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How to Deal?

March 1, 2008 4:41 PM

Ahhh! So many maddening ironies, mile-high challenges and double standards in the workplace—it’s unclear whether to chuckle or cry. Among the comments I’ve been confronted with in the last week alone:

•"I’m tired of being told that I need more experience to be seen as a viable candidate. How can I get that experience if nobody is willing to hire me unless I have it?"

•"Debt from a devastating divorce left me with a low credit score. Even though I’m ready, willing and able to work, that low score is being held against me so I’ve been turned down for every potential position. Until I’m generating an income, I can’t pay my bills,
which means this vicious cycle has no end."

•"When a woman dares to shed a tear at work, she’s considered manipulative and tricky. There’s no chance she’s genuine. When a man cries, he’s called compassionate by colleagues. He’s a good guy with a heart."

•"Ambition is a badge of honor for men. If he’s not ambitious, he’s somewhat of a loser. But an ambitious woman is a b-tch. She’s cold and calculated and she’s looking out only for herself. "

None of these frustrations are particularly new, but they all came at me at once. Please post your comments and let us know your take on them. Can you relate to some of the sentiments? What kind of coping mechanisms would you suggest? Share your humor and seriousness from the trenches on overcoming the ironies and obstacles.

Comments (14)

Where do I start...I am 3 1/2 years out of college. I have been with a company for 1yr 9months....and since I started never had clear defined roles/responsibilities because the department was going through a transition. When I came on I reported to a manager and my roles were supportive and I gradually received my own projects...well, within 8 months, my manager quit...so I began to report to a director and manage my current projects as well as my old managers projects....the director transistioned into a new role and I than got a new director. When he came on board, I explained my roles--as I understood them and the many projects I managed. As time passed my counterpart who was on maternity leave returned and we than split the projects---Now, remember I am managing several projects and at one time I managed all projects in my group. No complaints - I loved it - the experience was great but I knew based my research and common knowledge I was underpaid. I went to my new director with a proposal, my accomplishments, my goals...everything - And, requested a salary increase. He first asked, did I know my level within my title (info never given but I never asked either) - I explained to him that I did not know but felt that regardless of where I was currently, what I was doing warranted an increase. He came back and told me my level (level 1) and gave me an increase. I felt that the increase was low for what I had accomplished as well as what role I was doing. He said that it would take more time to move from my current level to level 2 - I took that as a generational gap. With that said, I told him that I thought the increase was extremely low but my concern is that if he was being fair and he thought that the offering was fair, I wouldn't argue - So, I received my increase and retro - Good, right...

Not if, they changed my level to fit my current pay.

Just by coincidence a document came by my desk that showed my level in '06, when I was hired..it was level 2 - I thought the document could have been an error...well, I was going through some old files and saw level 2 by my name again.

So, it appears that although in the system, I was level 2, I was being paid level 1...And, when I requested a salary increase, instead of giving me a salary increase from my "true" level they gave me one from level 1 (this is what my pay was reflecting) and than changed my level from level 2 to 1.

My first mind is to quit and I thought..no, they need to pay me according to what I do and what I have been doing.

Is this discrimination? or Is it another situation where a women is underpaid and I should be happy that I received a salary increase regardless of my level and what it should be?

To Sandy Dumont: You hit the nail on the head when it comes to young people in the workplace. I am fresh from a Ph.D. program into a federal government job and boy, did I need a wardrobe check. After five years of typing my dissertation in my sweats, I looked around and determined that I needed to update my duds -- and quick!

I've found that it is possible to dress age-appropriately but still be put-together and upscale. A friend who is my mother's age at work, named Judy, sets aside clothes for me that no longer fit her daughter (who is also my age)-- the clothes are typically from Banana Republic, Ann Taylor Loft, Gap, Nordstrom, etc. These are stores I had never shopped in before and brands I had never worn (I could not afford them), but now that I have a few pieces that I like/that fit, I've gone back and purchased a few more items from these brands to add to my work clothes. I have found that Judy's kindness has made *all* the difference in getting off to a good start here. I feel comfortable at work, I feel respected here and it's a nice change to try clothes I had not considered before. Rather than "fresh out of school," I feel like a grown-up and I'm certain it shows (and influences my interactions with others at work).

We're already young and female, so we have to induce credibility with conservative, well put together clothes-- especially when we're brand new at a job. We've got to transition away from dressing like we're still in college or we'll always be relegated to "intern" status (or worse). Thanks for the good advice, Ms. Dumont- I agree entirely.

I am reading the comments from women who are stating that having a low credit score is a no-win situation. This is not true, there are things you can do right now to improve your credit score.
I have a "Fix your Credit Kit" on my website just for people who think there is no hope. Let me post here what they can do:
1. Order free copies of your credit reports.
2. Make sure everything is correct and if not, dispute or correct it.
3. Create a budget, and keep track of your daily spending so you can cut back on expenses to increase your income to pay off any debts.

