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The New Girl's Guide to Workplace Success? Or Not Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit

A few preliminary demographics: I'm a 47-year-old guy who has lived and worked mostly in Toronto. I share these unvarnished stats so that you have a modicum of context. You see, I recently stumbled on some advice from career advisor Penelope Trunk, the 41-year-old author of Brazen Careerist (Business Plus, 2007). It was in a piece she'd written for the normally sedate Yahoo!Finance site, titled ''The New Girls' Guide to Workplace Success.''

As it happens, I find objectionable almost everything her article advocates--but maybe I'm just too male and too ancient to get it.

Here, I've quoted four of her five suggestions about how young women might succeed at work:
  • Date co-workers.
  • Show some flesh--but just enough.
  • Expect harassment, and stay cool.
  • Tone down your work ethic.
Now, it could be that my being a middle-aged (gak--I hate that term), conventional-ish man with an undeniable middle-class skew to my thinking has put me out of touch with the Gen Y ethos. But...come on, are these not some of the strangest career hints you've seen in some time? If I were, say, a 29-year-old woman, I'd likely be writing Ms. Trunk a series of poison pen e-mails, deriding her for setting back the women's movement a century or two. (I'd also be on having the time of my life, but enough of my self-indulgent fantasies.)

To be fair, I should elaborate a bit on each of the writer's arguments. This way, you can decide for yourself if her counsel resonates with you, or raises you hackles like fingernails screeching down a chalkboard. So here we go.

Date Within or Perish According to Trunk, ''...the adage to not date men you work with is totally antiquated. It assumes that women aren't equal to men, can push back childbearing indefinitely, and should put their career ahead of getting married.''

To her credit, she makes a good point here about equality. In the last few years women have made solid advances in so many realms, thanks in part to pioneering activists like Judy Rebick, Gloria Steinem, Susan Sontag, Naomi Wolfe, et al. But dating at work is fraught with pitfalls, like what do you do in case of an ugly breakup, and who gets to stay or go if you've been dating someone at a more senior or junior level to you? Not to mention that fact that your reputation's at stake if you go out with too many co-workers.

Flash for the Cash ''There's a wide body of research that shows that women are received better when they hit that magic point between dressing like a guy and dressing like a harlot,'' says the Brazen Careerist. True enough. Just as men are ''better received'' when they sport well-tailored apparel instead of tank tops and jock straps to the office. What's her point here, that cleavage outweighs brains? In terms of sheer tonnage this may be accurate (I've never bothered to weigh either, mind you). But I thought confident women wanted to be respected for their abilities, not just looks.

You can see a pic of Trunk on her Yahoo!Business Experts page. Kind of cute, right? For someone like her, flashing a morsel of flesh might do the trick. My guy colleagues and I admit straight out we love to gawk at workplace hotties. However, if there's even a hint that they're using their appearance to get ahead, then being pretty and dressing sexy can easily create undesired resentments. Not that we shouldn't strut our stuff. Just not to the point where it occludes our loftier qualities...

Expect Harassment Really? I mean, there are many things one can expect once you've been in the workforce long enough: the occasional idiot boss, infuriating favouritism, business decisions that seem to have been formulated on Neptune, clients from the bowels of Hades...the list goes on. But sexual harassment as a given? Penelope quotes a study that says up to 80% of women will experience it at work. She then states that ''it's clear, then, that most women don't report harassment. But it isn't because they're scared--it's because they're smart.'' She adds that ''the law is too far behind the times, so don't report harassment.''(The italics are mine).

Ouchies. First she advises to ''show some flesh.'' Now she says that when the inevitable, unwanted come-ons appear, to fend them off but keep it hush-hush. Ladies in particular, I would dearly like to hear your thoughts on this one!

Slack off Lest You Show up the Boys ''...Stop being the overachiever who does each assignment perfectly. Instead, start focusing on the stuff that really matters at work, like productivity skills and getting along with people,'' is what Trunk suggests.

There is merit to at least part of this statement. Early in my career I started a new job as an account exec at one of the bigger ad agencies. For the first couple of weeks I buried myself in my office poring over reports, creating brilliant analyses and doing the kind of business stuff they taught me to do so well in my precious MBA courses. Too bad for me. What I ought to have been doing is all of the above, while simultaneously schmoozing with as many new colleagues as possible. Or so my boss chided me a few months later as he graciously helped pack my belongings on the way to showing me the exit.

Note that my boss emphasized I should have been doing both; the analysis plus the meet 'n' greet thing. Yet it seems to me that Trunk advocates less of the former and more of the latter, particularly if you have breasts but are missing that oh-so-crucial Y chromosome. Maybe what she's implying is that flirting shamelessly, not reporting harassment, dumbing yourself down and partying like Lindsay Lohan are the means to a corner office. I dunno, it's never worked for me.

So Whaddya Think? I've pretty well put my two cents worth in on this matter. I was brought up to believe that women are equal (though different in some delightful, biologically intrinsic ways). It shocks me to read career advice that advocates feminine wiles ahead of hard work, smarts and contending with the normal humiliations we all have to put up with as we try to climb the workplace ladder. Especially when this counsel comes from a woman. This is your chance to reply and make your views known. I look forward to your opinions. Just one request--would you mind undoing that top button? Yeah...that's it.

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