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How women can get ahead without hurting men’s feelings

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Getting ahead in the working world can be a tricky tightrope for women. All too often, female competence is not as well-received as male confidence in our corporate culture today. Author and comedian Sarah Cooper channeled those frustrations into her new book, “How to Be Successful Without Hurting Men’s Feelings,” a humorous how-to guide for women looking to get ahead.

Cooper learned the lessons that fill her illustration-heavy book — and her successful blog, The Cooper Review — while working in the tech trenches as a designer for Google. “This book is all of the things that I did that I absolutely hated that I did,” she tells Yahoo Finance. “The way that I would change my tone or be less direct or put a bunch of smiley faces and emojis in my emails — all of those things, I did them all. I still do a lot of them.”

Some memories from the office like particularly stand out. “When I first started at Google, I had a strong opinion about the color of one of the default shapes in Google Slides,” Cooper says. “I just went up to the engineer and I just said, ‘This is ugly, can we just change this?’ And he wouldn’t look directly at me. And then in my performance review later that year, I was told I needed to be more sensitive about people’s feelings about colors.”

The experience of writing the advice in the book was therapeutic for Cooper. “A lot of these topics are so depressing, and it’s like, how do you laugh when it’s so sad that women have to deal with this stuff?” she says.

“The way that I found into the humor was just to create a book that just is overwhelmingly rule after rule after rule after rule, to the point where you realize, ‘Oh this is ridiculous. This is insane, this is impossible. It’s impossible to follow any of these rules.’ So that’s what I tried to do, just reflect back this lose-lose situation that women are in.’”

Crafted as career advice for women, Cooper’s work grapples with the concept of male fragility.

“I don’t like to generalize. I love men. My husband’s a man, and he’s great. I married him, so he must be great,” she says. “I just want them to see another perspective, you know? I’m not trying to create a war of the sexes or anything like that. I really just want them to appreciate that as a woman working in a male-dominated industry, this is a unique experience.”

Cooper’s book is full of tongue-in-cheek advice gleaned from frustratingly real work situations. But since even the best jokes can sometimes be taken too seriously, Cooper gave us her real thoughts on some of the workplace scenarios presented.

Asking for a promotion
“I put in the book the threatening way is to say ‘I’d like a promotion,’ and the non-threatening way is to get a man to ask your manager for you if you could be promoted,” Cooper explains. “This happened to friends of mine, where they wanted to put themselves out there, but they were cautioned against that and they were told to have someone vouch for them first so they didn’t seem like they were too power-hungry.”

As for what Cooper would really like to see? “I want more women to ask and be very direct about this, because I think the more women that do it, the less it’s an anomaly – the less it’s this weird thing.”

Getting interrupted
For women in the workplace, getting interrupted is a longstanding issue. So how do you deal with it?

“The threatening thing is to be like, ‘Excuse me, I was talking. Can I finish what I’m saying?’ And the non-threatening way would be to just stop talking and maybe email them later about what you were trying to say during the meeting,” Cooper explains, before offering a clever tip: “A really cool trick I saw someone do if you don’t want to get interrupted is to start by saying, ‘There are three things I want to say about this.’ Then people know to wait for that third thing, and if you don’t have a third thing, you can say, ‘Yeah I guess that’s all I wanted to say.’”

Setting deadlines
“In the book, I talk about how being very direct and saying, ‘Hey, this is the deadline’ is very threatening,” she says. “So you should say, ‘What do you think about getting this to me about my 5 p.m.?’”

Cooper’s advice? Just go with the “threatening” version. “That’s just one of those things where you can be direct. And hopefully, the more women that are direct, then it won’t be seen as a weird thing. I do have hope that over time, with more women joining the workforce, with more women becoming leaders, it isn’t going to be this weird thing for a woman to directly tell someone what to do.”

Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter.

This story was originally published on November 19, 2018.

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