competent women leaders. This leads to 101 career mistakes.
  • Behavior that won approval for you as a girl and a teen won’t advance your career.
  • You can avoid the strategic mistakes women habitually make in the business world.
  • Pinpoint your “girlish” weak spots, but don’t try to change them all.
  • Many women avoid learning the unwritten rules of the workplace, but understanding that code is a survival skill.
  • Women make conduct errors that affect their careers, for example, not asking for what they want, but hoping the boss will offer it.
  • Women make incorrect assumptions, such as believing that being universally liked is more important than winning respect.
  • Be conscious of how you “brand and market” yourself. Women often ignore this area.
  • Women tend to make mistakes in speaking style, such as talking fast and too softly.
  • Women make career-damaging appearance errors, such as smiling constantly and wearing clothes, makeup and hairstyles that clash with the jobs they want.


Author Lois Frankel wishes there had been no need to write an updated 10thanniversary edition to this book, but women are still fighting for equality in the workplace.

Although some gains have been made, they have been made at a glacial pace. Not only does the glass ceiling still exist, there seems to be a glass treehouse filled with male senior executives running things while women peer in from the outside. There is a common thread found among those women who are overlooked at the office: how they act and react.

This book is about how to use the control we have over how we act and react to further our careers. In this summary, you’ll find suggestions for behavioral change that will replace self-defeating behaviors with effective action.

Getting Started

The mistakes you are making at work are not made because you are stupid or incompetent, they are made as a result of who you have been socialized to be in the context of our culture.

Girls are taught early to act in stereotypically feminine ways: to be polite, softspoken, compliant and relationship-oriented. Acting counter to these expectations can spell trouble; women who exhibit confidence and courage end up being called a bitch, or worse.

Acting like a “nice girl” is easier, and as a result grown women end up acting like little girls. This leads to a set of career-related mistakes made predominantly by women. When you address them by acting differently, your career can begin to take off.

How You Play the Game

Women often do not understand how to play the game at work. They do not get into playing it, fail to see the imaginary boundaries, and ignore the unspoken rules. But you have to play in order to win. Business is competitive.

If you tend to play it safe rather than smart, this will not get you very far. For instance, the game of tennis is instructive. You will not become a great player hitting the ball squarely within bounds. It is at the edges of the court where points are made.

If you are unsure of where the boundaries are at work, look to the women who are winning. Consider whether they are bending rules you always follow. The boundaries for women are narrower than they are for men, especially when it comes to assertiveness, although this varies depending on your industry’s culture. Be savvy about sizing up the playing field at your organization, and playing the game at the boundaries that exist there.

Most women assume they need to work twice as hard to get half as far, so they focus on working hard. But no one is promoted just because of hard work; they are promoted because the powers that be know their character and feel certain about their ability to promote collegial working relationships. So give yourself permission to “waste” a little time socializing. If you fail to build relationships because you’re too busy keeping your nose to the grindstone, you won’t get very far. On a similar note, be careful about doing the work of others, especially if you are a supervisor who allows her subordinates to delegate up. You are rewarded for getting the job done, not for doing the job — there is a difference.

Another mistake women make is that they wait to be given what they want. Your needs are unlikely to be met without having to ask. Women often avoid asking for things like raises and promotions because they are afraid of asking for too much, afraid of hearing “no.” But if you do not ask, you probably will not get what you want. Prepare requests in advance, carefully choose the time for making the request, and separate being liked from getting what you deserve.

Women also tend to avoid office politics, but politics is really just the business of understanding relationships and the quid pro quo inherent in them. Approach political situations like any negotiation: Figure out what people need and how you can offer something that will result in a win-win situation. Always remember to consider what you want in return, and do not hesitate to call in favors when you need to. Capitalize on relationships by asking for referrals and introductions to people you would like to know, but be sure to ask for permission to use someone’s name.

How You Act

Success in business depends on your ability to act in a professional way. Be sure to prepare for social events, such as holiday and retirement parties. Know who is attending and prepare to guide any discussions you might have with those who can support you and your projects. Go over agendas for conferences and meetings in advance, and come prepared to add value.

If you know yourself to be overly sensitive, get over it. Business is business, and you cannot take everything personally. It is important to see the difference between transactional relationships and personal ones, which also means getting over the need to be liked. Nevertheless, be sure to build strong relationships. Look for opportunities to support female colleagues and do not gossip and disparage them.

Do not allow people to treat you as a doormat. Let others know, in a clear way, what you will and will not do. Managing expectations up front often eliminates the need to say “no” later. But do say no when you need to. Likewise, be careful about helping others too much — if you are in a leadership position, it can undermine your authority to do your team’s work for them when your focus should be on providing vision and oversight. Ask questions, because asking a legitimate question is a sign of confidence. If you do not understand something, it is better to ask a question than to head off in the wrong direction.

