While this may be true, the term "bitch" is loaded. Vice has a nice rundown of the history of the word. The connotations are overwhelmingly negative. But do we have to be bitches to get stuff done?
Women tend to need to be liked. As the article quotes our Lean In feminist Sheryl Sandberg, "success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women."
For me, the need to be liked manifests itself in not saying "no" when I should. If I don't take on this task, will this person like me less? Despite the fact that I don't have time or it's not something I'm comfortable with, I usually say "yes," just to appease the other person. Also, I tend to give in too easily. I just want everyone to get along and give everyone what they want, so I'm too quick to back up a position to align with others. And while this might make me more likable (and even that's debatable), it doesn't make me more respected in the office among my peers. I'm the one who takes on whatever task, no matter how menial (does she not have real work to do?) and is quick to agree with colleagues (does she not have opinions of her own?).
So how do we balance respectability with likability? For the past couple of weeks, my mentor and I have been discussing this topic. It's one that she herself struggles with. She's personable and popular but also well-respected. It's one of the big reasons why I chose her. However, aside from a few LinkedIn articles, she couldn't give me real concrete suggestions. In the end, she directed me to another colleague, a lot more senior and a little older. I spoke with her, let's call her Senior Lady, yesterday.
Her first suggestions was for me to think about who I respected in my department. Why did I respect them? I thought about some of my colleagues. Earlier I wrote about Negative Nancies in the office. While I respect their technical ability, I don't respect them as an overall colleague or contributor to the work we do. Because they find a way to complain about anything, to the point where they actually detract from the overall work and the work from others in their area. Then there's this other guy in my area who is crazy smart and has been with the company for decades. He gets called in to meetings for his tribal knowledge and years of experience. Yet every time I walk by his cube, he's watching Netflix or Hulu. Sure, I respect his experience and intelligence, but I don't want to work with him because he doesn't care about the work; he's just here to kill time until he can go home.
But the people I do respect: They're dependable. They're competent. They're also respectful of others and work well with colleagues.
The Senior Lady's example of someone she respected was another woman who is even more senior and is basically famous on campus. Why does she respect her? Because she doesn't try to be a man and knows when to put her foot down and get shit done. This concept of not trying to be a man was interesting to me. But I also knew exactly what she was talking about as soon as she said it. There are some women I work with who try to damp down their feminine qualities - they dress manly, aren't particularly nice or friendly. And I don't like working with them and they tend to have a 'not great' reputation. There's something stiff and forced about their demeanor. I look at the more successful women around me, the ones I respect and enjoy working with. They're friendlier and empathetic and always the ones organizing something nice for other colleagues. They take the time to check in with others and volunteer for other things.
They are also more emotional. Which immediately sounds like a bad thing. But why? At least in my workplace, it usually means my female colleagues are more passionate about projects, especially those that don't necessarily have a line item but need to be done to improve a process or workflow. In my office, women are also more likely to be the forces of positivity. It seems like a simple thing - keeping the mood up in a meeting or breaking tension with a single comment. But it has a huge impact. I have an email folder for when I'm in a bad mood that is filled with emails from colleagues commenting on how I improved a meeting or a team, just with my attitude and facilitation skills. I've literally gotten awards at my work for my positivity. What's wrong with that?
So that's one thing we ladies can do - be ladies in a man's world instead of trying to be something we're not and missing out on all these inherent gains. The other big piece of advice Senior Lady had for me was to think about it not like respectability versus likability but a balance between people and work. Be empathetic with your teammates and understand their point of view. Make it an enjoyable, productive, and learning experience for them. Make sure you understand their values and that they are met when possible. But also know when to put on pressure to accomplish tasks or to sacrifice some of the person-ability for productivity. Respectability versus likability is a combination of fuzzy, mean-nothing words. But balancing the people and the work? That makes sense. That is something I can actually think about and work on each day.
And be a lady while doing it.