Oops I did it again, being a nice girl and the boss
There are few words for that sinking feeling when you realize you’ve done it again. You’re in charge of things, you know you’re rocking it — and suddenly you’re unable to answer a simple question.
“So what do you do?”
“Oh, me? I just do product stuff. Product marketing, product management, just product product.” Complete with shoulder shrug and head tilt.
That was my job description for being the Head of Product Marketing, and running an international engineering, business, and marketing team across Bangkok, Boston, and Poland.
The worst part is that I’ve been doing this for the last year. And didn’t even realize it.
My Intervention: A Woman-to-Woman Talk
Sitting across the dinner table from a professor in sustainable business, I’ll call her Rachel, I am so grateful to be able to dish. She’s done it before. How do I manage relationships, how do I structure my company, how can I prime myself for getting investors or foundation funding?
Sometimes it takes an older woman to open your eyes and snap your head back into place. Unfortunately, in the tech field, there aren’t many older women to learn from.
From my days in engineering at university, to a software designer and developer post-college, and later as head of product for an international mobile app — I went from being one of a few women to the sole woman.
In one leadership position, I was told to “use only my eyes and ears” and not speak or make decisions in public. My self-esteem waffled, between being a confident leader, and needing to be liked (or else). I didn’t know when to use which cards.
Rachel gave me this book, and as I read it, I looked in the mirror and felt burning shame for all the embarrassing things I had been doing. Especially during the last year when I decided to start my own company. I realized how many doors I’d shut and never walked through.
I thought this was a problem that other women had, not me. I didn’t want to be a bra-burning feminist, you know — I wanted people to like me, so I shrugged off the small dents to my self-esteem until I was driving a pretty banged up car.
Rachel assured me though, “Olivia, if you think you’re behind the curve, just know that many women never get here until their 40s or even their 50s, and some never do.”
Okay, enough complaining. Here’s how to fix it.
Immediately the pieces fell into place. I realized that while I’m a skilled writer, and an energetic and effective spokesperson for other people’s products, my spoken voice disappeared for my own.
This exercise revolutionized how I see myself:
Complete this sentence: “There goes a woman who _______________.”
What’s your personal brand? What do people know you for?
I changed it to:
Complete this sentence: “I am a woman who ____________________.”
This exercise may seem simple, but it felt like I was blasting through a minefield of old memories and messages. At first I blanked, then I mumbled and stuttered, and said some awkward things. But by the end of two hours I was able to confidently say what I knew at the start:
I am a woman who uses her experience in science and business to convey curiosity and inspire compassion in tech leadership.
The doors that have closed for me might never open again, but I’m moving forward. Onward and upward. And I hope you’ll do the same.
Transitioning From Nice Girl to Kind Woman
If you’re in a similar rut, I highly recommend reading the following books:
- “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers” by Lois Frankel, Ph.D.
Lois Frankel is a doctor in psychotherapy and has coached and interviewed hundreds of women in business and leadership.
- “Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success” by Rick Brandon, Ph.D.
- “Hardball for Women: Winning at the Game of Business” by Pat Heim, Ph.D., Tammy Hughes, and Susan K. Golant
- “Getting More: How You Can Negotiate to Succeed in Work and Life” by Stuart Diamond
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Olivia Jeffers writes a Sunday newsletter focusing on where technology meets humans. A former engineer and director of Compassionate Technologies, Olivia currently serves as the Marketing and Creative Director at InTeahouse, a tech hub in Cambridge, MA that connects local startups with international investors.