Be careful about the appearance of your workspace. It should be consistent with the culture of your organization, and decor should reflect who you are. Keep your workspace neat and clean — a messy workspace makes you look disorganized and out of control. Resist the temptation to feed people at work — bringing homebaked cookies to share and having a bowl of candy on your desk is equated with being nourishing, which is seen as stereotypically female attributes, so you want to avoid it.

Practice giving a firm handshake. Always offer your hand, even if the person you are greeting does not; this will help you will appear confident.

How You Brand and Market Yourself

Many women do not care about getting credit for their work, they are simply happy to make a contribution. But the result is that they are overlooked for plum assignments and promotions that they deserve.

The workplace is a marketplace, and you need to think of yourself as a brand to be marketed. To do that marketing, you must be clear on what differentiates you from others. Make a list of the three to five things that you find most satisfying at work; this is helpful because we tend to enjoy what we are good at. Then translate these things into key strengths that you bring to the workplace. For example, if you are a journalist and you enjoy listening to people tell stories as you interview them, you might say, “As an effective listener, I am able to gather information from hesitant sources.”

Think about how your strengths distinguish you from your peers. It is helpful to have an elevator pitch — a speech in which you introduce yourself in the amount of time it takes to ride an elevator up a few floors — that emphasizes these strengths. Make sure that you do not make the mistake of minimizing your accomplishments or your position.

Be aware of your visibility at work, and do not wait to be noticed. Showcase your achievements in subtle ways, and if there is an assignment or promotion that you want, speak up. Do not refuse any high-profile assignments that will allow you to shine, show your unique capabilities, and make contacts.

Voice your ideas in meetings, and give presentations whenever given the chance. Seek out opportunities to speak one-on-one with the executives in your organization, and given the opportunity, sit next to the most powerful person in the room. Understand your own worth and do not let the fear of failure keep you from applying for jobs you could learn to do; you should be looking to move up every three to five years.

How You Sound

Executive communication is an art. The best idea in the world will not go anywhere if you are unable to convince anyone of it. One of the most common mistakes women make is to couch a statement as a question. In doing so, you weaken the ownership of your own ideas. Practice making statements. Save questions for when you truly need information or an opinion. The use of preambles is similarly problematic; when you use too many words, you diffuse your message. Preambles soften communication when you fear it is too direct or aggressive, but short sounds more confident. Organize your thoughts, and get to your bottom line quickly. Lengthy explanations are similar — they tend to undermine the point. Avoid the inclination to ask permission or apologize unnecessarily. Assume that if there is a problem, someone will tell you so.

Be aware of your voice, and how you use it. Practice speaking at a moderate pace, and know that you are entitled to take any time necessary to say what you need to say. Speaking softly conveys a lack of certainty. Be sure to project appropriately. Watch your pitch as well, as higher-pitched messages are discounted, whereas a lower pitch inspires confidence and conveys authority. If you feel you need extensive practice with speaking, consider joining Toastmasters.

Be aware of the language you use. You must be able to speak the language of your business, and every business has one. Read The Wall Street Journal if it is relevant to your industry, read the appropriate magazines and newsletters, and attend conferences and professional association meetings. Eschew touchy-feely language, and always state your position confidently. There is a difference between “It feels like perhaps we should…” and “I believe it would be best to…” Look out for language that will make you appear ambivalent; it can help to avoid thinking out loud. Finally, do not complain, and do not bring up problems without proposing a solution.

How You Look

It is important to look the part if you want to advance in your career. Research shows that 55% of your credibility is based on how you look.

Women tend to smile inappropriately, likely because girls are socialized to smile more than boys. Pay attention to when you are smiling, and be sure your facial expressions are appropriate to your message. Women also fail to take up space, which conveys the impression of being demure, timid, or frightened. When giving a presentation, use the space available to you. Keep your elbows on the table during meetings rather than tucked in at your sides, and do not hide your hands in your lap. Gestures should flow naturally and be appropriate to the size of your audience. Do not wring your hands.

Strive to reach the right balance of animation — you do not want to look overly bubbly, nor do you want to be so flat that you appear boring and low-energy. Avoid tilting your head when conveying a serious message, but do so when you are listening and want the other person to open up to you. Make the appropriate amount of eye contact; looking down or away when speaking to someone conveys a lack of confidence, and staring at people makes them uncomfortable.

What clothing will be appropriate is going to vary by industry, but a good maxim is to dress for the job you want, not the one you have. Clothing that is ill-fitting, wrinkled, seductive, or dirty will not get you where you want to be. Your work wardrobe is an investment — invest in it. When determining what to buy, look to the women who are in senior positions and base your decisions on what they’re wearing.

