Talking from 9 to 5: Chapter 5

July 9, 2014 | Diana Stancy

At a certain point in a woman’s career, it appears she eventually hits an invisible barrier, a glass ceiling. Often, this point is reached in a middle management position while male contemporaries are promoted instead.

From Tannen’s observations, this is in part because men are more likely to develop relationships with their bosses and other superiors than women are. A prime example Tannen cites is men would eat lunch with bosses while women would eat alone or with other women.

Furthermore, Tannen emphasizes the importance of ensuring quality work is recognized. She states:

“In addition to doing excellent work,you must make sure that your work is recognized. This may consist of making a point to tell your boss, or your boss’s boss, what you have done—either orally, or by sending reports or copies of pertinent correspondence” (135).

For many women, this can be challenging. Women tend to prefer quietly producing excellent work without seeking recognition from bosses. As a result, immediate co-workers may know the abilities of a particular woman, but her superiors may not.

This in part due to women’s natural tendency to downplay their own accomplishments to prevent being perceived as arrogant. For example, one woman Tannen observed had worked on a group project with other co-workers and was the primary contributor. During her presentation however, she hid her own contributions by continually using the word “we.” Tannen noticed:

“By talking in ways that seemed to her appropriate to avoid sounding arrogant, she was inadvertently camouflaging her achievements and lessening the changes they would be recognized” (137).

Additionally, Tannen observed that others were evaluated based on how they were spoken to. If someone were asking many questions or seemed to be lectured, others would make assumptions about the competency of the individual. Tannen asserts:

“But if women are routinely take the position of novice or listener to make others feel smart, it is likely that those, as well as observers, will underestimate their abilities” (144).

Tannen acknowledges that practicing these strategies is not natural for women. Calling attention to themselves is something women attempt to avoid. However, Tannen emphasizes the gravity of forging relationships with superiors and ensuring quality work is acknowledged.

Discussion Questions:

1) What do you think holds women back from spending time with their superiors?

2) How do you think women can find a balance between humility and seeking recognition for their work?

3) How did this chapter influence you? What changes, if any, will you make as a result?

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