Saturday, April 13, 2013

Is the World Your Oyster or Your Turnip?

The Oyster or the Turnip...

Using what they call a locus-of-control scale, psychologists measure whether people believe that the controlling force in their lives is internal (they’re in control) or external (outside forces determine their fate). Men for the most part believe that the locus of control in their lives is internal, that they “make life happen.” Women are far more likely to believe that “life happens to them”—that they don’t have much control.

This is what they call the oyster-versus-turnip view of the world. Men see the world as their oyster (they’re surrounded by opportunities, and they just need to choose which ones they want), while women are more likely to think “you can’t get blood from a turnip” (what they see is what they get and they need to make the best of it).

Although you may know some turnip men and oyster women, the underlying truth of the distinction has been conclusively demonstrated, and not just in the United States but also in countries with cultures as diverse as those in Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, the former U.S.S.R., India, China, Mexico, and Brazil. These studies also showed that even senior female managers, women whose jobs involve high levels of responsibility and authority, still—far more than men in the same jobs—believe that their lives are subject to the control of external forces.
-- Babcock, L and Laschever, S. 

Here I am living in Hawaii. It sounds like a dream -- and on some days, it feels like a dream. Hawaii is by far one of the most beautiful places in the world, and were I older and independently wealthy, I might better enjoy the sugary sandy beach, the sky-high waterfalls, the deeply entrancing sunsets, the tree covered mountains, the lush green foliage, the brightly colored flora, and the hypnotic scent of plumeria.

However, I am 46 and dire need of intellectual stimulation and career pursuits. Without resentment or disdain,  gave up my career choice to move here in support of my husband's military career. It was a bittersweet move and I recall my mixed emotions from the day we discussed the move. This excerpt is  from the email I sent to friends: "James and I will have to move with Mike to Hawaii. It is exciting but we are anxious about leaving our home, our friends, our family, and St. Aloysius." No mention of worry about a job or a career.

I believe at the time, I thought gainful employ would be easy for me in Hawaii. After all, I am assertive, confident, smart, driven, passionate, did I say smart? A real go-getter. Turns out these are the very traits frowned upon, especially if you're a women. Although I have been in graduate school during the three-year hiatus, I am now gearing up for a full-out search for new opportunities for a middle-aged woman -- living in the most remote place on the planet. My prospects look dim. I don't just want a job. I want to spend the 1/3 of my life at work doing that which I enjoy and am expert at doing -- business development/sales and sales training. What makes this even trickier is I want to do it within the technology sector -- not much of that here in Hawaii. I have a strong skill set and a rich and full background of meaningful accomplishments. It looks more and more like I am seeking the holy grail when I search for appropriate positions that allow for my working remotely from Hawaii and traveling to see clients on the mainland -- or even overseas to Australia or Asia. Yes, I am willing to do that! My greatest hope is to work for a large enough company that they might allow me to live in Hawaii and commute to the west coast. I might even consider a move to California and commuting home to Hawaii to see my husband and son on weekends -- if my pay grade would allow. Unbelievable, eh?

Would a man have to weigh these same considerations?  If so, would he struggle with the "ask," as I do? Additionally, there is the age factor. Yes, it is a serious issue and more and more companies at looking at younger and younger candidates to train, mold and shape and create the perfect fit for a post I would already fill to a tee. Why? Money. Why else? Shelf life. I recall being that "young girl" who was smart enough to succeed among the big boys and cute enough to beat out the older women for the job -- all for less money. I did not have the wisdom of age or richness of experience, the moxie or the chutzpah to make the ask. I took what I was given and I was delighted to have been considered.

Nowadays I find myself reading articles written to aid the older generation in finding employ. Humph. Not much great advice out there. Yes, the predictable, lose weight, dye your hair, dress for success, and other such trite advice are commonplace. One article stated that I should mention the marathon I'd been training for! What?! Ridiculous. And lastly, there is the gender factor.

As Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook writes: Professional ambition is expected of men but is optional -- or worse, a negative -- for women. "She is very ambitious" is not a compliment in our culture. Aggressive and hard-charging women violate unwritten rules about acceptable social conduct. Men are continually applauded for being ambitious, powerful, and successful but women who display these same traits pay a hefty social penalty. Look at all the FB friends I lost during the THINK campaign -- sadly, most were women. Many were uncomfortable with my expose of the tougher truths -- it's just not "lady-like." Female accomplishments come at a hefty price. Did you know that for women, taking credit comes at a real social and professional cost? A woman who explains why she is qualified or mentions her successes in a job interview is less likely to get hired than a man who does the same.

Women can negotiate as well or better than men when negotiating on behalf of others because their advocacy does not appear self-serving. However, when a women negotiates on her own behalf, she violates the perceived gender norm. Women more than not, leave too much power in the hands of others. To determine whether you’re leaving too much power in the hands of others, ask yourself the following questions:

• Do you usually wait to see what kind of raise you get or do you try to negotiate in advance for the raise you think you deserve?

• Do you wait to be promoted or to be assigned more responsibilities or do you ask for those things when you think you’re ready?

• Do you think you’re qualified to move up to the next level at work but assume your boss doesn’t agree because he or she hasn’t promoted you yet?

• Have you accepted being given the same sort of work to do over and over again even though you’d like to learn new skills and try different types of assignments?

• Do you think that if you work hard and produce outstanding results your superiors will recognize your contributions and reward you with the salary you deserve?

• Do you typically ask for changes at work that would make your life more convenient or do you tolerate small inconveniences even when you can see a simple fix?

• Have you identified the next step you want to take in your career? Does your supervisor know what you want to do?

• Do most of your colleagues perceive you as someone who’s interested in moving ahead and rising in your organization or are most of your coworkers unaware of your ambitions?

If your answers suggest that you’ve ceded too much control to others, start negotiating to do for the projects you want, don’t wait to see whether they're assigned to you. Tell your boss, “I want to take this training course,” or “I’d like exposure to another side of the business,” or “It's time for me to get some field (or sales, or line) experience.” Don’t expect people to keep you on their radar screens or to let you know whenever a new opportunity arises. Above all, don’t assume that just because your boss likes you he/she’s thinking about your professional development and the next step you need to take. He/she may be simply content you’re doing the job -- period.

As I contemplate my current career dilemma, I can't help but remember the many road blocks that stand between me and the right career fit. Where a man might consider these, he would not be held back by them. I must not let these concerns stand in my way of a fruitful yet focused search. I know what I want. I know what I can do. I know that what I may have never done does not make doing it an impossibility. I may not meet 100% of the job requirements but that does not mean I cannot do the job -- and well. Men will apply for a position if they feel they meet at least 60% of the job requirements. Women, only if they feel they meet 100% of the job requirements.

Personally, I am shifting my thinking from "I may not be able to do that, as I haven't done that before" to "I want to do that, I am smart and capable and can learn to do that -- by doing that"!