How You Respond

How you respond to others is a critical part of your success, and your responses are often formed by experiences that are not relevant today. As an example, many girls are taught to respond to inappropriate behavior with docility or acquiescence. Boys learn to defend themselves while girls must turn the other cheek. You need to unlearn much of this if you are to be empowered in the workplace.

It is easier to trust people who react in a consistent way. Inconsistent behavior often occurs when you hold things in, the way nice girls do, because it leads to explosions. When women finally do express anger, it looks like they’re overreacting, and people wonder how stable they are. Practice saying what is on your mind. Do not let things fester to the point where you are holding a grudge. Prepare in advance for difficult conversations, and assume that people have the best intentions. Resist any urge to air grievances online — using social media to punish someone is likely to backfire, and it could even get you fired. Keep all written communications civil, and avoid the temptation to respond in kind if someone is unprofessional. Avoid crying if something upsets you. It gives the impression that you are weak and out of control. If you do cry, excuse yourself.

When responding to others at work, it is important to know your worth and trust your own judgment. Women often underestimate their own opinion while overvaluing someone else’s. Get out of this habit. Ask probing questions that will help you determine someone’s expertise. If something feels off to you, trust your gut and take time to consider it.

Women are still underprivileged in the business world.

Did you know that, until 1934, an American woman would lose her citizenship if she married a man from another country? Or that, until 1977, a married West-German woman wasn’t allowed to sign her own work contract without her husband’s approval? In many Western countries, men and women weren’t equal before the law until well into the twentieth century. In fact, most American and European women weren’t even allowed to vote before the end of World War I.

Since then, women’s rights movements in many Western countries have successfully established near gender equality before the law – but when it comes to their careers, women are still at a disadvantage.

For example, women earn consistently less than men.

In the United States, Hispanic women make only 59 percent of what Hispanic men earn for the same job. And while Caucasian women fare better, they still earn only 77 percent compared to their male co-workers. Furthermore, in the first year after they finish college, female graduates already earn 8 percent less than their male peers; two decades down the line, the gap increases to 20 percent.

But this gap is not only a problem in the United States: women are less likely to hold well-paid and highly influential positions all over the world.

In fact, a modest 8 percent of all top executives worldwide are women, and there are no more than twenty female heads of state throughout the world.

Women are taught to strive for sympathy rather than respect and influence.

Have you ever felt guilty for hitting a winning streak at Monopoly? You might be surprised to learn that this reaction is as widespread among women as it is rare in men. Is it due to some natural feminine reluctance to compete or something else at work here?

In actuality, girls are raised to strive for sympathy and physical attractiveness – not success or self-assertion.

From early childhood on, girls are taught that they will only fare well if they win the sympathy of the people around them. For example, they will be praised and rewarded for being polite and compliant, and punished for being aggressive, whereas boys’ aggressive behavior tends to be tolerated a lot more.

How childrens’ toys are gendered also reflect these role expectations. Many toys typically given to girls are associated with attractiveness and mothering, like Barbie dolls, whereas typical toys for boys are related to fighting and competition, like wrestling action figures.

But the gendered treatment of girls doesn’t stop there: in adult women, too, assertiveness and competitive behaviors are discouraged.


Because they counter social stereotypes of femininity, like being passive, agreeable and compassionate. This means that a level of competitiveness deemed acceptable in men may raise eyebrows when exhibited by a woman. Just imagine the public’s reaction if a female electoral candidate savored her victory over an opponent by violently punching the air!

These continual behavioral expectations mean that if a woman acts assertively, just like a man would, she may be ridiculed or criticized for being “bossy.”

Imagine a hospital’s new medical director learning that some of the physicians used to drink small amounts of alcohol at work. If she confronts the staff and implements a program of random alcohol testing, chances are that she’ll be called bossy – or even a bitch.

Asking for too much advice and letting others decide for you can seriously hurt your professional image.

Imagine your boyfriend asks you how you’d prefer to spend your joint summer vacation – cycling through Scandinavia or chilling on the beaches of Hawaii. Are you one of the many women who react by asking, “Well, what would you like to do?”

As well intentioned a response that may be, this manner of letting another decide for you is best limited to your private life.


Because if it’s your job to make a decision and you let others decide in your place, you’ll appear reluctant or incapable of doing your job.

Let’s say your boss wants you to decide when to inform your company’s shareholders about a substantial upcoming loss – either right away or after the extent of the loss has been specified.

In this case, she explicitly makes it your job to decide what to do next. Therefore, if you respond by asking your boss which course of action she’d take, what you’re really telling her is that you won’t do what she asked. Plus, she’ll get the impression that you’re incapable of making a risky decision.

