There Is No Such Thing as “Career Advice for Women”

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
April 1 2014 11:13 AM

More Useless Career Advice from Successful Women

Adweek

Adweek

The new issue of Adweek, the “women’s issue,” features a super fierce photo of Cosmopolitan editor Joanna Coles on its cover and touts a “candid conversation” with Coles and four other female leaders in media and advertising inside. Adweek’s Lisa Granatstein promises that the conversation with Coles, Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski, digital marking CEO Sarah Hofstetter, and advertising execs Nadja Bellan-White and Nancy Reyes will “shed some light on the state of women” in media.

Unfortunately, I read the whole thing and learned almost nothing about anything, and definitely nothing about the unique struggles of women in media. Everyone agrees that things need to change to get more women in leadership roles, blah blah blah, but no one offers any suggestions on how to do that, other than to be an “equal opportunity manager” when it comes to men and women needing time for their out-of-office lives, and to tell women not to quit their jobs when they have kids if they want to be CEO. Oh, and there’s the standard “love what you do,” “listen to your heart,” and “don’t forget to get married and have kids if that’s something you want” advice.

Advertisement

Here’s Brzezinski, who said that in the TV news business, the problem isn’t that women aren’t being given a shot; it’s that they’re being promoted too early because of their looks:

I think there's kind of an inherent problem, which is somewhat sexist, although it is not overtly sexist, it's something that happens almost subconsciously. And that is, a lot of young women are hired into television when they're not ready, because other aspects of their … you know, what they bring to the table, [they] really shine brightly. And a lot of male executives will … and female, will say well that … you know, pretty or poppy or she's got this. And it's not the talent—she doesn’t have what backs it up. And I actually remember in my career being pushed up too soon and paying for it several times to the point where, by the time I was offered a really, really big possibility of a promotion at CBS, I said, “We ought to wait a year, because I'm going to get killed.” And I did wait a year—and I still got killed.

I’ve read pretty much every article like this one that’s been printed over the last six-plus years because I write about this stuff for a living, but Brzezinski’s “advice” finally made something click for me: that giving “women” generalized career advice is useless and possibly damaging. Brzezinski’s thoughts are applicable to women who want to be on-air TV news personalities and pretty much no one else. People of both sexes are better off listening to advice from peers in their own fields, because standards and experiences are so wildly different depending on what you do. There is no such thing as “women in the workplace.” There are women in hospitals, women in law firms, women in TV news, women in magazines, women in the restaurant business, women at Walmart.

The same applies to salary negotiations. The New York Times published a guide telling women how to negotiate for a raise in March, which Slate’s Amanda Hess smartly dismantled. Hess’ point is that women don’t need advice on how to get a raise; employers need advice on how to be less sexist. My problem with the Times piece is that some of the tips were actually really bad advice, at least when it comes to my field, journalism. Maybe in some professions it’s seen as “aggressive” when women get outside offers and use them to get a raise from their bosses, as the Times posits. But in journalism—where jobs are scarce, profit margins are slim, and benchmarks of success can be fairly arbitrary—nearly every raise or promotion I’ve ever heard of people getting was because they got outside offers and their current employer countered. Meaning, if I want advice on how to negotiate a better salary, I’m much better off talking to a bunch of journalists—male and female—than seeking the counsel of a Woman in Leadership.

I get why magazines keep publishing pieces like this Adweek round table. Ambitious young women are clearly hungry for blueprints on how to succeed at a game that can feel rigged. But if you need a famous woman to tell you to listen to your heart, you have bigger problems than figuring out how to climb that corporate ladder.

Jessica Grose is a frequent Slate contributor and the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

The World

The Budget Disaster that Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

Can Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu Pull Off One More Louisiana Miracle?

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

Everything You Should Know About Today’s Eclipse

Fascinating Maps Based on Reddit, Craigslist, and OkCupid Data

Education

Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

How Movies Like Contagion and Outbreak Distort Our Response to Real Epidemics

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 23 2014 11:51 AM It Seems No One Is Rich or Happy: I Looked
  Life
Atlas Obscura
Oct. 23 2014 1:34 PM Leave Me Be Beneath a Tree: Trunyan Cemetery in Bali
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 12:01 PM Who Is Constantine, and Should You Watch His New Show?
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 23 2014 11:45 AM The United States of Reddit  How social media is redrawing our borders. 
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 23 2014 7:30 AM Our Solar System and Galaxy … Seen by an Astronaut
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.