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How to Be Your True Self at Work — And Be Valued for It

For far too long, women have been told that being a trusting, kind, empathetic team player at work is a recipe for failure, and that to succeed, we have to be aggressive and cutthroat, because those are the stereotypical traits for “good leaders.” But that’s finally starting to change: a recent study by Google found that their best-performing teams ranked high in skills like empathy and EQ, rather than just hard science knowledge, and are starting to recruit with that in mind. How would we act and feel at work if we no longer had to “act like a man” to get ahead?

“Research shows that the more diverse and inclusive a culture is at work, the better the company tends to perform,” says Teresa Marzolph, founder of Culture Engineered, a Phoenix-based consulting firm that specializes in helping businesses improve their company culture. “The right kind of companies are looking to bring diversity in all aspects of the word.” We asked Marzolph how women can be our best, truest selves at the office — and how to find a company that will value us for it.

Own what makes you an asset.
“One of my first HR jobs was for a chain of diesel mechanics, a predominately male industry,” says Marzolph. “Some things were hard about that environment, but I learned that being a woman actually made some things easier; I was able to fill gaps because of the things that I uniquely brought to the table as a woman. Had I tried to fit into that male stereotype, I would’ve missed those opportunities.” When the company had to do layoffs, it was Marzolph’s job. “I remember being very frustrated by that, because it is not a pleasant conversation, but then I realized that I bring a different level of humility to it. Part of that is me being a woman and part of it is my personality versus my male boss’s personality.”

Remember that your perspective matters.
Especially in a male-centric work environment, your take matters as much as that of a man, or even more so. “I can’t think of very many companies that serve just men as consumers or users of their products,” says Marzolph. “There’s no way that there’s not a need for some type of female perspective.”

Trust your intuition — then back it up.
“In my career, I’ve often known something at a gut level, and the response from my male colleagues has been, ‘What is this — woman’s intuition? You’re just being emotional. You don’t have any foundation for this thought. There’s nothing there to support this,’” recalls Marzolph. “Initially, I would just talk to my feelings or instinct, but quickly realized that wasn’t really helping me out.” What did help: Bringing backup in the form of research and data. But just because your team doesn’t trust your intuition doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Instead, Marzolph suggests researching what’s behind that feeling. Then show up to the meeting with the data to support your hunch.

Ask tough questions.
When you’re applying for a new job, find out if the company has gone through any big changes recently, like a shift in leadership or a PR fiasco. Then, you’ll want to ask current employees how the change or challenge was handled internally, not the PR spin you saw play out in the media. Marzolph suggests asking employees, “When this happened, what was the internal communication like? Learning how a company communicates internally when external things are crippling is going to be really important for the employee experience,” she says. “I’ve never seen any company that’s endured big public change well without great internal communication and strategy.” Make sure you’re joining a team that communicates well, so you can get a sense of whether you’ll be valued during times of unpredictable change.

Pick up clues during the hiring process.
One way to find out if a company values any array of different skills, and not just traditionally male ones, is to watch how they treat you during the hiring process. “So many of us get wrapped up in this idea that you to get hired, but interviewing is like dating. Both sides are coming to the table and deciding whether or not it’s a good fit,” says Marzolph. “So focus on every interaction. Did they take a month to even respond to your resume? Was your interviewer completely checked out? These types of things are reflective of a disengaged company, and I can guarantee you that if they’re doing that on the front end, they will absolutely do that once you’re in the door.” And if things progress to salary negotiations, pay even closer attention to how you’re treated. Are they trying to come in low? Are they highly aggressive? “A woman who negotiates can often be written off as a diva, whereas, a man doesn’t seem to be put in that category,” says Marzolph. “If that happens to you, the company may still be in the early stages of change or not trying to change at all. One word: run.” If an interview feels like a bad date, move on to the next one until you find a place you’re valued for who you truly are.

–Jihan Thompson

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is on a mission to connect and empower communities of women to support each other, rewrite the rules of leadership, & constructively disrupt the world of work.

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