Are effective school behaviors harming women in the workplace?

Department of Labor poster: America will be as strong as her womenDo Women Need to Realize that Work Isn’t School? Whitney Johnson and Tara Mohr point out in HBR that behaviors that enable young women to excel in school may serve them less well in the workplace. Johnson and Mohr argue, and I agree, that all employees and particularly women need to become more comfortable with behaviors like questioning authority, embracing improvisation, and engaging in self-promotion. (N.B. Approach the last of these far more carefully than your male peers.)

I’d add another important item to their list — learn how to disagree, and how to get over it. Engaging in conflict in the workplace and managing it toward resolution is part of the job, particularly in the fluid modern workplace where the need for constant adaptation can cause friction.

While school doesn’t always prepare us for that conflict, athletics may. Anecdotally, I’ve observed that many women who can tolerate workplace conflict well have participated in team sports. We know athletics correlate with career success; a 2002 study found that 82% of women in executive-level jobs had played organized sports in middle, high or post-secondary school.¬†Discipline and focus are two obvious benefits, but I’d argue that team sports in particular offer participants experience in managing conflict and achieving resolution.

Image credit: U.S. National Archives: Department of Labor poster 1941-1945 

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