Common Career Advice Women Should Ignore

“Don’t make waves” and “keep your head down and work hard” are just two pieces of career advice you shouldn’t be following.
Written by Michael Hines
December 7, 2021Updated: December 7, 2021

Women made up 59.5 percent of college students at the end of the 2020-2021 academic year. That’s according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, which cited data from the National Student Clearinghouse, an educational nonprofit and research center. This data indicates that the future of work is female, which means there’s no time like the present to dispel some of the bad career advice women often receive.

Built In recently spoke with six Colorado women in tech about the worst career advice they’ve been given. And their answers indicate that while overtly sexist career advice may be dying out, women are still receiving professional guidance that is either gendered or designed to navigate a sexist system as opposed to challenging it. 

For example, Kathryn Kmiotek, channel marketing manager at BillGO, said she’s heard that speaking directly can be seen as being aggressive or “making waves.” Kmiotek notes that the implications of directness vary by gender, though, and that this advice can keep women from flexing their intellect and asking challenging and important questions.

“As many women can attest, if a man makes a direct statement, he is rarely accused of being ‘too direct’ or aggressive,” Kmiotek said. “Everyone should be encouraged to own their authority and knowledge and feel comfortable asking questions, even tough questions.”

In addition to identifying bad career advice, Kmiotek and the following professionals shared how they’d reframe such advice to actually be useful. Whether you’re a seasoned professional wondering about the advice you’ve been following or if you simply want to know what not to do, their insights are a must-read.

 

Kathryn Kmiotek
Channel Marketing Manager

What’s a career “myth” that women hear a lot that they’d be better off ignoring? 

“Sound” advice can simply perpetuate myths about women in the workplace. Myth No. 1: “Keep your head down, work hard and you will be seen and rewarded.” Better advice would simply be to “work with intention.” Working with intention can lead you toward projects and work that are rewarding and foster career growth, whereas working without intention often amounts to just busyness, and busyness can lead to burnout. Working with intention means raising your hand when asked to work on projects that drive your growth and reflect your passions. 

Myth No. 2: “Don’t speak too directly because it can be viewed as aggressive.” Often this means “don’t make waves” because it can be viewed as being rude or overly aggressive. However, women should never shy away from speaking plainly and directly. As many women can attest, if a man makes a direct statement, he is rarely accused of being “too direct” or aggressive. On the contrary, he might be perceived as being “assertive” or “knowledgeable.” Being authentically open and clear should not be a matter of gender. Everyone should be encouraged to own their authority and knowledge and feel comfortable asking questions, even tough questions.
 

Rejecting busyness for the sake of busyness can be reframed as taking the time to pause and think through a project.”
 

How would you reframe that advice in a way that’s more helpful?

Reframing career myths requires hard work, but it’s easier to reframe them when you realize that they are myths. “Keep your head down and work hard” takes on an empowering new meaning when framed as “be intentional in what you take on and the work you do.” Working with intention means a few things. First, defining the direction you want to go in. It puts you in control versus forfeiting control to someone else who may not want or understand what you want.

Rejecting busyness for the sake of busyness can be reframed as taking the time to pause and think through a project and who it serves. While you’re at it, think about your goals, path and growth. Ask if a job is good for your emotional and physical wellbeing. Be honest: Burnout is real and without intentional work it is far more likely. This intersects with myth number two: being direct and making waves.

It’s 100 percent OK to be direct. Be clear and concise in the information you share. What are you delivering or what are you requesting? Make waves if needed, but ask questions and be sure you are heard. You’ll be surprised how often your comments and inquiries trigger necessary conversations.

 

Erica Carroll
Senior Product Training Manager

What’s the worst career advice you’ve received?

“There’s no money in theater.” Early in my career, I was so excited to work on the tech side of theater and lighting design and everyone told me not to pursue it. I got an internship with a local theater, put in the hours and made the ensemble, then realized there was so much more to theater than physically working in a theater. A few years later, I landed a job with a manufacturer in the audio video industry. I was surrounded by the tech I already loved and my industry peers came from adjacent industries like broadcast and live events. Not giving up on my interests opened up a whole new world of possibilities.
 

Instead of saying, There’s no money in ___,’ I would instead urge someone to dive deeper into what they’re pursuing.”
 

How would you reframe that advice in a way that’s more helpful?

Instead of saying, “There’s no money in ___,” I would instead urge someone to dive deeper into what they’re pursuing. Look at all the avenues. Careers are not “point A to point B.” They are a journey, like a choose-your-own-adventure book. Broaden the idea of what that title means. “I want to be a lighting designer” could be theater, sure. But it could also be live events, structural or architectural lighting, museum lighting and so much more.

 

Amy Horowitz
RVP Enterprise Sales West

What’s the worst career advice you’ve received? 

I have been given advice around everything from what type of shoes I should wear in a corporate job to how to communicate more effectively with less passion. All this advice was given with the intent of helping, of course. As I spent time trying to determine a “myth,” I landed on the most shared piece of advice: “Let all of your work prove your point and don’t speak out or ask for anything else.” 

