Careers

The inspiring learnings from some of the worst, most sexist career advice ever given

Posted by
Megan Murray
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From being informed they’re “too old” to switch jobs, to being advised they “cut their hair short to be taken seriously at work”, far too many women have been on the receiving end of terrible career advice. Here’s what we can learn from ignoring those ‘helpful’ nuggets of wisdom…       

Whether it’s Helen Mirren’s no-nonsense tips on how to make a good first impression, or Britain’s most successful women on the guidance they wish they’d been given in their 20s, we all know how powerful these words of wisdom can be. There’s nothing more interesting or life-enhancing, after all, then a great nugget of career advice.

As underlined by a recent Twitter thread, though, people don’t just want to read up on ‘the best career advice you’ll ever receive’ – they also want to lap up the truly terrible career advice, too. And not just because it’s funny, either: our failures, mistakes and wrong are often the moments we learn from the most.

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Psychologist and author Adam Grant proved this point recently when he asked his social media followers for the worst pieces of career advice they’ve ever received.

“What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever received?” he tweeted, before citing his own as, “1. Don’t waste your time helping others, 2. Drop 90% of your projects, because you can only do one at a time, 3. Don’t write a book.”

As a published author, it’s clear that Grant didn’t take on board that advice and clearly pushed himself, eventually achieving what he set out to.

The tweet has received thousands of replies from people working in a number of different industries, all of whom have shared the advice they chose to ignore – and which, ultimately, helped them succeed.

Here are just some of our favourites…

Travelling is a distraction from your career 

Taking a break from education or work to go travelling doesn’t work for everyone, but we agree with Martinez that it shouldn’t be viewed as a waste of time.

Not only does seeing more of the world help expand our minds, teach us things that a coursebook can’t, and develop us as people, travelling has also been proven to benefit the way our brains work – which, in turn, can have a hugely positive impact on our mental health.

In fact, researchers have found that travelling can kick-start the reward circuits in our brain. This is because the novelty of being in an entirely new place, with new destinations to explore and new languages to hear and speak, throws us out of our comfort zone and forces us to really concentrate on where we are going.

This improves cognition and, in turn, refreshes our reward circuits – which can also lead to a creativity boost.

You can’t make a career change after your mid 20s

We fundamentally disagree with the idea that anyone is ever too old to pursue a career change – but we particularly hate this notion that life, after our mid-20s is… what? Over? Red buzzer noise. Try again.

In fact, studies have shown that the optimum age to change career could be 35 (a good 10 years after Christine Minas’ ridiculous head-hunter reckons), a time in life where increased responsibility and experience makes someone ready for a new challenge.

If you are considering a career change, there’s a lot to think about, from what makes you personally tick to diversifying your skill set, all of which we’ve covered with expert advice here.

Don’t trust the people you work with

Now, not all of us click with the people we work with and as we’ve written about before, it’s completely fine if you don’t have a ‘work wife.’ But as for going into a job deliberately trying not to forge relationships and benefit from the support that co-workers can provide? Well, that’s madness. And we’d be tempted to think that this idea has stemmed from the same tired old (and entirely untrue) trope which claims women in the same industry will always be pitted against one another if they want to succeed.

Encouragingly, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, suggests that women whose professional networks contain a female-dominated “inner circle” are more likely to achieve high-ranking leadership positions. Its findings show the benefits of being close to other professional women, many of whom we of course meet at our place of work.

As a woman, you need to look masculine to be taken seriously 

It’s one of the most sexist tropes women looking to climb the ladder at work come up against, and it can often feel that there’s no right answer. As we saw with the way the media portrayed Theresa May throughout her role as prime minister, focusing on her clothing and sexualising her while taking on important issues that affect the whole country, women in positions of power are either torn down for being seen as frivolously feminine or for not being seen as stereotypically attractive. 

The way a woman looks has absolutely no bearing on her ability or skill in a job role, end of. The only way we can make this change is to be it. With that in mind, we will dress and style ourselves however we damn well like, thank you very much.

Don’t make a fuss when you know you’re being treated unfairly 

Colleen Doran, bestselling cartoonist and illustrator at the New York Times, makes a number of great points in her tweet above. However, our favourite is her response to being told not to speak out – or be ‘difficult’ in any way – in the workplace.

Whistleblowing about a larger issue, or even just standing up to your boss when you know your wage isn’t reflecting the work you do, can be incredibly scary. Time and time again, though, women are silenced in the workplace and it’s something that needs to stop.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen incredible examples of women speaking out (case in point? The Time’s Up movement and the end of Harvey Weinstein’s power over the film industry). In the UK, though, it’s believed that the scale of workplace sexual harassment and maternity discrimination is still severely underestimated as a direct result of confidentiality agreements and women who are too afraid to speak out.

If this is something you’ve been thinking about, you can read personal accounts from women who have spoken out themselves here. And, if you need any further help or advice, then visit Protect’s website now.

Images: Getty / Design: Alessia Armenise

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Megan Murray

Megan Murray is a digital journalist for stylist.co.uk, who enjoys writing about London happenings, beautiful places, delicious morsels and generally spreading sparkle wherever she can.

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