A Survival Guide for the Young Female Professional

On “Playing the Game”

As a woman in a corporate work environment, I often feel the pressure of “playing the game”. Trust no one, undercut your peers, make sure they see you shine, and most of all, remember that everyone is in it for themselves.

It’s sad, but sometimes it can feel like if you want to be successful and continue to grow in your role, you need to “play the game” in order to succeed. And maybe there are times where we, as women, are in a situation where we have no choice but to engage in behaviors that we feel do not align with our values and our ethics. I think shaming someone for trying to get by in a cut-throat environment is short-sighted; we don’t know what is at stake for her. Maybe she can’t just get up and walk away. Would it truly be better for the collective liberation of our community if she did? If what little representation we had would be lost? But what ethical bar are we setting for the type of representation we want? There isn’t a clear answer.

Sometimes I also find myself engaging in behavior that doesn’t feel completely aligned with who I am as a person. Never anything that totally crosses the line for me; I don’t undercut colleagues or assert power to make someone feel uncomfortable or unsafe. But I have learned the subtle art of navigating a foreign space that doesn’t always feel safe for women and especially women of color. I grapple with what this means daily; am I a sell out? Am I being smart, or just naive? How can I reconcile these conflicting thoughts?

I’m still navigating this dilemma, but I have a few thoughts and I’d be interested in hearing yours.

Navigating the complicated power structures in a work place is alright, as long as you are intentional about your engagement with certain strategies and are continually checking in with yourself to make sure you are not drifting from your core ethics. Check in with yourself at the end of each day and honestly ask yourself how you have lived out your own code of ethics, and if you have drifted from it, define why.

Define what the ultimate goal is: are you engaging in a certain strategy because it is a means to an end that is aligned with your values, and the strategy itself isn’t harmful? Essentially: was is worth it? And if it wasn’t, think through why you felt the need to engage that misaligned strategy to begin with and try not to go down that route again.

The current power structure is falling apart. No one goes home and thinks, “Wow, it felt great to be a jerk today.” The corporate workplace is built on capitalism, which is inherently about taking more than you give. More and more voices are critically engaging what is and always has been a broken system, and are calling for something better. The power-hungry, everyone-for-themselves culture is not sustainable; it is not collaborative nor inspiring and does not drive meaningful and sustainable change. It does not encourage employees to be the best that they can be over a longer course of time; it is a short-term and short-sighted strategy that is emotionally and professionally depleting. It is on its last legs, and we are being called to imagine and produce a better culture and work environment for everyone: workers, managers, mothers, families, communities, and the environment.

So if you feel like your goodness is perceived as a weakness, I encourage you to hang tightly to your values of collaboration, honesty, integrity, and humility. These values and practices are antithetical to the current corporate capitalist environment, but they are going to be the foundation for a new, more inclusive order that will rebuild what has been broken for a long time.

Empathy and compassion cannot be replicated by robots. And we all know that robots are coming. So hold tightly to your empathy because it will be the most valued skill in the new tomorrow.

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