Considering others’ opinions too carefully can damage your professional image in other ways. For example, if you can’t take action without polling everyone, you’ll appear unfit to lead.


Because it’s important for a leader to be able to take action quickly and decisively. Imagine your company has the chance to seize a great business opportunity. If you asked your whole team what they thought about it first, it might be so time-consuming that your competitors beat you to it.

Furthermore, sometimes leaders have to be responsible for taking unpopular steps, like reducing bonuses. Asking advice from the affected employees would only slow everything down and make things more painful.

Acting or dressing too femininely can undermine your professional image and distort the message you seek to convey.

When you picture some successful female politicians, like Thatcher, Clinton and Merkel, do any of them strike you as particularly feminine? Is that because too much femininity is detrimental to a woman’s career?

In a word, yup.

For example, it’s very feminine to smile a lot. And although smiling can win you lots of sympathy, it can also distort your message and make you appear less assertive. This is tough for women to control, because they’re raised to smile much more than men, and thus often smile without being conscious of it.

Yet smiling makes you look less authoritative and can distort the message you’re trying to deliver. For example, if you’re trying to deliver a serious message, smiling will clash with what you want to communicate.

Another smiling issue arises when women smile as they criticize another person. This may be out of habit or due to the desire to soften the message, but it can make a woman look insecure or insincere. Moreover, in situations of potential conflict, a smile could be mistaken for a smirk – and escalate the conflict.

Here’s something else women need to be aware of: if you present yourself in an overly feminine way, you’ll distract people from your professional competence and what you want to say.

The feminine features of your presentation make a strong impact on other people – at the expense of other aspects of your professional persona. If you tend to style yourself in a noticeably feminine or playful way, those may well be the features that others will associate with your personality – and not your professionalism. For example, if you wear too many accessories to a conference, people might be too mesmerized by the jewels dangling from your ears to listen to the well-founded thoughts you want to share.

The business world is no place for little girls.

They say that in every woman there still lives the little girl she used to be. This may be true, but it’s crucial to leave your childhood at home when you enter the office.


Because thinking like a little girl will affect your professional judgement.

For example, it make sense that many little girls see fathers as authority figures. But if you’re still viewing men in authoritative positions as father figures, you won’t have the objectivity and independence to deal with them in a professional way.

If you see your boss as a father figure, your reactions to him might be very emotional. For example, you might find yourself tuning in to his moods rather than paying attention to the information he’s communicating.

Furthermore, bending to your boss’s every mood is not part of your job description and might distract you from the tasks that you’re responsible for. And while you might be busy improving your boss’s mood with compliments and home-made cookies, a colleague might earn himself a promotion by solving the problem that fouled your boss’s mood in the first place.

Little-girl thinking has other negative consequences for businesswomen. Little girls are often taught to doubt their own knowledge and intuition and, over the years, this self-doubt becomes so deeply ingrained that even seasoned experts in a field will second-guess their judgements when laypeople doubt their expertise.

This can lead you to make very bad decisions in spite of the fact that you know more. For example, if you believe that someone you’re negotiating with is better informed than you are, you’re likely to be won over prematurely. But if you’re aware of this tendency, you can pay closer attention and make sure you don’t fall into the little-girl trap.

In a competitive business context, you have to act the part.

Imagine you’re a manager interviewing two highly qualified applicants for a top position: Would you go for the candidate who sits upright, speaks with a loud voice and accentuates his remarks with lively gestures – or for the one who seems to shrink before your eyes, speaking so softly you wish you wore a hearing aid?

Sadly, too many women fit the profile of the second candidate without even realizing it. If women want to make it in the business world, they need to make themselves aware of this behavior because taking up too little space makes you look too timid and insecure for a leadership position.

The problem is that women are taught to take up as little space as possible all their lives. They learn to hold their arms close to their bodies, cross their legs at the knees and use few gestures if they give a presentation. And, just as taking up lots of space makes you look confident, taking up too little space conveys another message: that you’re insecure, submissive and unwilling to take risks. Not the ideal self-presentation to win over any manager.

Another bad habit women learn as they grow up is using too many qualifiers and minimizers when they speak.

If you use qualifiers – e.g., “We have to take committed action, but I might be wrong” – you’ll appear unsure about what you’re saying and, in turn, less convincing and competent. If you use minimizers when you talk about your work or achievements – e.g., “Oh, I’m just a teacher” – then you’re saying that what you are isn’t important.

So pay attention to how you talk, try and cut out the minimizers and qualifiers, and you’ll start to appear much more confident.

Working too hard will get you nowhere – regardless of your gender.

