Self-Help Material For Women In Business: Perpetuating An Angry Myth

I was reading a book over someone’s shoulder on the Tube this morning and caught a paragraph which incensed me. It concerned women in middle and senior management, talking about how “most” women at this level were operating from a position of low self-esteem; that they felt less valuable, less impactful and less capable than men and so in their own minds had to fight for their positions. The book went on to talk about assertiveness in an almost bullying way; that women had to stand up for their rights. I had images of a trembling-lipped junior editor squeaking mouse-like to her male boss: “I’m here too, you know! Listen to me! I’m important!” while he talked over her to her male colleagues.  

What nonsense. The core message being propagated from the extract I read was just wrong. This sort of sentiment is, to me, a throw-back to a bygone era, with men ruling the business world and women struggling to climb the greasy pole. My experience is that senior women are certainly not struggling with low self-esteem. We are surrounded by colleagues who are more supportive and collegiate than at any point in our working history, while examples from our European sisters abound of flexible, family-friendly working cultures that celebrate our lives outside of business. We have technology to support us, helping us to fit our working and home lives together more effectively than ever before.

By drawing attention to a supposed need for female empowerment within the business landscape through the likes of self-help books and other such literature, authors are actually embellishing on an issue that isn’t relevant in the contemporary workplace. The self-help market is littered with very subjective practices, where sales are the only valued indicator of supposed authority and guru-like status. Authors like the one whose book I caught sight of this morning are inadvertently reaffirming the very outdated stereotypes we are trying to dismiss. Women are not fighting for their voices to be heard; more that their role in the family unit restricts their physical presence in the office or working environment much more than their partners. This is an almost impossible circle to square. Self-help material such as this only serves to perpetuate the myth that we are a down-trodden sex. This kind of thinking creates a snippy, chip-on-the-shoulder employee, brimming with a sense of self-righteousness and entitlement; one that is irritating to work with and impossible to promote in anything other the most PC of environments.

Let’s not forget that having something to prove in a career is not the reserve of women alone either. Men also feel the same drive. The reasons behind such drive are many and varied; something for another blog. To operate in a truly equal capacity, we have to eradicate this sense of feeling where alleged female vulnerabilities are being addressed and women are being purposefully elevated to the same figurative level as men. For a book to be written expressly for women is both outdated and patronising; there will always be people who feel hard done-by, but by and large our working culture is evolving for the better.

As I remarked to the girl reading the book this morning - it is a meritocracy out there. There is no political game. In my experience, most women at C-level feel anything but victimised about their position within the workplace. Work hard, be good at your job and grasp every opportunity you can- which includes networking in a smart way. The rest will work itself out. 

Lucy James


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