Monday, April 28, 2008

Gender Disparity During Presidential Race, Too?

As the presidential primaries draw to a close, I’ve been struck by how the two Democratic candidates and their debate performances have been reported in the media.

There’s no question that Senator Hillary Clinton’s gender has affected how her message and effectiveness have been perceived by the media and everyday Americans. Some would argue that the same is true of Senator Barack Obama’s ethnicity.

Regardless of who you support to win the Democratic primary, or why you feel either candidate is better than the other, gender has most definitely defined many moments of this election year.

Pollsters last winter had a field day pointing to the fact that Senator Clinton’s tears during a campaign appearance before the New Hampshire primary helped garner further support with women, and, ultimately, the edge over Senator Obama.

Another factor that helped her, these same pundits theorized, was that two of Senator Clinton’s male rivals at the time "ganged up" on her in their debate responses.

As I watched many of the debates, heard the commentary, and read the news stories, I kept thinking how remarkably similar it all sounded to what goes on in the world of business.

It seems that we as women still need to justify our actions, and watch our behaviors much more than our male peers. For every step forward that professional women achieve, and raise to the ranks of CEO, there are still thousands of others still struggling for equality – let alone a seat in the boardroom.

Yes, there are more working women in corporate America than ever before, but are they on equal footing as their male counterparts? We know they still aren’t from a salary perspective – many statistics bear that out. What about from behavioral or attitudinal perspectives?

If a woman cries in the workplace, she can be seen as weak and spineless. If a man gets emotional or actually cries, however, it’s usually perceived as a sign of his strength of character that he can show emotion when warranted.

We as women are constantly aware of the need to strike a delicate balance – excelling at our chosen fields, yet not appearing demanding or bossy with regard to interactions with our male peers.

Professional women still have a hard time speaking up at meetings, taking credit for their achievements, and otherwise using self-marketing strategies.

Until we take ownership for our own success and never let others define our potential, this will continue to be the case.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Power of Positive Self-Talk

Those who know me well have heard me refer to the children’s book The Little Engine That Could. This timeless book teaches children the value of optimism.

I think adults should be required to read this book again and again as they reach every decade of their lives … at each milestone birthday -- 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, and so on.

Why? Because as we go through life’s many ups and downs, the message the little engine shares – “I think I can. I think I can.” -- is priceless.

We can do it, no matter what obstacles we may face. We will make it through, we will survive, we will pick up the pieces, and go on.

Sure, it can be hard to rebound from the pain of a lost loved one, being fired or laid off – but don’t let it drag you down in despair forever.

It’s OK to be sad, to grieve, to allow yourself a moment of frustration or pain. But then, pick yourself up, shake it off, and start planning for the future again.

Then, you, too, can be like the little engine and congratulate yourself by saying, “I thought I could, I thought I could.”

Monday, April 14, 2008

Office Politics 101

Navigating the nuances of any business environment can truly be a nightmare at times. There’s unspoken rules and dynamics that new hires often don’t realize.

Even seasoned veterans, however, can make missteps.

How do you deal with backstabbing coworkers who take credit for your ideas? It’s easy to just throw the towel in and quit. But, you may find yourself in an even worse position at your new job.

I suggest the following basics of workplace survival – three ways to master office politics.

First, identify those in power. Who are the movers and shakers in your organization? Who is respected, admired and even emulated? Knowing all you can about these key players, and building relationships with them, is critical.

Be the go-to gal or guy. When others value your contributions and opinions, you become perceived as an expert. This makes you more indispensable than those who aren’t. So, whatever it takes to get there, become an expert – signing up for training programs, getting coached – do it.

Show appreciation for others, even your enemies. Always seek out opportunities to praise your colleagues and team members. But, remember, sticking close to those who love you is easy. It’s more challenging to work with those who you’ve had issues with, but the potential payoff is great. Others will be impressed, and you may even turn your enemy into an ardent supporter – or realize he or she wasn’t that bad to begin with!

You know the old expression about keeping your enemies close?

I think Abraham Lincoln said it best: “The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.”

Monday, April 7, 2008

Time for E-mail Etiquette Reminders

If the countless messages now in my “in box” are any indication of the larger electronic messaging community, it’s clearly time for a reminder about the basics of electronic communication protocols.

We all know by now not to send messages all in uppercase letters -- cyber “shouting” is never acceptable – but what other e-mail etiquette mistakes are we still making? Here’s my top three.

Monitor the monitor. I’m still getting lengthy e-mail messages that run more than one screen, making me scroll on and on. If you have that much content to share, perhaps consider writing a snail mail letter or fax, or even picking up the phone to call the person. E-mails are meant for fast sharing of information, not sending out mini white papers. If, however, you have an important attachment to send along, it’s OK to do so with a concise message in the body of the e-mail – as long as you know the recipient is expecting the attachment, or doesn’t mind receiving information in this manner.

The subject line is there for a reason. This is the best way to let your recipient know immediately what your message is about, and entice them to read it. So, why waste this critical opportunity by saying something like, “A Message from Jane Doe,” or, worse yet, leaving it blank? Be as specific as possible. “Save Thousands on Training Programs,” “May 1st Project Deadline” or “Critical Sales Meeting Next Tuesday” certainly would grab my attention.

Wireless woes. Now that people are using cell phones, BlackBerrys and other wireless devices with more frequency to send e-mails, it’s important to note how you’re sending a message. People on the receiving end of messages sent from these types of gizmos aren’t going to realize why they received a brief, five word e-mail with abbreviated spellings. So, your message may come across as angry, annoyed, or just plain rude. Tell the recipient right away how you’re sending the e-mail and avoid this misinterpretation of your message.

Remember these etiquette pointers before you click “send,” and you’ll increase your e-mail effectiveness.