Do you agree that employees show their dedication by working hard and skipping breaks? If so, then how could working hard be detrimental your career?

Because if you invest all your time and strength into getting work done, you may miss out on the crucial social aspects of career development.

Although delivering high-quality work is important for getting promoted, networking and good teamwork skills play an equally important role. So if you tend to isolate yourself to get more work done instead of chatting with your colleagues, you’ll soon appear like a mediocre team player.

Furthermore, working too hard diminishes the quality of your work and actually makes you look ineffective.

Productivity experts have found out that a high level of concentration and accuracy – both requisites for high-quality work – can only be maintained when a break is taken every 90 minutes. Furthermore, working without a break can actually give a bad impression: people will think that you’re working so much because you’re inefficient or overwhelmed by your workload.

Finally, no matter how hard you work, if you do the wrong kind of work, you won’t get any closer to a promotion. If you’re always busy with low-profile assignments, you’ll never take the risk necessary to catch your superiors’ eye. So what you’re working on is actually far more important than how much you work.

Imagine a student who wants to get into a doctoral program. In order to make a good impression on her supervisor, she volunteers to do all the grunt work, like writing protocols and copying scripts for her fellow students. Ultimately, however, the person who’ll get accepted won’t be someone like her but a student who distinguished herself by taking a bold move, like applying to a top research group.

If you want to get that corner office, you can’t ignore the strategic value of relationships.

Imagine you’re at a party and you’ve just met a charming man. You’re both chatting away when he tells you he’s an executive of the company you’re planning to apply to. Would you ask your new acquaintance to support your application?

Most women are reluctant to take advantage of this kind of interaction. But if you’re not willing to capitalize on relationships, you’re missing the whole point of networking and the great chances it offers to push your career forward.

Let’s admit it: in the end, whether it’s friendships or workplace connections, the point of every relationship is to trade favors or other things you need. There’s nothing immoral about capitalizing on relationships! Furthermore, relationships are crucial because some immaterial goods, e.g., exclusive positions, are distributed solely via relationships and networks.

One way women don’t capitalize on potential relationships is their reluctance to seek out a sponsor, i.e., a mentor who introduces them to people who can help them get promoted, and who uses his or her influence with senior executives to promote them as leaders.

So if you shy away from asking someone to be your sponsor, you miss out on a great career accelerator. In fact, it’s been shown that women get fewer promotions than men because they’re less likely to have a sponsor. And women without sponsors are less likely to even try to get a top position.

The people you know help pave the path to your own corner office. You might not like it, but working hard while avoiding office politics is not an option – if you’re going for the corner office.


“Enjoy Being a Girl” Only Takes You So Far

Female socialization is one reason that women head fewer than a dozen of the U.S.’s biggest businesses. Society trains girls to fit a mold of traditional femininity that includes doing as you are told, working harder, complaining less and avoiding being a threat to anyone, ever. Following these rules becomes second nature to girls when parents, teachers and peers reward them for it and reject or punish them otherwise.

“Women live according to the rules established by men.”

By the time women enter the business world and want to move up, their feminine tendencies govern them, though they are so ingrained that women may not recognize their presence. These tendencies can lead to 101 (or more) common behaviors and beliefs that keep women from getting promotions, raises and respect.

“When you find others resisting your efforts to be more direct and empowered, consider first that their responses are designed to keep you in a less powerful place.”

Those women who get described as “self-defeating” are not trying to avoid success, but rather are continuing to follow powerful messages they learned early in life. They are conditioned to avoid the pain that came their way when they broke the rules.

Adult women, too, are often demeaned or dismissed at work and at home for failing to be passive and compliant. This creates a dilemma for women who want to be accepted in business, where being a “good girl” means that no one will consider you for supervisory roles. The cure: first, recognize the feminine stereotypes. Consider which ones you fit and who rewarded you for following them. Don’t feel embarrassed or overwhelmed, because almost all women fit a great many. Next, select several such traits as your initial targets for change.

“How You Play the Game”

You may feel that it is unfeminine to recognize that your workplace has unwritten rules that men are likely to understand better than you do. You may even feel it is disingenuous to engage in covert perceptions, but you must if you want to advance.

“Always begin from a place of equality – regardless of the level of person with whom you are dealing.”

In fact, once you know the unwritten rules, you may find that some traditionally feminine skills – being supportive, working well with others and attending to what people say – can be invaluable tools, especially when you determine how to use the coded rules to get where you want to go. So:

  • Choose someone who can help you spot the unacknowledged rules, someone who has learned to use them well. Watch what happens when others break the rules.
  • Learn recreational games that help you practice using strategies.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask your boss to spell out a rule, such as telling you explicitly what goals you are supposed to achieve for a particular project.
  • If your manager criticizes your work, see what you might learn from those comments, but do not become more tentative and submissive.
  • Don’t assume that if you overwork, do work for others, accept low-profile assignments, never give your opinion, take no breaks and put your personal life on the back burner, that you will ever be noticed, appreciated or promoted.

