Women in the workplace too often face a double bind between being perceived as likable vs being seen as competent. Push too hard for your idea and you may get what you want, but you'll be called a bitch or be labelled "too aggressive." Help out a colleague or keep quiet in the meeting and in your next review you may be given the feedback that you "don't have leadership qualities."
In the tug of war between being aggressive and appeasing, women often find they can't find the right way to advocate for their ideas and their own career trajectories.
That is one of the reasons I loved this scene in Hidden Figures. If you haven't read this book, read it. You will be inspired by the African American female NASA Engineers who were smart bad ass women that did the math behind the scenes who sent men to the moon and dealt with extreme racism and sexism in the streets and in the office. And the movie does an amazing job of bringing these stories to life on the big screen.
Want to watch a black woman navigate an extremely tough negotiation? Check out this clip:
Here is one of the smartest engineers - called a "computer"- initiating a negotiation about "being in the room" where key decisions are made that impact the inputs to her calculations. Here are they key features of this masterful negotiation.
- Find the person who has power - her immediate supervisor is racist and sexist and clearly threatened by her smarts and talents. Don't let a manager like that stand in your way for too long. Find a way to skip level to their manager, where the power/decisions are made.
- Bias may be less overt now, but biased people are not likely to help you out - so don't waste your time with biased people, you are unlikely to change their mind. If you can point out their bias in a non-threatening way, do so, otherwise, find allies who can help you and assume your success may teach them a lesson in the end.
- Make the negotiation about the success of the team, not your success - in order for NASA to send a man to the moon, Katherine needed to be in that room. This wasn't about Katherine getting a raise or about getting recognition or about a corner office. This was about the performance of the team. It is hard for a manager to argue with something they know they need, in this case, quicker results. Connect what is good for you with what is good for the team and your ideas will become more strategic and important to your boss.
- Use what you know about the person you are negotiating with to get them on your side - Katherine knew that her boss was under tremendous pressure to get these numbers, get this right and get a man on the moon. He had no time. She picked this moment well. The hallway, a split second decision, sometimes that is when you get the yes.
Walking the tightrope between being likable and being competent can be exhausting. Don't let it wear you down. Don't let feedback on your style hold you back. Pushy, aggressive, demanding, abrasive - these are all gendered terms that are used to subtly disadvantage women.
If someone says "don't get so upset," when you are getting animated about a topic at work, as Katherine is about being in the briefing room, keep your cool and stay focused on the goal. You can be passionate and pushy and right all at the same time.