Interview: Lois Frankel Ph.D

In the minefield of office politics, navigating your way up the ladder can be as nerve-wracking as swimming with sharks — even if they are congenial cake-eating sharks.

At a glance
Name: Lois Frankel Ph.D.

Hometown: Pasadena, Calif.

Education: MPh.D. in psychology from the University of Southern California.

Career highlights:
  • Author of “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office” and “Stop Sabotaging Your Career.”
  • Featured on AOL as an online business coach.
  • International keynote speaker.
  • Founder of MOSTE: Motivating Our Students Through Experience.

Learning how to play the game, identifying weak points in your workplace strategy, and developing skills and behaviors to succeed could benefit almost anyone. That’s where coaching comes in.

Dr. Lois Frankel has devoted her career to helping people with theirs, first as a human resources professional in a Fortune 10 company, then as a career coach and author striving to empower women in the workplace.

For our most burning career questions, such as why are women still struggling and what the heck does branding mean to individuals anyway, Bankrate caught up with Dr. Frankel and got some answers.

It’s 2009. Women in the workplace should be a non-story by now but it’s not. Why are women still struggling?

We are still struggling. I recently did a survey of Generation Y women or millennials and what we found is that they are encountering the same things that their mothers did or older sisters did.

Things aren’t that much different and you would think that they would be. And when you ask the question why not, the problem is the problem. This is a saying that we use in consulting: The problem is the problem.

We live in a society where we don’t like women who are too pushy, and as a result each time a women tries to stand up for herself and assert herself and advocate for herself, she is called names. And what woman wants to be called names?

So she ends up acquiescing and backs down.

I think the system works to deny women who want to achieve more, who want to be considered equal. The system still works against them.

What mistakes do women make in business?

Do women make mistakes? Yeah, they do. There is a thread back to that diseased place, the desire to be the nice little girl we were taught to be, and be accepted, and that is what underscores the mistakes we make.

The mistakes look like waiting to be called on in meetings. If you are in meetings where there is a lot of debate, guys may be talking over each other.

You can wait a very long time and never get a chance to speak.

The workplace is not fair. It’s a game, and you need to learn how to play the game. And play by the rules and on the field, but as aggressively as possible.

That is who is winning the game — the person who plays the most aggressively. They play to win. And that doesn’t mean playing dirty or stepping on other people’s toes. It just means understanding that you just can’t wait for somebody to notice you.

Why does the wage gap between men and women persist?

Some of it goes back to who are the decision makers. But women play a part in this.

“The workplace is not fair. It’s a game and you need to learn how to play the game.”

Studies show that when women go in to negotiate for their first salary, women negotiate 8 (percent) and 15 percent less than their male counterparts negotiate for.

When you ask women why they did that they will tell you, “I didn’t want to sound greedy,” or “I didn’t earn it yet. If I get in there and prove myself, then they’ll give me money.” That strategy will leave hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table over the course of your lifetime.

And the other one is that they don’t want to damage a relationship.

The most recent study that I saw, I think it was last year — within one year after graduating from college and getting their first job, women are already earning about 15 percent less than men. Within one year.

A lot of people would rather believe that they will be judged on the quality of their work by itself in their career — but relationships in the workplace can affect their career even more. Do you have any tips for building relationships at work?

People have to understand that there is nothing more important that they will do over the course of their career — short of making sure they are highly educated — than building relationships. When you need a relationship, it is already too late to build it.

People who are getting laid off today are saying, well they’re keeping so-and-so because they like him.

Well, yeah! That is exactly who we keep, the people we like to work with, who are easy to be around and who you feel like you have a good relationship with.

One of the things I tell my clients is that you need to spend about 5 percent of your work week building relationships.

That means that if you’re the kind of person who just sits in your office all day and does your work and maybe gets up to eat lunch by yourself, you’re not the person who’s going to get noticed and promoted most likely.

So what you need to do is put on your Outlook calendar or some kind of reminder to yourself, to get up from your desk, go into somebody else’s cubicle and have a casual conversation.

You have doorway conversations and if you’re the shy type, once a week you have lunch with a different person.

For about the past 10 years, people have been talking about developing your brand. What does that mean, and how can it help in managing your career?

Everyone has a personal brand, and that is what people say about us when we walk out of a room or when we give a presentation. Essentially what they say about us behind our backs — that is our personal brand. And you can craft that brand.

When you think about brands, branding is important whether it’s Kleenex or Coca-Cola or Xerox. We tend to like to buy brands that we know. We can rely on them.

You need to see yourself as having a brand that does those things as well. So you need to start building your brand by writing a sentence, 25 words or less. What is someone going to say about you when you walk out of a room or hang up a phone?

Typically you can start the sentence by something like, that’s Sheyna, there goes a woman who … Now what do you want people to say about you?

What is the single most important thing someone can do to get ahead?

What is the single most important thing — it’s to identify what am I not doing. Until you know what it is that you are not doing, you are not going to achieve your goals.

In another book I wrote, “Stop Sabotaging Your Career,” based on my early work coaching people, I found that the No. 1 thing that holds people back is they over-rely on the messages that they were given in childhood about what it meant to either be successful or how you were supposed to behave.

Most often it’s what was valued or prized. And we have to go back and find out what is the old message that we continue to believe will be the ticket to success, even though it doesn’t work.

For instance, in the case of someone who says the most important thing is that you be nice: I worked with a very religious man whose family message was turn the other cheek. He was getting eaten alive at work and I said, “You need to stand up for yourself.”

Not necessarily that he had to be like them, but stand up for himself.

To be successful, everyone must figure out what is the message that they are over-relying on that is not working, and learn complementary behaviors.

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