How to Override Your Conditioning

Take concrete steps to overcome those elements of traditional feminine conditioning that are holding you back. To begin, take these measures:

  • Ask questions. If people demean you for doing so, don’t let them convince you that you were silly or wrong.
  • Remember the difference between accepting responsibility for a problem in a mature, dignified way and excessively blaming yourself.
  • Assisting others is fine; being taken advantage of is not. It’s not helpful to lose sight of your own needs so that everyone else comes first. When others make mistakes, be willing to help occasionally, but don’t assume the job of cleaning up after them.
  • If others blame you all the time, calmly point that out and propose that, together, you should discuss how to minimize errors.
  • Don’t reveal information about your personal life, but don’t be so secretive that people feel you are cold and distant.
  • To grapple with important issues, recognize your power, set aside your intense fear of upsetting people and do not assume that you are less informed than anyone else.
  • Don’t ask for others’ opinions unless it is essential to have them.
  • Find ways to confront tricky situations without seeming tough. For example, start a troublesome discussion by acknowledging that what you are about to say is difficult.
  • Don’t flirt too much.
  • Don’t get known as someone who will always bring coffee or run low-level errands.
  • Never let anyone push you around or intimidate you.
  • Endless patience is associated with femininity but not with leadership.
  • If someone tries to overpower you, cut through their bluster by saying you understand they are upset. Suggest working together to look for ways to solve the problem.
  • Learn to handle your finances so you have enough money to quit an intolerable job.
  • If you feel your employer or co-workers mistreat you because you are a woman, check for other possible causes. Why? Because – unfair as it is – filing a sex discrimination or harassment complaint can brand you as a troublemaker. Once you start, the process takes on a life of its own. If you do file, get others to file with you or to support you as you go through the outcome.
  • Remember that women often cry when they are angry, especially when they feel helpless to change upsetting conditions. So when you feel like crying, ask yourself, “What is the real cause of my anger?” Look for chances to change the cause. If you want to cry or you burst into tears when you are with someone, say you would like a little time to consider what they have said, excuse yourself and leave the room fast.

The Assumptions You Make

Some beliefs that worked in entry-level positions may block your advancement. Accordingly:

  • Do not push yourself to do superhuman amounts of work, because people will expect you to meet that standard every time and will judge you harshly for any let-up.
  • Asking for more time, resources or assistance if needed to do your assigned tasks will show that you are a realistic judge of what can be accomplished.
  • Rather than doing what you’re told, think about more efficient, quick or inexpensive ways to achieve the goal. Beware of internalizing the pressure others put on you. There is no need to work as though every task is an emergency.
  • Assume you can do things others think you can’t do. Tell yourself so until you believe it.
  • Do not avoid meetings just because they are dull. That’s where you can make contacts and show you have good ideas.
  • If you believe you have no right to a life outside work, you’ll be taken for granted, and you’ll miss doing things you enjoy that keep you interesting and balanced.
  • When you are offered a new job, ask what goes with it.
  • Ask for space or resources that are offered to men in similar positions.
  • If you ask for more space or resources and don’t get them, remember that men are more likely than women to ask again. Don’t assume a decision is final. Try again.
  • If you’re a perfectionist, allocate fewer hours on certain tasks so your unrealistic expectations don’t eat all your time. Sometimes 80% is fine and 100% is unnecessary.

Create a Distinctive Identity

Figure out what makes you different. Make your unique features and abilities salient every chance you get. For instance:

  • Teach people to associate your distinctiveness with your full name. Give your full name – no nicknames – when you introduce yourself, on your message machine, in your e-mail address and when you leave messages for others. In other words, be Katherine, don’t be Katie.
  • Instead of waiting to be thought of for promotions, tell your boss you would like higher-level assignments. Maybe the boss doesn’t know you want a promotion.
  • Forget modesty. Point out how your skills have been essential to solving specific problems or completing projects. When clients thank you, send copies to your boss.
  • Take risks! Try to change jobs every three to five years unless you get more responsibility in your current organization.
  • Never stop thinking about what job you want next; stay alert for new opportunities.
  • When you make a suggestion, speak up so you can be heard. If someone proposes something you just mentioned, tactfully remind people that it was your concept, perhaps by saying you are glad the person liked your idea. One way to protect your ideas is to put them on paper.

