By Dan Schwabel
Sept. 17, 2012
I recently spoke to Kate White, who just left her post as the editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine to write and speak full-time. Her latest book is called I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This: Success Secrets Every Gutsy Girl Should Know (HarperBusiness). Some of her previous books, including Hush and The Sixes, were bestsellers. Kate was born and raised in Glens Falls, New York and graduated Union College in 1972. In this interview, she talks about a women’s greatest challenge at work, what we can learn from successful female leaders and her top career advice tips.
What do you believe are a woman’s greatest challenges in the workplace? How do women stand out?
I think one of the biggest challenges for women in the workplace is improving their ability to ask for what they want — especially when it comes to money. In fact, studies show that women are significantly less likely to negotiate a starting salary than men are. Keep in mind that the person offering you the job often has more money to play with than he or she indicates. The goal is to get you on board at the lower end of the scale, but women need to be gutsy enough to say, “I would love to join the organization but I was hoping for X salary.” Even a small bump up from what you are initially offered can mean a lot over a professional lifetime if you consider how the money you earn gets compounded.
We also have to get better at asking for more when it comes to assignments and responsibilities — and even just the ability to grab them is key! Let’s say you’re in an entry-level position and your boss gives you an assignment to put some numbers together for her. Don’t just do what she asked and be done. Pay attention to interesting patterns and then point them out to her. Always be on the lookout for ways to go big and get noticed.
Another huge challenge for women — and I know I’m not saying anything new here — is balancing working with our personal lives. When my kids were little I would always go home at five and devote myself totally to their needs. Yes, I had to work after they went to bed, but my time with them was uninterrupted. (One day my son pointed out that he was still going to bed by nine so I could get to my work, but he was FOURTEEN. Oops!) Today we’re assaulted at all hours by people from work — texting, calling, emailing. I think you have to have the courage to set boundaries at night and on the weekends whether you have kids or not. Here’s an experiment: don’t respond to non-urgent emails in the evening, but make sure to have them answered before 8am. I bet your boss begins to take note and will ideally change his expectations. The key is not to let your BlackBerry make you it’s bitch.
We are hearing about extremely successful female leaders, including Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer. What do you think made them successful? Are they a model for future leaders?
I admire both of them. And I think they’re wonderful models in that they seem to say there is no one best model for female success today. I strongly believe that you have to figure out what works for you. Sheryl Sandberg has said she leaves at five every day and has cried at work. That works for her. Marissa Mayer is starting a new job at seven months pregnant and that works for her. But those strategies may not necessarily work for you. I accepted a new and challenging job when I was seven months pregnant and though it worked out okay in the end, I wouldn’t do it over again. Take inspiration from other women, study their strategies, but ultimately create your own blueprint based on your job, your needs, your family, etc.
What’s “Bitch Envy” and how can women use it to their advantage?
Sometimes at work you discover that there’s one woman who annoys the hell out of you. Perhaps she constantly toots her own horn, ass kisses the boss in the most gag-worthy way, or goes after assignments other people want. But the reason she bugs you may actually be because she is doing what you know deep down you should be doing. Don’t hate on her. Turn the envy — and thus the focus — back on yourself and see if you need to borrow a couple of pages from her playbook.
Why do you tell women to do what’s unexpected and how can they do that?
To break out of the pack today and get ahead, you have to do more than what you’re asked/told to do, even if you’re doing that brilliantly. You have to be bold, proactive, inventive, and knock your superiors’ socks off. Of course, you need to work for a boss who also sees the value of that.
What are your top three tips for young women who want to build a successful career like yours?
Three tips I would give women?
1) Don’t worry about whether people will like you. You don’t have to be obnoxious, but you can’t be afraid to speak up, showcase your accomplishments, and take on projects others might want.
2) Go big or go home with your ideas, even if you have to break the rules.
3) In addition to excelling at your job, you have to be a relentless architect of your career and manage it even as you manage your job. Remember that your career and your job are two different things. So how do you manage your career? I suggest making time every week — even just an hour (but you have to do it!) — to network, develop new skills, reflect on where you want to go next, and how you will get there. I always say, it’s a matter of draining the swamp as you slay the alligators.