New Strategy for Women: Be Disruptive

By Whitney Johnson and Tara Mohr:

Academic institutions are churning out ever-more female graduates. But the very skills that propel women to the top of the class in school are earning us middle-of the-pack marks in the workplace. Indeed, a recent study found that women account for 51.4% of middle managers in the U.S. but only 4.2% of Fortune 500 CEO’s. Based on our experience, the CEO statistics will continue to improve, but only incrementally, until women recognize that the boardroom is not the schoolroom. To be successful, we must now do the very thing we were always taught not to: be disruptive.

In school, being disruptive might get you sent to the principal’s office, but in business, disruption is a proven path to success, describing innovations that take root at the low end of the market, or create a new market, and then eventually upend an industry. If you play disruptively as you go into the workplace, you’ll be doing the upending.

Consider disrupting yourself when it comes to these five areas — areas where the skills you honed as a high-achieving student are likely doing you a disservice in your career:

1. Figure out how to challenge and influence authority.

2. Prepare, but also learn to improvise. 

3. Find effective forms of self-promotion.

4. Welcome a less proscribed, full of surprise, career path. 

5. Go for being respected, not just liked.

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  • Norman

    George Patton was a great General during war but I’m not sure we want to emulate his behavior otherwise.

    Both men and women need to evaluate the personal cost of taking on charateristics that may pay monetary dividends but aren’t necessarily conducive to relationship building and family life.

  • RobS

    Adding value to an organization will help command respect (#5). Just being disruptive (for the joy of being disruptive!) is not likely to work in the politics of an office. To some extent, many managers still appreciate the sycophant who is unwilling to rock the boat. Challenging authority with the attitude of helping the authority figure “win” (or get what they want — be it a promotion, raise, prestige or recognition) is necessary.

    In some organizations, the politics of promotions is going to remain huge. Moving out of a team or organization to move up seems necessary in the current environment in a lot of cases.

  • Marcus C

    “But the very skills that propel women to the top of the class in school are earning us middle-of the-pack marks in the workplace.”

    I think thats because the skills that help you get good grades in college aren’t necessarily relevant to the real world workplace.

  • Elvira

    But if a woman is disruptive, it may be counterproductive to her and a source of social stigma in her company – the same skills that get a man ahead in social circles may indeed backfire when a woman attempts them.