The Way You Speak

Your speaking style and your appearance have a tremendous impact upon onlookers’ perceptions about your believability. To speak in a way that can help you advance:

  • Do not act as though others are better than you. When you have something to say, make a positive statement rather than expressing it as a query or with hesitation.
  • Don’t preface your statements with long explanations, qualifications or justifications.
  • When possible, be brief, but don’t rush your words and don’t feel obliged to say everything you know on the subject.
  • Tell people what you plan to do rather than asking if you may do it.
  • Don’t apologize for small mistakes. When you make a significant error, take charge by asking for specific feedback and showing you plan to make changes accordingly.
  • In meetings, speak up early, even if only to ask a question or firmly endorse another person’s proposal.

Your Appearance

Check your visual message from the perspective of career growth.

  • Avoid constant smiling, tilting your head frequently or scrunching your body into the smallest possible space. These behaviors make you seem insecure and powerless.
  • Choose makeup and a hairstyle that fit in your workplace.
  • Always “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”
  • Don’t even think about putting on makeup or combing your hair in public.
  • Sit, gesture and move in ways that show your involvement in what’s going on.
  • Maintain eye contact.

Where To Go from Here

Work with a self-assessment checklist. Based on your answers, decide what traits to tackle. Flag the changes you want to make first. Choose just a few of the 101 mistakes that hit home for you, and focus on overcoming those.

“Reclaim…your power.”

It is much more important to choose the most crucial adjustments than to try to change a large number of things at once. When you change one thing, others often follow naturally. No one makes steady progress, so don’t let a little backsliding defeat you.

If you decide to hire a coach to guide you, check out your choices before you hire. Ask what relevant training and experiences they have had, how long they’ve coached, what related professional groups they belong to, what they offer for their fees and what their specialty areas are. Make sure they have worked in the business world, because if they haven’t, you may have to spend a lot of time educating them about the way things work in business.


How you act and react in the workplace is the key to career success. Avoid acting like the nice little girl you were socialized to be, and take on the role of the strong woman that you are.

This means avoiding the common mistakes women make by changing how you play the game, how you act, how you brand and market yourself, how you look, how you sound, and how you respond. Adjust your behavior, and watch your career begin to take off.

The key message in this book:

Girls are not traditionally raised to be tough players in the competitive workplace environment. They learn from a very young age to self-sabotage their success by undermining their value in the eyes of others, and by shying away from behaviors traditionally perceived as exclusively male, such as competitiveness. The way to overcome these self-defeating behaviors is to become aware of them and take active steps to correct their negative effects.

Actionable advice:

Answer only to your name.

Whenever someone in business calls you a nickname, they are subtly relegating you to a childlike status. The next time you introduce yourself, make sure to use your full formal name, and only answer when that’s how people address you. Even if people usually call you a nickname, if you establish this new dynamic, people will adjust over time. This simple measure will ensure you’re taken seriously.

About the author

Dr. Lois Frankel is president of the consulting firm Corporate Coaching International. She is the author of Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office, Nice Girls Don’t Get Rich, Nice Girls Just Don’t Get It, and See Jane Lead, all of which are international bestsellers. She also wrote Stop Sabotaging Your Career, which is a must-read for both men and women.


Personal Growth, Women in the Workplace, Business, Job Hunting, Career Guides, Success Self-Help, Feminism, Leadership, Personal Development, Psychology, Motivational, Self-Esteen

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xv
Introduction xvii

Chapter 1 Getting Started 1

Chapter 2 How You Play the Game 18
1 Pretending It Isn’t a Game 20
2 Playing the Game Safely and Within Bounds 23
3 Assuming the Rules, Boundaries, and Strategies Are the Same for Everyone 26
4 Dancing Around Pregnancy 31
5 Sitting Out the Social Network Game 35
6 Overlooking the Importance of Mentors and Sponsors/Advocates 37
7 Working Hard 40
8 Doing the Work of Others 42
9 Working Without a Break 44
10 Being Naive 46
11 Pinching Company Pennies 48
12 waiting to Be Given What You Want 51
13 Avoiding Office Politics 54
14 Being the Conscience 56
15 Protecting Jerks 59
16 Holding Your Tongue 61
17 Unwillingness to Capitalize on Relationships 63
18 Not Understanding the Needs of Your Constituents 65

Chapter 3 How You Act 68
19 Difficulty Transitioning from Nice Girl to Winning Woman 70
20 Failure to Prepare for Social Interactions 73
21 Multitasking 75
22 Ragging on Other Women 77
23 Being Too Thin-Skinned 79
24 Polling Before Making a Decision 81
25 Needing to Be Liked 83
26 Not Needing to Be Liked 86
27 Not Asking Questions for Fear of Sounding Stupid 88
28 Acting Like a Man 90
29 Trying to Be One of the Guys 93
30 Telling the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth (So Help You God) 95
31 TMI (Too Much Information) 98
32 Being Overly Concerned with Offending Others 101
33 Denying the Importance of Money 104
34 Flirting 106
35 Acquiescing to Bullies 108
36 Decorating Your Office Like Your Living Room 110
37 Feeding Others 112
38 Minimizing Your Emotional Intelligence 114
39 Being a Doormat 117
40 Offering a Limp Handshake 119
41 Being Financially Insecure 121
42 Helping 124