This is really not as overwhelming as it seems. I did this after my divorce and it takes some discipline and can be discouraging but it really works and you will feel so much better one you do this. Not only will you make better credit for yourself you will get rid of a lot of stress that is money related.

I can relate to not having enough experience. I'm a perpetual college student, having only taken a break for one year after my BA and one year after my MS. While I've been going to school, I haven't had much time to take a "real" job, so I've been stuck at jobs that pay a little over minimum wage. I basically get laughed at with my pending PhD and my limited job experience. I am hoping, though, to find some kind of paid internship or post-doc after I graduate. Hopefully, then, I'll look like a promising candidate.

•"I’m tired of being told that I need more experience to be seen as a viable candidate. How can I get that experience if nobody is willing to hire me unless I have it?"

I can really relate to this one. I was laid off last June (not unexpected) after 5 years in non-profit social service, which I kind of fell in to after college. I was very thankful for the opportunity and gladly welcomed the lay-off because I was ready to transition as I call it. But nothing seemed to bite as as a career change opportunity. Everyone told me I did not have enough experience - how was I supposed to gain any? I ran into an old friend from high school and shared my situation with her; she had a few connects that have led me to an internship in my field of interest (Marketing/Communications) - I've been interning since last November; is it too soon to expect more? I'm so ready to receive a pay check for my work (unemployment has run dry).

Any suggestions?

In response to the ambitious woman/bitch dilemma, women are wise to learn that there are simply higher, demanding interpersonal skills expectations of women. If you are an achiever, you can expect some negative banter re: the bitch factor. Ignore it. However, if you continue to hear it, you have an opportunity to adapt your interpersonal skills for YOUR benefit. If you are a tad more aware of and empathetic to others, it will help YOUR career. There are slightly different expectations of women; it's wise to understand that and maximize your effectiveness.

Stay focused and be crystal clear about what you want then employ everything in your arsenal to get it.

I heard on television the other day how one reporter thought there were things Hillary wouldn't do because she would want to be perceived as nice. Then a male reporter said why not do it. The stakes are high, she's got to fight to win even if it does get ugly. To say Hillary is power hungry and Obama is not is foolish. If a man and a woman both are going for the same job, how is it that the woman is power hungry? Recognize some things for what they are, which is just old thinking and shake it off. Hillary inspires me because she has developed rhino skin. In the end whether she wins or not, she's put in one heck of a fight that no one will forget and she's just paved the way for a lot more of us to get closer and closer to where we ultimately would like to be; if not us, then our daughters. In the meantime, enjoy the ride.

As for credit, HR looks for anything to rule a person out, anything. Credit scores are an easy differentiator. I still say focus on going for that job like your life depends on it; touch on the credit score when the opportunity presents itself. Meantime, borrow, find social service agencies to help, call your congresswoman....there has to be a way to make this a non sequitur.

I find some of the comments below defeating i.e. "never cry at work," "never wear orange." While I respect that women want to be taken seriously and professionally, I disagree with these statements. Life is not about rules such as this. It's about knowing who you are, following your heart, having self respect, and above all being truthful in word and deed. If you wake up one morning and feel like wearing orange, you should. If something terrible happens and tears flow out of you uncontrollably at work, then they do. You're human. And if someone else can't appreciate your humanity, that's their problem. At the end of the day, you need to know you have done your best, and been honest with yourself. If you lose out on some type of chance by doing this, that chance wasn't meant for you to begin with. This may seem idealistic, but I know it to be the truth. Ultimately, develop a clear vision of who you are and what you want out of life. Opportunity will then catch up when the timing is right.

Your advice to the woman whose credit score is preventing her from being hired seems uninformed. With the recent changes to the FCRA, many companies now have a non-hire policy against anyone whose credit score is below 600. Telling a potential employer "straight out" about your individual credit score before a background check is conducted does no good. Individuals with low credit scores are rejected outright because it's "company policy."

Who am I? How do I know? I am experiencing the same type of employment discrimination faced by the woman who wrote to you with her problem. It's a no-win situation. You have to improve your credit score before you can be hired. You need income stream in order to improve your credit score. There's no way out. Can you help us address this situation in a way that will lead to positive outcomes for us and other like us?


I spent 20 years in the US Navy in a primarily male field as an Electronic Technician. I believe the Navy made me as tough as nails. When I retired as a Chief Petty Officer I went back to school and earned an Engineering degree in Applied Math with minors in Electrical Engineering and Physics. At my current job I am referred to as Blunt Barbara. I was more or less raised in a male world where you had to say what you mean, talk louder than the “guy” next to you to be heard. Learn not to take things personal (men surely did not). And when things did not go your way you just move on. I also learned one cannot look at life through the rear view mirror. Men usually put it out there without a lot of sugar coating. But women on the other hand they sure hold grudges and most things are taken personal. I find in this world I am in, women generally do not like my bluntness and would prefer you sugar coat everything…I am in an industry that has a lot of older people in it…ex military. There are still a lot of stereotypes to overcome among the men and women. I still believe women have to work twice as hard to be considered half as good as a man.

