How to Earn Respect at Work as a Young Female Professional
Building a Positive Reputation at Work as a Young Woman
Young women still face many obstacles when entering the workplace, and not just lower pay. It's hard to navigate the appropriate lines between being too hard and too soft, managing your image, and deciding what behaviors from co-workers you're willing to overlook or take a stand on.
Generally, as women we are trained--whether by our parents or societal factors--to be yielding, to avoid confrontation, to be a people pleaser. And no matter how intelligent we are and how many initials we collect after our names, those ingrained habits can be hard to overcome.
So, how can you build a positive reputation and gain respect as a young female professional? Read on for tips and an exploration of the issue.
Keeping Your Personal Life Personal
Your workplace is just that--a place of work. You should go, do your work, and go home. Don't storm in and broadcast the details of a fight with your boyfriend, your latest medical crisis, or how drunk you got at the bar that weekend.
You can't broadcast an impression of responsibility and capability when you're also delving into your personal life; your work and competency should be the first thing your managers think of, not that you're always having personal trouble.
It's fine to bond with co-workers and chat about your life, but keep it high-level. If you're making small talk, chat about your hobbies, travel, your kids' activities, etc. Getting into personal waters can backfire later if you're up for a big project or promotion (just think about it--is your boss going to give it to the calm, collected co-worker who does his or her work, or the one who constantly broadcasts her personal woes to the cuberhood?).
Another particular reason for young female professionals to keep their personal lives personal--women struggle at work with being seen as "emotional" and thus less capable. While this isn't true, and being more in touch with emotion (especially empathy) can actually make you a better co-worker and leader, the stigma remains.
Producing Stellar Work Product
Another way to earn respect as a young female professional at work is simple: consistently produce stellar work product.
Whatever the task, give it your all. If you're formatting a spreadsheet, make it perfect. If you're preparing a report, take the extra time to run it by a co-worker and get a second opinion on its accuracy and impact. If you're running a meeting, prepare well beforehand and create an agenda so that it runs smoothly.
The work you do is the best indicator of the respect you will receive at work--so do your absolute best on everything. And be sure to proofread and spellcheck every email that goes out!
Becoming a Team Player
Don't just be content to do your own work--if your manager asks for volunteers for a project, raise your hand and put in those few extra hours a day. If a co-worker mentions feeling overwhelmed with work, offer to help him or her out.
When you support your team or department by volunteering, you'll gain respect not only by demonstrating your commitment to the position and the company, but also develop a reputation as a reliable team player. Being seen in such a light is an exceptional help when it comes time to ask for a raise or a promotion, or for when you apply for a lateral move within the company.
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Setting a Precedent for Behaviors You Won't Accept
Despite HR departments and sexual harassment trainings, the sad truth is that many young women will be victims of sexual harassment at work--either from a same-level co-worker or management.
Sometimes, it may not be outright harassment in the traditional sense, but the other person may still generally make you uncomfortable--standing too close, making off-color remarks, or veering into overly personal territory.
If the sexual harassment is blatant, go straight to HR, even if it's the first time. Allowing it to continue will breed a hostile work environment where you're uncomfortable, fearful, and can't be productive.
If you're not sure if it's sexual harassment but you still feel uncomfortable when interacting with a coworker--it probably is sexual harassment. There's no reason a normal interaction with a coworker should be uncomfortable. But if you don't want to go to HR, try documenting a few instances for yourself and look over them; were you overreacting? Or is it actually an issue? Cut the co-worker off at the pass, gently but nicely--for instance, "I'm really busy--can we chat later?" or "You know, I really like to stick to professional topics at work--I'm sure you understand." Or, if you're feeling brave, "You're making me uncomfortable--I would prefer not to have these sort of interactions in the future."
A hard part of being a female professional is wanting a safe, supportive work environment that's free of sexual harassment, but balancing that against a fear of running to HR and making a reputation for yourself as someone who should be avoided. It's unfair--but it's still a reality of the working world.
Respect and Success as a Young Female Professional
If you manage your image at work by keeping your personal life personal, acting as a team player, producing stellar work product, and setting lines as to what behaviors you will and will not accept, you will start to gain respect as a professional, regardless of gender.
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