How Being Direct Helps Women In Business

While I realize it might be interpreted as “tacky” to write about something other than Hurricane Sandy, the notion of “nice” has been top of mind for me lately. I think this is really important to address because I see the way this urge to be liked hurts women in their careers–and it’s an emergency situation.

I see women put others ahead of them. I see women who are happy to let other people waste their their time. They undercharge. They let guys (they don’t even like) take advantage of them. They do things for free. And throughout all of this they want to look pretty (to improve their likeability).

I want to help women move forward in their lives. To move forward you have to get clear on your path. You have to decide to put your own needs at the forefront of your life.

Long after I left California I learned I didn’t have to be overly nice to people. You couldn’t blame me for being overly nice. I was born in California where sunshine is a key aspect to an attractive female personality. The point I changed was the moment I started to really believe in myself.

I learned to be direct with people. I learned that being direct and clear is favorable to being vague and wordy. It’s better for everyone.

Life’s toughness also toughened me up. As an adult I had more to worry about than if people liked me or not. I worried about paying my rent and moving up in my career. With more responsibility at work I didn’t have the time to spend framing conversations (saying please, sorry, um, like and I’m SO sorry). I realized being fake nice to people I didn’t want to talk to was not equivalent of being a good person. 

So how is a woman to act? How can she be polite but not so overly polite as to attract the wrong attention? When being liked is so important in the corporate world, how can she maintain her self respect while being chosen for key opportunities?

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Once I worked for a French entrepreneur. He told me women in America smile all the time. He told me in Paris if a girl smiles at you that means she wants to sleep with you. In America if you are a woman you have been told multiple times in your life to smile.

Have you had an experience where being overly nice got you into trouble?

You don’t need to be a character from the Devil Wears Prada to succeed in business and in life. All I’m asking is that as a society let’s decide to cut the nonsense. Let’s use our common sense when we interact with people. Let’s stop being fake.

I wonder why don’t men go to the extent to please as women do. What do you think?



  1. I’m straight forward and take no crap from my predominantly male industry (auto dealers). When I speak to my sales team I’m direct and show no emotion. Then they call me a bitch. If I’m nice in anyway, someone gets the wrong idea and thinks I’m interested. I’m never interested.

    You’re speaking directly to me, because I was just told I’m a bitch and mean. So what? I get the job done and whether or not the guys like it, I keep everyone on track.

  2. Elaine, your comment made me smile. I think we can all relate. It’s difficult to find that balance. I can imagine working in the auto industry can have its challenges. It sounds like you get respect from your peers from being direct with them. Good for you for focusing on being a professional and getting the work done.

  3. Hi Carole

    I totally agree about your comment regarding being perceived as “assertive” versus “aggressive.” I liked Wendy’s comment about being true to herself. I believe you need to be honest with yourself. When you come from a place of gentle strength other people around you will get it. I think if you know you’re right in your heart of hearts it’s important to stand up for what you believe in. We also need to know when the environment is just wrong and it’s time to leave.

  4. As a woman in another “male-dominated” industry (information technology), I’ve had to deal with the corporate double standard my entire career. It’s a little less so now, but not as much as I’d like to see.

    There are times it’s like having MPD; there’s the way you learn to speak to your IT peers, vs. the way you’re expected to present yourself in a C-level environment.  What’s perceived as “assertive” in a male, is perceived as “aggressive” or “bitchy” in a woman – sometimes even when using the exact same words and tone.

    I am a very direct individual, and have many times had to deal with the culture shock (theirs more than mine) of being a woman with a brain, a mouth and a disinclination to suffer through other people’s politically-misguided business decisions. Simple ignorance can always be remedied through education and mentoring; determined unenlightenment…not so much, and I have little patience for the latter.

    I do work at finding the one thing in any person I can respect or relate to, in order to build a bridge to better communication. Usually, that will let me transcend the gender bias, and get on to the business at hand. 

  5. What’s funny is after reading your article and having just been told by the CEO of my company that the sales guys think I’m mean and bitchy I felt confident to let him know that how I am perceived by my sales staff (all guys) wouldn’t be a problem if I were a man.  He apologized and said, he hadn’t considered that.  Thank you!!!!

  6. I hope you are right, but my experience is that as a leader, when I speak my truth without a smile and sugar coating it’s not taken well.  Men get away with much more directness and passion.

    However, and it’s a big however, the truth of my experience has led me into the most wonderful situations as I searched for the right path for myself, one that will allow me to be me.  As I became more of myself, I realized that depending on my priorities, I chose differently and with good reason.  Kids, for example, shift one’s priorities and a mom is happy to put her own priorities aside while supporting the growth of young ones.  Those are my thoughts!

  7. I recently read somewhere that leadership necessitates that some will like what you have to say and some will not.  I have always had supporters, commonly the parents of children I have helped, even when higher ups have not enjoyed my stands.  The book I read, I think was called The Purple Cow, and warned that as you rise and become more visible, you will attract detractors.

  8. Elaine, that’s awesome. Being honest is always a good thing. People value that. Good for you girlfriend!!

  9. Carole, I did the same thing so I think we have had similar experiences. I will never work for anyone else ever again. I’m too happy!

  10. Hi Wendy, I think it’s great you do what works for you. It’s important to not adopt someone else’s style. I believe you will have success by being honest and being true to yourself. I always say internal empowerment leads to external empowerment.

  11. Blake – I absolutely agree, and that’s why I now run my own business, IndigoTea SBS. I’m able to provide the services I feel ethically pleased with, and help my clients make decisions that are good for their businesses, without having to worry about age/gender/ethnic biases.

    It wasn’t exactly a planned decision at first, but it’s been the best one I could possibly make to avoid any more toxic environments. The ability to “fire” a bad client is beyond priceless, as is the ability to choose solutions based on my knowledge and experience, instead of someone else’s relationships. 

  12. I also am a female in a male dominated industry (sports industry, agency, coaching, training ). I am the first female to coach boys basketball in a Texas High school and it was tough for me because I was young and wanted to make a good impression and make my mark. The first two years I compromised because I was inexperienced and motivated. My last year I realized my values and morals were more important so I began to stand for what was right and became a threat to the men coaches. I resigned that year and started my own businesses.

    You have to believe in yourself. Know your identity. And what you stand for. You have to be fearless and confident. I still have to compete with men in my industry but I know what my goals are and I like who I have become, I’m not naive and I learned how to play the game. So yea it’s tough but I learned how to be firm and confident without being overly aggrogant or passive aggressive. I learned how to think like a man but still be 100% female.

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