Over the years I have overcome many adversities at work.

1. A lack of promotion and losing out on positions due to educational level. Many of the positions in my career level require a Master's degree if that is not a requirement I am often competing against many individuals with Master's degrees. This was overcome by achieving a Bachelor's degree late in life and now at the age of 51 I am 3 classes away from my Master's degree.

2. Experience. I have had an evolutionary career which has given me a broad range of experiences but limited time in each of those areas. Even with many years experience you will get questions about focus of your career, keep the answers positive. Unless a person focuses on one career all their life they can not have all of the experience an employer has in their wish list. One way to counter the experience problem is to get certification(s) in your area of expertise. They cost a little but net a lot.

3. Age discrimination was experienced recently when I took a promotion to a new group in which I was the oldest person with the most working experience. After a year of trying to work it out within my team, it went to our corporate compliance department and while they were very helpful, I decided to leave the company. Key to successfully fighting this problem was documentation.

4. The credit question, I agree with Working Girl approach that question head on. Timing of this discussion should be after they offer you the job, unless it is a requirement for the interview process.Ask if a credit report is a requirement of hiring then if one is required, tell them your situation and how it possibly impacted your credit report. This usually works, but as Working Girl said don't get too involved just touch on it ahead of time.

5. Emotions - The working world can be frustrating and I have found that one way of keeping most of the emotions at bay when having discussions with managers is to be prepared and to have talked out those frustrations with a trusted friend or relative prior to discussing them with your management.

I love your take on the situations that women brought to the table. Practical, concise and to the point and in "the solution".
I want to focus on the main topic which is how women feel they are viewed compared to men.
That's the problem!!! Stop wasting your time focusing on something you can do nothing about. There will always be prejudice at play no matter what sex, race, weight, age... I think you get my point. Go in with confidence, a positive attitude, and a willingness to bring your best work to the table and have faith that there is the perfect job out there for you and maybe the nos are just getting you closer to the job you're meant to have. Also I've noticed when I reframe the tape running around in my head, say, I am valued and appreciated rather than discriminated the world around me seems to respond differently. What I focus on gets bigger. Let's show we are powerful!

Here's my observation as a corporate image consultant for 30 years:
1. Image is about the impact you make, and this is done through the knowledgeable use of color and line. Fresh college graduates need to get rid of the "greenhorn" look which indirectly shouts "they'll waste too much of my precious time." Here's how: Get rid of "teenage hair" - it's beautiful but says "collegiate." Stop wearing club attire and the other "uniform": too-tight pants, lingerie-style camisole under a shrunken jacket, giant hoop earrings. All are collegiate.

Here's how to look worldly and experienced, which suggests you're savvy and they'll assume you've worked in daddy's office, etc. Do these things: Wear professional makeup and bolder accessories like CHUNKY hoops; MOST IMPORTANTLY, wear a skirt instead of pants with a jacket (differentiate yourself from co-eds);and choose jackets in distinctive styles (ditch copies of daddy's jacket) and/or colors to make an impact.

I agree with "Working Girl" about credit history and never cry at work. Here's my take on ambition: Never wear orange, it is an aggressive, masculine color and sets you up to be thought of as harsh, sharp-tongued and aggressive (I've done years of studies on color psychology and also taught assertiveness training for women). When you make a pitch, defend yourself, etc., always lower your voice slightly and speak more slowly. When women get excited their voices speed up and get shrill. Lastly, watch out for the tendency to emphasize the last word of a sentence, as it is accusative and puts men on the defensive. Example, "You didn't eat your PEAS," which in office lingo becomes, "You are always arriving LATE."

Here's my very fast take, for what it's worth!

1. Usually when someone says you don't have enough experience, they also have other problems with you but don't want to mention them. Step back and look at the whole picture. If you are presenting a potential employer a fabulous package, and are showing them (specifically--use actual examples) how valuable you would be to them, they aren't going to carp about "experience."

2. If my credit history were hurting my job hunt I would tackle it head on. Tell a potential employer straight out, This is my financial situation (if you say why, do it in one sentence--don't go on and on) and here, specifically, is what I'm doing to repair it. Use charts and graphs. Be all number-y and business-y.

3. Never cry at work.

4. It's not ambition that's bad, it's how you manifest it. It's true, there is a huge double standard. Manifesting your ambition in the way a man would can get people to hate you. So don't play their game. Play your game. Go ahead and be ambitious but do it with spirit and style.

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