Business Women: Two Paths to Success

Discussion
Feb 22, 2008

By Tom Ryan

Two books have come out with distinct viewpoints on how women should aim to succeed in business. One urges women to make up their own rules and use tactics like flirting to their advantage. The other tells women to imitate ruthless alpha males.

Seducing the Boys Club: Uncensored Tactics From a Woman advocates seduction and manipulation as two principal business tactics for women to succeed in business.

“All the men in our lives – the ones we work with or live with, admire or desire, and love or hate – are easier to control if we master the Art of S&M,” writes a former advertising bigwig, Nina DiSesa. She said men fall for such tactics because, “First of all, they love seduction. And second, they are oblivious to manipulation.”

According to a New York Times book review, seduction isn’t about sleeping your way to the top, but “using sophisticated charm and sugar-coated words” to win the favor of male business associates.

“One of the greatest tools, or weapons, we have as women is flirting,” she said, adding, “Men like women who like them.”

In What Men Don’t Tell Women About Business, Christopher Flett – a Canadian-born entrepreneur and self-described “reformed alpha male” – said many business women hide behind personality masks to play roles like Mother and Geisha or try to pass themselves off as “one of the boys” by feigning interest in sports. Viewing “authenticity” as the foundation of the 21st-century business model, Mr. Flett advises women to act more ruthlessly and follow alpha male dictums such as: “Success is yours for the taking,” “Leadership is given to those who take complete responsibility” and “The world drives over weakness.”

The book reviewer, Harry Hurt III, found the persistent stereotypes in both books “rather depressing,” and felt the most illuminating thoughts came from James Patterson, a former advertising exec and now best-selling mystery writer. He urged Ms. DiSesa’s to think of life as a game in which we juggle five balls labeled: Work, Family, Health, Friends and Integrity.

“One day you understand work is a rubber ball. You drop it and it bounces back,” Mr. Patterson said. “The other four balls are made of glass. Drop one of those, and it will be irrevocably marked, scuffed, nicked and maybe even shattered.”

Writes Mr. Hurt, “Both men and women might do well to remember those universal challenges, whether they are trying to seduce their way into so-called boys clubs or use tactics borrowed from the alpha-male playbook to gain advantage in the workplace.”

Discussion Questions: What do you think is the smart way for women to rise in today’s corporate workplace? Is it acceptable for women to use flirting to their advantage? Should they act tough?

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16 Comments on "Business Women: Two Paths to Success"


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Andrea Learned
Guest
Andrea Learned
14 years 2 months ago

We all were raised in a very patriarchal culture, so even as very hip, educated and wise men and women in business, the gender stereotypes remain to some degree. I pick that middle ground between the two book approaches: Women can learn from the best of how men operate in the work world and men can learn from the best of how women operate.

Especially as the generations who had two working parents hit the collective “office” in force, even talking about gender conflicts may start to seem a little odd. The stereotypes remain but are fading–especially as individuals in the corporate realm, men and women alike, have honest discussions like the one going on here.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
14 years 2 months ago

Ages ago, I read a book that urged women to be themselves in a business environment, and that recommendation has worked for me. One of the most attractive traits a business person can have is confidence. It’s not about gender!…it’s about competence and having a value proposition to bring to the table.

Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
14 years 2 months ago

Women should be themselves. Authenticity, integrity and professionalism go a lot further than any pose.

Mike Osorio
Guest
Mike Osorio
14 years 2 months ago

The comments today on this topic are wonderful. It makes me proud to be part of a group that realizes that any effort to categorize people as a group for any reason should be met with disdain. The path to success is through intention, integrity and perseverance–regardless of gender, ethnicity, etc.

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
14 years 2 months ago

If there was a standard emoticon for rolling your eyes, you would see it here. The reviewer is right: this is depressing. As a woman who has worked in predominantly male environments (strategy consulting and technology), my advice is avoid both of these extremes as much as possible. Sure, it’s good to recognize where different ways of communicating between the sexes can lead to misunderstandings and be aware of how you handle those things, but that’s about the extent of what you need to succeed in business “as a woman.” I never participated in those “women mentoring women” corporate programs that were pushed on us–I chose mentors that would help me achieve my career goals instead. As a “business person,” no matter what your gender, you need all your skills and experience. That’s plenty.

Robert Craycraft
Guest
Robert Craycraft
14 years 2 months ago

The review books are, thankfully, decades out of relevance, at least in retailing. I worked in department store retailing in the early 1980s where I was the only male in a 34-person management division. In fact, the only place where male executives were still left in the entire store were furniture and men’s tailored clothing. The great leaders I have seen and worked for in business have, above all, high integrity combined with a strong intellect, empathy, and an openness to change. Those are hardly gender-specific. The advice from both of those books is wrong-minded and would lead an aspiring female executive to a bad place, personally and professionally.

Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
Guest
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
14 years 2 months ago

While game playing and role playing are certainly a part of the day-to-day realities of office politics (and other politics as well), the only advice that is sustainable is “authenticity” and the old saying “to thine own self be true.” Flirting does come naturally to some women, others have been “one of the guys” since their youth and know how to sustain that because it is who they are. Certainly, learning something about sports or discovering how to accentuate some of what might be called “feminine charms” is all possible. Nothing wrong with taking on a “character” as one might do in any strategic game (trash talk, game face, sweet talk, etc.) when you’re playing to win. Other than that, to consciously choose to manipulate either via masculinity or femininity is fodder for publishing books, not for functioning successfully in the real world.

Mark Burr
Guest
14 years 2 months ago

If you took the ‘gender’ out of these suggestions would any one find them acceptable? Tactics and suggestions of these kinds should be met with our disgust and outrage rather than our consideration. It’s quite hard to believe that what would be considered bad behavior by those receiving it would be considered as advice that would offer them the opportunity to give it in return. Somehow, that makes bad behavior good?

Personally, I think advice telling you to ‘act’ this way or that is bad advice. It’s an act. Be yourself. Use this tactic or that? That is about as good as acting. Be yourself. Have integrity and values and carry them with you throughout the day.

Anne Howe’s comments are exactly right.

Michael Tesler
Guest
Michael Tesler
14 years 2 months ago

If I gave a response of the year award it would go to David Biernbaum. These books and studies so complicate and confuse and are so “BS”…as David says just be real and be yourself.

David Livingston
Guest
14 years 2 months ago

The best way for women to rise in the corporate workplace is to be themselves and not put on an act. Everyone will see right through that.

Women are viewed as sex objects and men are viewed as success objects. That’s just nature. There is nothing wrong with women using flirting to achieve success. Women who lack sex appeal will need to resort to alternate methods. Those women need not only act tough but be tough.

We also need to define exactly what success is in the business world. Is it titles and salary or is it the alpha female rank in the office place? How often have we seen the real queen of the corporate office being a middle management secretary? She is the one who knows how to push all the right buttons to get things done. When there is massive downsizing, somehow she is the one who gets to keep her job. The highest heels make the biggest deals.

David Biernbaum
Guest
14 years 2 months ago

I have encouraged my daughter to be herself in the workplace and if she does that she will be fine. What I admire most about any person is her or his ability to just be real, and to conduct herself in whatever manner is best for the maintenance and growth of the business and the people around her. Just be real.

David Zahn
Guest
14 years 2 months ago

I sighed when I saw this story. Not because it isn’t a real issue for many (men and women alike), but because the suggestions based on the small blurb are so trite and artificial. To succeed based on assuming a pose or a posture of being someone or something you are not (either way, does not matter if the goal is to be “John Wayne in the boardroom” or “Daisy Dukes on the shop floor”) is a guarantee for failure.

Few are good enough actresses to “pretend” to be what is unnatural to them and still fewer would view that as a strategy they would wish to assume. To succeed in business one must be successful in business–not in playacting and not in preening as a character.

Shouldn’t we judge our business leaders on their output, capabilities, potential, experience, track record, etc, and not on whether they possess XX or XY chromosomes or are willing to “act” like they do not?

Anne Howe
Guest
14 years 2 months ago

I think the only way to play the game is with integrity. Your reputation in business is your brand. Honor it, cultivate it, but above all, treat it with the utmost of integrity and it will last a lifetime. Adding in a little fun and a sense of humor is key, but adding value with a good attitude is best. Business success is so personal, but to me it should mirror your life values overall.

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 2 months ago

Success often depends on your personality being aligned with the corporate culture. A conniving backstabber will succeed in a company whose culture rewards political deception. An “honest Jane” will succeed in a business that values straightforward decency and direct communication.

Certainly there are businesses whose leaders value social personalities well above competence. It’s obvious there are cutthroat competition organizations that only reward teamwork when it’s internally divisive (instead of directed against the retailer’s competition). It’s painfully obvious when someone is hired whose values and personality don’t match the dominant culture.

Casey Quinlan
Guest
Casey Quinlan
14 years 2 months ago

Looking over the comments, one tenet shines through: be yourself. Authenticity isn’t just a good word to live by for individuals, either–authenticity is an absolute requirement for enterprise in general.

Advancing through manipulation and drive-over-the-weak ferocity might get you to the corner office, but it’s just as likely to have you marked as a manipulative, arrogant jerk. Short-term, that might not have a lot of impact. Long-term, though, there will be all sorts of viral messages out there that will erode the ground under your “achievements.”

Houses built on shaky ground don’t stand very long. And when they fall, the looky-loos often cheer….

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
14 years 2 months ago

Yes, be yourself. Be genuine. Speak up and know your subject or area of expertise. Work as a team. Show a sense of humor. And I have found it always helps to know what’s happening in major sports events and local teams. I wish I would have asked my son sooner to educate me on that one.

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