While this is true in some scenarios, often it was not best for me. As I was starting a new role and needed to listen and learn, it was understandable that I needed to know the environment and business before making major asks. Eventually, there was a time for me to speak up and ask questions. For example, I have always asked for what I wanted for my career. Asking for what I wanted didn’t mean just asking for my career path. It meant asking for the salary I wanted, time off I needed, location of my role and many other non-negotiables. 

Sometimes, the skill of negotiation is seen as “ungrateful” because you should settle for what others have accepted. Do not let that stop you from asking for what you want! In most scenarios, I got exactly what I wanted. You will not always get what you want, but you will be seen as someone who knows that is important to their own goals and growth ideas. No one owns your career growth but you. 

Many times early in my career I was scared to speak up due to fear of retaliation. This was me honestly being afraid of what others would think or that I would say the wrong thing. I quickly learned not saying anything could potentially lead to a tougher scenario. The art of sharing constructive feedback while asking directly for a change is something you will grow to understand. I’ve spent time learning the different communication styles of each person I have worked with, which told me when to give background and when to be direct with my communications style. 
 

Asking for what I wanted meant asking for the salary I wanted, time off I needed, location of my role and many other non-negotiables.”
 

How would you reframe that advice in a way that’s more helpful?

As a leader, my job is to help create a safe, open environment for my team. I encourage each one of them to speak their minds — in a constructive way of course — and focus on coming with solutions. 

I would reframe the advice I have been given my whole career as: Ask for what you want. People are not mind readers nor do they know what is right for you. Come to discussions with solutions and facts, not just feelings. Be confident in all discussions that you add value and bring a different perspective. Being your authentic self is very important in today’s working culture. Finally, no one advocates for you better than you! Really focus on what your non-negotiables are, what you are willing to put up with and be willing to share any feedback during your career journey.

 

Erika Crandall
Chief Compliance Officer/Head of Risk

What’s the worst career advice you’ve received? 

Early in my career in corporate America, I was told more than once to sit back, observe, be quiet and listen. This approach doesn’t allow for engagement, critical thinking or connecting the dots. Employees who are highly engaged are found to be curious with high critical thinking.
 

Early in my career in corporate America, I was told more than once to sit back, observe, be quiet and listen.”
 

How would you reframe that advice in a way that’s more helpful?

There are nuggets in the advice that hold true but for different reasons. Keep your ears open for insight you may not have and for opinions that differ from yours so you can be more informed. Sit back and observe to understand more about the dynamics at play in a given meeting or between coworkers. Focus on doing great work while also being willing to raise ideas when you see something that doesn’t look or sound right. Ask questions before providing what may be an uninformed opinion.

When I mentor, I tell others to ask for what you need to be successful. A firm doesn’t hire you to fail. They want you to succeed. So tell them what you need and then listen carefully when they respond as to what they can and cannot do and why. You’ll know early on if this is a place you’ll thrive.

 

Renee Ingenito
Senior Director of Sales

What’s the worst career advice you’ve received? 

Early in my career, a female colleague gave me the advice that if I wanted to climb the corporate ladder quickly, I should plan to change jobs every two years. It seemed like sound advice because she had been changing jobs every couple of years and had been recently promoted. After many jobs and many years, she was still adamant that change brings career progression. From my own experience, I’ve learned that it’s also important and helpful to have the fortitude to stick with a company and stay in a role that’s continuing to provide growth.  

It’s true that change can bring career progression, but it’s also true that stamina in a role builds your confidence and character. Her advice to change jobs frequently would haunt me early in my career, especially when I was hitting my stride at a company, reaping the rewards of my dedication and enjoying the camaraderie of my colleagues, all while finding myself in years four, five and beyond. I didn’t want to make a change for the sake of climbing the ladder. I didn’t want to always feel like the grass was greener elsewhere.

Grow where you are planted.”


How would you reframe that advice in a way that’s more helpful?

I think it’s great to try a lot of different types of work with a lot of different kinds of companies. Having a diverse background gives you a strong breadth and depth of what you can contribute at your next company. However, it’s also important not to bounce around in the name of climbing the ladder because it can backfire. Now, when I see the resume of a person mid-career with many jobs that only last a year or two at a time, I hesitate on whether to invest in that person. 

Grow where you are planted. Great opportunities come when you find great people to work with who know your brand and support and sponsor your career growth. It’s hard to build those relationships if you don’t plant some roots. It is possible to find new and exciting roles within your current company that will not only help drive your career forward but will also demonstrate that you are a loyal employee with many interests and talents. Also, importantly, when it is time to make a change, future employers will see that you have the dedication and staying power and that you’re worth investing in.

 

Liz Paschen
Product Manager

What’s the worst career advice you’ve received? 

When I was just beginning my career, the most common advice I would get was to “keep my head down and just do the work.” This advice is fine for some, but it felt like I was being told not to ask questions, challenge the status quo and at the root of it, not have an opinion. I’m not trying to minimize the importance that hard work and commitment to excellence plays in your job, but at a certain point you realize that hard work alone doesn’t move your career in the direction you want it to go.
 

Be intentional about getting yourself noticed.”
 

How would you reframe that advice in a way that’s more helpful?

Keep your head up, find challenging work, build meaningful relationships with your colleagues, be bold and ask questions. Be intentional about getting yourself noticed. Doing so has set me up to take on more responsibility and advance my career.

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