The Giggle Monster

In my continual search to find the newest advice for professional women, I randomly came across this old post at On Phara entitled Channeling Barbie: Career Advice for Professional Women, and then immediately googled John McKee, the guy who is cited heavily in the post. Just so you're oriented as to the messenger, I'll start with John McKee, self-styled as "one of America's leading executive coaches" and author of Business Woman Web: How to Use Gender Bias to Ensure Your Career Success. Red flags, anyone? In addition to advocating using gender bias rather than eradicating it, McKee answers the question "people ask [him] all the time, 'Why is a man writing a book about women in management?'" His answer? "We need more women leading more of our largest corporations in this country. For at least 10 reasons, it is important that men start helping to change the current and frankly unacceptable situation whereonly about 5% of these organizations have female CEOs." Though I whole-heartedly agree that men are a needed ingredient in improving the situation, I think a huge symptom of the problem is that his approach is to take the lead in bossing women around to the top of the corporate ladder with questionable advice that is pretty much summed up in his tagline.

Now for his insight, as quoted by On Pharma:

Don't "giggle." Why? McKee has "never heard a CEO giggle." Also, women "laugh 126 percent more often than men. And unfortunately, this laughter is not relegated to personal life." Um, apparently McKee doesn't realize lawyers work so much that work becomes part of their personal life. Also, why is it unfortunate to laugh in the workplace? These questions unanswered, McKee asserts that he has in fact "heard many women giggle a bit just after saying something, and it diminishes the impact of what they have said."

At this point, I'm wondering what the difference is between a laugh and a giggle. Is it a giggle when a woman does it and a laugh when a man does it? Is the secret somewhere in the line between a titter and a guffaw? Well, before I can sort that out, McKee strikes out guffaws and titters when he points out that for women "being overly humorous is not the best approach you can take if you're a woman who wants to be taken seriously within your organization. Even when the men in your group kid around, it's a good idea to tone down your involvement. For men, humor is an easy way of appearing to be involved with subordinates without actually having to be involved. When a boss acts funny or playful, he's not showing care or affection. As we've discussed, it's not personal." Maybe the part of the book where McKee discusses double standards isn't excerpted, but I'm left with my mouth hanging open. He's basically driving home the thing we've all secretly worried about: leave your personalities at home if you want to succeed, ladies. Men can be funny and likable to bring their A game; for a woman, the A game is the poker face barking orders like a military general.

McKee goes on to discuss email, common pitfalls being excessive exclamation points and familiarity. Here too my female friends, crusty is better. Considering a flowery border or smiley face? You make me sick. Want to go to a business lunch and order substitutions? Think again if you want a job (McKee could care less if you have a fatal allergy to peanuts). Indecisive? McKee wants you to know that "men generally don't worry about what they're going to eat and neither should women. If you can't decide on a simple lunch order, how can you be trusted to make critical business decisions? Choose your meal quickly, with a minimum of fuss, and then you can get down to business."

And finally, some advice I can use: "When your boss gets playful with you, you can smile and acknowledge the humor, but don’t get lured in. You have to find a balance between not insulting him and maintaining your professional demeanor." I'm unclear what he means by "playful" and how that might play into using gender bias to my advantage. I'm guessing he hasn't really thought that one through either.

Hearkening back to the Ms. JD conversation on crying, McKee is adamant: "Whether overcome with happiness, anger, or sadness, don’t cry in the office. Go for a walk, go to the washroom, go to your car, but don’t cry in the office. Executives don’t cry." And finally (read with care as this might force changes in your office decor you aren't ready to face): " Choose your office decorations carefully. No Barbie memorabilia—unless you are the CEO of Mattel."

Anyone else rushing out to buy the book?



You have got to be kidding….


OK the barbie thing is just ridiculous. But it does raise a question for me: do you have hand lotion on your desk? I know there are way bigger problems than what random stuff you have on your desk, but I had been keeping a moisturizer with SPF on my desk, so I would remember to put it on before going in to the sun at lunch time. Then I was watching an episode of the West Wing and a character described their office as "serious" and not the kind of place were women decorate their desks with "lotions."  So I put my lotion in my desk drawer. Am I crazy?


Hmmm, that's a good question (about lotion, not about being crazy).  I keep my lotion in a drawer too, but because it seemed to be in the way on my desk. 
But, as I look around my office, I find that it is a little effiminate just because of some personal stuff I have up.  I wouldn't change the way my office is decorated though -  decorations are supposed to reflect your personality.  As long as they are office-appropriate (e.g., no flesh showing in pics and art work), I don't see a problem.  Now, as far as the lotion, I don't see a big deal.  Candles would be one thing, or a big tub of body butter, but a simple tube of lotion does not create an "unprofessional" environment.  After all is said and done though, it's your office and your space, you decide what goes there!

John McKee

I then went to the post where you took the information about my book and the comments attributed to me.  I was surprised to see how that blogger represented 21 Ways Women in Management Shoot Themselves in the Foot.  Additionally, she has co-mingled information attained elsewhere and made it seem like I stated it.  
Your observations that the book presents information about how to use gender bias to ensure career success is fair.  We're all entitled to our own beliefs.  But the reality is that many women are unfairly held back in their career advancement in all professions.  This includes legal firms where there remain a lot of individuals with poor and inappropriate management styles.
I created this book based on my experience with clients and others who found my advice to be of value when working around the "old boys networks" they'd encountered.  But, like all material, some of it won't be applicable for everyone.  I always suggest that people (both genders) seek whatever insight they can find to help them succeed.  Regardless whether it's pertaining to career or personal situations, smart people know how to use the good stuff.  This is true when dealing with a jerk at work; and in personal life situations.
If you want to give my book another look check it out at 
Looking forward
John McKee 


I haven't read the book or visited the website, so I can't weigh in on the debate over whether this blog post describes McKee's ideas accurately.
Some of the things you're dismissing, though, sound like valid advice to me. I've also noticed women giggling when they say something, and catch myself doing it sometimes: it's a habit that lets people know they shouldn't take you seriously. Crying in the office? The discussion we had about it on this blog ended up focusing on tips for how not to cry because many women acknowledged that we wished we could avoid it. Not because we want to suppress our personalities, but because, again, it makes us seem weak and irrational. A flowery border on email, too, strikes me as inappropriate for the workplace—again, you can argue that it's inappropriate because it's feminine and that reeks of gender bias, but in fact some sports-related theme that would be stereotypically male would be equally inappropriate.
I agree that, as you've presented it, the advice about toning down your humor seems unfair.  But the general theme here seems to be: appear strong, decisive, and confident. Which is all compatible with being a woman.


i think he makes some valid points - and the truth is that there are certain professions that require certain types of behavior.  unfortunately, being a lawyer is one of the professions that require being serious, not crying in front of everyone, and not having barbie in the office.  i honestly don't take his advice personally - if we were speaking of a man, we would expect him to be serious, to not cry, and to not have posters of girls in bikini in his office also.  i think it all depends on the person's career.

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