Drowning in Unsolicited Advice? Victoria Pynchon Tells How to “Take the Lead” to Shuck It

Join Victoria Pynchon and and other negotiation experts Lisa Gates and Katie Donovan, along with co-host Jana Hlistova and me for our monthly Smart Women Take The Lead webcast. Register here now. The live webcast will be Tuesday May 14th at 7pm BST, 2pm EDT. You can send questions via twitter using the hashtag #swttl – we’d love to hear from you! And if you miss the live program, you can always click the same link and see it on YouTube. In this impassioned essay, Victoria turns power on its head and issues a stirring call to action. Let us know whether you agree and why.

Women in the age of AnneMarieSlaughterSherylSandbergMarissaMayer are drowning in a sea of unsolicited advice.



In recent days, it’s been suggested to me (the generic woman) that I find a way to strengthen my voice(Executive Presence); jettison my womanly emotions in the workplace (don’t cry!); eliminate question marks and exclamation points from my email communications (??!!???); act more like a guy; act less like a guy (in the same article); get the best seat at the conference tableimprove my handshake; ask for more money but to do so with a smile on my face and the pretense that it’s for someone other than myself;  pay more attention to my family than to social networking; devote more time to online social networking;  learn to golfseek sponsorsseek mentorsbrag about my accomplishments, but modestlyconform my behavior to feminine stereotypes while covertly using man-rules to play the competitive capitalist game; and, for heaven’s sake never, ever to curse in public.

Over at Princeton, it’s even been suggested that young women do what their grandmothers did – find a man who is likely to be a “good provider” while the getting is good (before graduation).

My generic woman’s head is about to explode.

This over-abundance of (often good) advice sometimes makes me want to pull the covers up over my head and wake up tomorrow with a game plan that feels right for me rather than for the stereotypic woman who is too fat or too thin, too pushy or too modest, too girly or too manly, too smart or too dumb, too bold or too timid, too focused on family or too concerned with success.

Let me make a radical suggestion. We don’t need to change our behavior. Research has shown that we work 22% longer and 10% faster than the guys before we feel entitled to the same reward. The social scientists have also found that our concerns about pay and promotion are more easily mollified than the men’s are by explanations for overwork, underpay and lack of promotion. Though we’re indisputably being paid somewhere between 15 and 30% less than our male counterparts, we test “happy” and “grateful” on pay because we compare our income to our women friends rather than to our colleagues. And we’re all circling the drain of the wage gap.

That’s just our internal state. How about the workplace? Would business be better if we acted more like men than women?

Not at all.

The “business case for women” has been made so well and so often it’s become a truism that women in top management improve bottom-line performance. Whether the “woman effect” arises from our unique natural talents (holistic thinking,  organizational and mutli-tasking skills, collaborative action, and an orientation to the future) or simply the destruction of group think, it’s indisputably better to bring as much of yourself as a womanto the Board room as possible.

If we don’t need to change our behavior, why do we need Take the Lead (or the women’s negotiation consulting and training firm She Negotiates)?

We need Take the Lead (and She Negotiates) not to change the way we work but to change the way work works us. 

Simply by bringing our own natural talents, together with our education, skills and experience, we are adding at least as much and quite possible more value to our enterprises than are our male counterparts. That’s why Take the Lead asks women simply to step through the door of opportunity that is being held open for them right now.

It’s why Sheryl Sandberg is asking women to “lean in.” She’s not saying “be someone else.” She’s saying, don’t leave the workplace and don’t allow the workplace to diminish your accomplishment.  It’s why She Negotiates is saying you can close your wage and leadership gap right now. All you have to do is ask (and learn how to ask in a way that does not trigger “gender blow-back” – the social sanction imposed for stepping outside your gender role).

And it’s why Gloria Feldt and I are often heard to say that we women need a movement. We need a movement to support one another. We need a movement to mentor and sponsor one another. We need a movement to spread the word that diverse and inclusive leadership is better for business and better for the welfare of the country than homogeneity at the top of every institutional ladder.

To accomplish the goal of gender wage and leadership parity by 2025 – Take the Lead’s goal –  we must work together, sponsoring and mentoring one another, promoting one another, referring business to one another, lending a hand to the overworked senior executive who otherwise may not have time to mentor and sponsor another woman to move across the threshold of leadership.

If we fail to do these things for one another, the workplace, and the economic status of women will not change in our lifetimes. Over at The Daily Beast, we’re told that only one in five working women have been mentored at work. As Paul Simon sang back when your newspapers cost just ten cents – “the paper is just out to capture our dime.” And conflict sells papers – or generates “hits.” Wars among women – “cat fights” and enterprises dominated by cartoon-character “Queen Bees” generate readership. But we’re here to change all that.

As The Daily Beast writes, “The comparatively low numbers of female managers to females in entry levels offers one explanation. Another: those women who remain in the workforce often feel too strapped for time.”

There is work to do but it doesn’t involve deepening our voices to demonstrate to the intractably white male power structure that we too have “executive presence.” It doesn’t require us to “choose” between having a family and having a career. It doesn’t demand that we be more self-serving and short-sighted, or less collaborative and more dictatorial.

It only requires us to demand to be paid our value and to step in the direction of power and leadership. And once we’ve crossed that threshold, we’re obliged to take the hand of one other woman who deserves to occupy the C-suite, the GC’s office, the state or federal legislature, or into the head coach’s locker room.

No one gives away money and power without a fight or a good deal of whining. Power can, however, be taken. It is our moment. It is our obligation to take the lead.

About the Author

Victoria Pynchon is an author, attorney, consultant keynote speaker, and co-founder of She Negotiates Consulting and Training. The mission of She Negotiates is to close the wage and leadership gap one woman at a time.