Thursday, January 15, 2009

Penelope Trunk's Misguided Career Advice For Women

Another interesting, controversial and not exactly correct bit of advice from the self described brazen careerist "Penelope Trunk." While I love "Penelope's" writing style and her generally acerbic wit, I get concerned that people might actually take her seriously.

In a recent post, she lambastes five career tips often given to women in the workplace. Along with ignoring the Best Companies for Women lists, she also suggests that women should avoid women-only networking groups. She states two reasons: women don't have as many connections as men and women are not supportive of other women.

When I was young and naive I probably would have agreed with her. I was one of those cocky youngsters who scoffed at seminars for "women managers" and would never demean myself by joining a women's only group. I assumed that only weak and stupid women ran into obstacles. "We are all the same" and "work hard and you will succeed" were my mantras. But that was faulty thinking on my part just as it is on Penelope Trunk's.

The truth is that women face multiple obstacles that have nothing to do with their own weakness. A new apt metaphor (which replaces the Glass Ceiling that implies everything moves along smoothly until the woman reaches the top of the career ladder) is The Labyrinth. A labyrinth is a maze or intricate combination of paths and passages. This is a great description for what women in corporate America face throughout their career. For those interested in this topic I highly recommend Through The Labyrinth by Alice Eagly and Linda Carli, the originators of this concept.

"Penelope Trunk's" advice, though fun to read, is misguided when it comes to women's networking groups. Women's networking groups provide a tremendous opportunity to connect with others who have travelled through the labyrinth and succeeded.

For example, at Xerox Corporation there is an outstanding women's networking group called The Women's Alliance. The hundreds of women that are members of this organization are very supportive of each others' career and social development. One great resource that The Women's Alliance offers its members is their mentoring program where senior level women mentor their junior colleagues. You can read more about their mentoring program in The Great Mentor Match an article I wrote that was published in T&D magazine.

If you still doubt the value of women's networking groups, read this quote from a mentee in a women's mentoring program:

nIt has been a life-changing experience. I gained perspective that I simply didn't have on my own. One mentoring session gave me enough material for a lifetime of work! My mentor is brilliant! :)"

Would that woman have been better off had she taken "Penelope Trunk's" advice?


Blogger Steve Boese said...

Beth, I confess I did not read the original post, but I do appreciate your response and directness. It does seem to me that targeted networking, support and mentoring would help anyone in their career progress, so what if it is an all-women's group or not?

4:33 PM, January 15, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey beth.

i agree, penelope's writing style is fun - but it actually baffles me that people see her as a career expert or worse, a leading voice in the HR or recruiting world. she has her place, but i struggle with her giving advice on career or workplace matters when she's a journalist. that doesn't make her an expert. and yes, people shouldn't take her seriously. seriously!

on the matter of penelope advising that women avoid women-only groups... i think she's wrong there as well. i don't think we should limit ourselves to only women's-only group, we should network where we can and with everyone we can... but i think we need each other. we understand each other better than anyone else, right?

and generally, i find that when women opt out and say other women are not as supportive as other women, it's because they've had bad experiences - and i honestly wonder if they are part of the equation as far as why they had a bad experience. if i'm to make a sweeping statement, i usually find "those women" are pretty insecure and can't develop meaningful relationships because of their insecurity and fear of competition... and i think this applies to relationships both professional and personal.

just some additional thoughts on ms. penelope and her misguided advice...

5:25 PM, January 15, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait - what exactly qualifies someone as an 'expert'? And what exactly excludes someone from being an 'expert'? In my mind, someone who has had more exposure/experience in a particular realm is certainly more 'expert' than me, whether there's an official credential or not. And I've met more than my share of 'official' experts whom I perceived were anything but.

All that aside, advice is just that: advice. It's not right for everyone, it's just one's perspective on a subject, based upon what they've garnered about the situation. An intelligent individual will assess that advice relative to their own situation and decide for his/herself if it applies. To judge one's advice is to say one person's perspective is more 'right' than another's and that seems to me, well, bad advice.

On this particularly galvanizing subject: I've participated in women's networking groups, and non-genderized networking groups. While I've certainly felt support from the W's groups, I've also felt judgment and competition. While I've managed to focus on the former and generally ignore the latter, I don't think it's everyone's boat. Some personalities will fare better in that environment than others, as in any situation.

8:18 PM, January 15, 2009  

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