Nice girls don't get the corner office

March 31, 2006
Author offers tips on how dental hygienists can obtain more career satisfaction by shedding a few behavioral tendencies attributed to women.

Nice GIRLS Don't Get the Corner Office

By Lois P. Frankel, PhD

As a dental hygienist, you may not literally aspire to a "corner office," but the term is really a metaphor for achieving your career goals and satisfaction. Much like your colleagues in the corporate or nonprofit arenas, no doubt there are certain things you do that keep you from getting what you want or deserve at work and in life. Having been to the dentist more than a few times in my life, I've had the opportunity to watch dental hygienists interact with their bosses, peers, and patients. Based on these observations, let me share a few ways in which you may be holding yourself back, and offer ideas about what you can do differently.

1.) Make miracles — Most young girls are taught to be helpers, nurturers, and accommodators. Why do you think you landed in the field of dental hygiene? Combine this with the fact that you're in a field dominated by men at the top and women at the rung below, and you have a scenario that may cause you to feel as if you have to "make miracles" to be considered good at what you do. When asked to perform a task with less money, time, or resources than the job requires, are you someone who gets it done without comment or complaint? If so, you're too much of a nice girl. Ask a man to do the same thing and he'll laugh or negotiate. When you make a miracle, you raise the bar for yourself. Miracle workers may be canonized, but they don't get recognized.

Coaching tip: Learn to recognize and manage expectations related to unreasonable requests. Meet every request with an affirmative response, but this doesn't mean you can't negotiate or point out the costs involved in meeting the request. The next time someone asks you to make a miracle, try saying, "I would be happy to do that. Let me tell you realistically what it will take to accomplish it."

2.) Ask permission — Women who provide support to doctors can sabotage themselves by being overly compliant or submissive. In fact, many times this is exactly what the doctor looks for when hiring. One way in which we display this is by asking permission. In our society, we require children, not adults, to ask permission. Each time you ask permission to do something, you relegate yourself to the level of a child. You'll notice that men rarely ask permission; they ask forgiveness.

Coaching tip: Inform others of your intentions. Turn "Would it be all right if I took next Thursday off?" into "Just wanted to let you know I'll be out next Thursday, and I've arranged my schedule to accommodate it." Assume that if anyone has a problem with it, he or she will let you know.

3.) Feed others — Have you ever noticed how many women bring candy, cookies, or other goodies to work? Have you ever noticed how many men don't? Feeding others is a peculiarity of women. We're brought up to believe that's one of our many nurturing roles in the world. The only problem is, it unnecessarily calls attention to the fact that we are women.

Coaching tip: Unless your name is Betty Crocker, keep food off your desk.

4.) Explain ad nauseum — When asked a question, many women believe they have to answer with each and every piece of information they have in their heads related to the query. Sometimes they do it out of insecurity. Other times it's because they're trying to soften the message. Sometimes it's because men frequently fail to give nonverbal acknowledgement of what's being said, so women keep talking until they're given a sign that they've been understood.

Coaching tip: Remember, short sounds confident. Mentally plan your communications in advance. Keep your explanation crisp and to the point. If you're not sure you've been understood, say, "Have I answered your question?"

5.) Wait to be given what you want or deserve — Women in the helping fields often believe doing good and doing well are mutually exclusive. They don't like to ask for raises, recognition, or other benefits because it might somehow minimize the fact that they truly care about people and want to provide excellent service. Similarly, they may mistakenly believe that good work will eventually be noticed and rewarded.

Coaching tip: Take just as good care of yourself as you do of others. Waiting for others to notice and acknowledge your needs gives them the control you should be wielding yourself. If you haven't been given a raise you were promised, ask for it. If you need a more realistic schedule to effectively serve patients, propose it. As an adult woman, you are entitled to what you have earned.

Lois P. Frankel, PhD, is a sought-after keynote speaker and author of the international bestsellers "Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers" and "Nice Girls Don't Get Rich: 75 Avoidable Mistakes Women Make With Money" (Warner Books). To learn more about Dr. Frankel or arrange to have her speak at one of your events, visit her Web site at