Chapter 4 How You Think 126
43 Thinking Like an Employee 127
44 Believing in the Myth of Work-Life Balance 130
45 Making Miracles 133
46 Taking Full Responsibility 135
47 Obediently Following Instructions 137
48 Viewing Men in Authority as Father Figures 139
49 Limiting Your Possibilities 141
50 Ignoring the Quid Pro Quo 144
51 Skipping Meetings 147
52 Putting Work Ahead of Your Personal Life 149
53 Letting People Waste Your Time 151
54 Reluctance to Negotiate 153
55 Prematurely Abandoning Your Career Goals 157
56 Ignoring the Importance of Network Relationships 160
57 Refusing Perks 164
58 Making Up Negative Stories 166
59 Striving for Perfection 168
60 Nixing the Idea of an Entrepreneurial Venture 170

Chapter 5 How You Brand and Market Yourself 173
61 Failing to Define Your Brand 175
62 An Elevator Speech That Doesn’t Go to the Top 177
63 Minimizing Your Work or Position 180
64 Undervaluing Your Consultative Skills 182
65 Using Only Your Nickname or First Name 184
66 Waiting to Be Noticed 186
67 Refusing High-Profile Assignments 188
68 Not Sitting at the Table 190
69 Being Modest 192
70 Inappropriate Use of Social Media 194
71 Ineffective Use of Social Media 197
72 Staying in Your Safety Zone 200
73 Giving Away Your Ideas 202
74 Working in Stereotypical Roles or Departments 204
75 Not Soliciting Enough Feedback (or Ignoring it) 206
76 Being Invisible 208
77 Overlooking Opportunities to Re-Brand Yourself 210
78 Ignoring Your Legacy 213

Chapter 6 How You Sound 216
79 Couching Statements as Questions 218
80 Using Preambles 221
81 Explaining 223
82 Asking Permission 226
83 Apologizing 228
84 Using Minimizing Words 230
85 Using Qualifiers 232
86 Not Answering the Question You’re Asked 234
87 Talking Too Fast 237
88 The Inability to Speak the Language of Your Business 239
89 Using Nonwords 241
90 Using Touchy-Feely Language 243
91 The Sandwich 245
92 Speaking Softly 248
93 Speaking at a Higher-Than-Natural Pitch 250
94 Trailing Voice Mails 252
95 Failing to Pause or Reflect Before Responding 254
96 Overrelying on One Communication Style 255
97 Ambivalence 258
98 Confusing Problem Solving with Complaining 260

Chapter 7 How You Look 262
99 Obvious Body Ink and Piercings 264
100 Smiling Inappropriately 266
101 Taking Up Too Little Space 267
102 Using Gestures Inconsistent with Your Message 269
103 Being Over- or Underanimated 271
104 Tilting Your Head 273
105 Wearing Inappropriate Makeup 275
106 The Wrong Hairstyle 277
107 Inappropriate Attire 279
108 Sitting on Your Foot 283
109 Grooming in Public 284
110 Sitting in Meetings with Your Hands Under the Table 285
111 Wearing Your Reading Glasses Around Your Neck 287
112 Accessorizing Too Much 289
113 Poor Eye Contact 291

Chapter 8 How You Respond 293
114 Airing Your Feelings in Online Public Forums 295
115 Putting a Stamp on with a Steamroller 297
116 Holding a Grudge 299
117 Internalizing Messages 301
118 Believing Others Know More Than You 303
119 Taking Notes, Getting Coffee, and Making Copies 305
120 Tolerating Inappropriate Behavior 307
121 Exhibiting Too Much Patience 310
122 Accepting Dead-End Assignments 312
123 Putting the Needs of Others Before Your Own 314
124 Denying Your Power 316
125 Allowing Yourself to Be the Scapegoat 319
126 Accepting the Fait Accompli 321
127 Permitting Others’ Mistakes to Inconvenience You 323
128 Being the Last to Speak 325
129 Playing the Gender Card 327
130 Tolerating Sexual Harassment 330
131 Engaging in E-Mail Wars 332
132 Going for the Bait 334
133 Crying 336

Appendix: Personal Development Planning and Resources 339
Book Club Guide 353
About the Author 355


Stay tuned for book review…

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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