“Offensive operations, often times, is the surest, if not the only (in some cases) means of defence.” -George Washington,Letter to John Trumbull, June 25, 1799
Last week in class, we were discussing diversity and discrimination. As I mentioned in the last post, I recently read Megyn Kelly’s Settle for More. I want to highlight another passages that I discussed in class. It is her prescription for overcoming discrimination.
Kelly has had to deal with sexual discrimination. As you read in the previous post, this included a colleague attempting to sabotage her career by spreading false rumors about her sleeping with her boss. It included a hostile work environment where bosses would make lewd remarks and create a hostile work environment, but it also included physical sexual harassment.
Yet, Kelly is not bitter. She’s not marching in the streets in protest of the male gender. Nor does she deny that women face different obstacles than men. Her prescription for success is to rise above the fray and become so valuable that she is undeniable.
I have been asked many times how I managed to excel in what is still a male-dominated industry. The truth is, every industry in which I’ve ever worked has been controlled by men—from retail stores to customer service to health clubs, restaurants, law firms, and now television. So I’ve had a lot of experience. Generally, my bosses have been male. Generally, they’ve also been supportive, fair, and more than ready to give any deserving employee an opportunity to advance, male or female.
Having said that, I am an American woman born in 1970. Of course I’ve also experienced sexism, and even sexual harassment. And I have some thoughts on how to navigate both.
My feelings on the subject of women’s equality is that it’s better to show then tell. I believe in the Steve Martin mantra, ‘Be so good they can’t ignore you.’ I have an enormous poster of this saying in my team’s pod at Fox. When it comes to living in this just-be-better philosophy, Oprah is my role model. In her years coming up, she never made a ‘thing’ of her gender or race. She just wowed us all. That’s my goal: do the absolute best I can, and don’t waste time complaining. The less time talking about our gender, the better.
In all the years I’ve worked at Fox, I have never had to ask for a promotion. I have been asked what I think is the next step for me, and I’ve never been shy to answer. So many broadcasters lined up outside the boss’s office, asking for this show or that one. I’ve spent my time in my own office, working night and day, an opportunity came to me. Most of my own power has come from excellence, not advocacy. My approach is to say to myself, ‘Just do better. Be better.’ That’s not to say there is no bias, no sexism. There is, and it’s not good. It’s just that for me, the solution of doing better is far more empowering than lamenting one’s circumstances.
It’s not that I reject the idea of demanding a place at the table—quite to the contrary. But in my own experience, the most effective way to get opportunities is with performance, not persistence. Hard work matters. I really believe that….sitting around convincing yourself that you deserve more without busting your backside to get it is not only bad form, it’s pointless.
I’ve never worked at a place where some star employee—man or woman—was unknown to everyone, toiling away unnoticed. If you believe this is happening to you, ask yourself if you have worked as hard as possible, studied extensively, and made yourself invaluable. If you can’t honestly say you’ve done all those things, quit complaining….
Do men sometimes get a leg up at work because they have access to male supervisors that women don’t have? Absolutely. You cannot control that.
But you can control you. Employers want to improve the bottom line. You may not get involved in the bar with the boys. But do better, be better, and the odds are the hungover boys will soon be asking themselves how you keep getting such great opportunities
My general approach when hitting a sexist glass ceiling is to try to crash right through it with stellar work product.
How to Win
Kelly has taken her own advice. She recently left Fox for NBC, where she’s charting a course for new future. According to Forbes, Kelly will earn a salary of $20 million. This puts her in the highest echelons of television personalities. It appears that her strategy has paid off.
What is your strategy? Kelly’s advice is not just about sexism. It’s equally applicable to those that deal with any type of discrimination:
- Religious discrimination
- Being an outsider to Charleston
If you make yourself more valuable than your peers, it’s hard to be kept down.
That does not mean that everyone will judge you fairly. But those bosses or customers who fail to recognize your value injure themselves in their attempts to injure you. If you are valuable, it will not be long before your value is recognized. Don’t worry about what they may or may not do. Focus on who you are becoming.
Washington, G. (1799). From George Washington to John Trumbull, 25 June 1799. Founders Online. Retrieved from https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/06-04-02-0120
 Kelly, M. (2016). Megyn Kelly – Settle for More. HarperCollins Publishers. (pp. 210-212).
 Berg, M. (2017, January 3). Megyn Kelly’s Move To NBC Will Likely Make Her The World’s Highest-Paid Female News Anchor. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/maddieberg/2017/01/03/megyn-kellys-move-nbc-will-likely-make-her-the-worlds-highest-paid-female-news-anchor/#96523dc425c4