a lil' swag goes a long way ... just ask Kanye

Yesterday I started a 5 day series that I am calling "5 in 5"  each day this week I will cover a different hurdle and tips for clearing them as we start climbing those ladders so that we can shatter those glass ceilings. It's a lot of work, so let's get started. First, a reminder of the topics the topics...

  • Sorry not sorry (Posted Monday August 3, 2015)
    • I"m here for a reason, get over it
  • A lil' swag goes a long way
    • Just ask Kanye
  • Eww, verbal diarrhea is so not cool
    • Seriously, dude, it's not a good look
  • I got shot gun, I called it
    • (and other ridiculous game you should learn to play)
  • Let em' hear you roar
    • (it's okay, we promise)

Today, we talk SWAG. Not the free stuff brands give out to convince you to like their product. I am talking about real swagger here. 

graceful confidence

First, a definition. Swagger is a hip-hop term that you are probably farmiliar with but I am putting a bit of a spin on my definition. You will notice I defined it as "graceful confidence". I did this because when we are talking workplace, hustle and purpose, there has to be a certain grace to your actions. You have to balance between being cocky, self assured, confident and a total jerk. If I had a visual for this it would be Sammy Davis Jr. and Gregory Hines. If you do not know who they are, shame on you.  They were both dancers, singers and actors who moved with a quiet, distinguished and definitely graceful confidence. There was something about it that was just.....well...

cool with out even knowing it. Don't believe me? Watch for yourself.

Ok, so what do tap dancers have to do with swag and what does swag have to do with the workplace?

It's simple, every single thing in the workplace comes down to one thing... confidence. With out it, you aren't going very far. But if you are a woman the rules are a bit different. 

There are studies out there that show identical resume's being looked over by people. The only difference was the name on the top of the resume, for example John vs. Jennifer. The men were always evaluated much more favorably than the women regardless of the gender of the person doing the evaluation. Studies range by occupation and industry but the result are startlingy similar.  All of the things that people use to describe men as competent and exception at work are the same traits that are used to say the women are not.

Negative words are more often used to describe a woman's performance. In many cases, the woman can't win. If she acts "like one of the guys" she is deemed unpleasant, aggressive, bossy etc. If she acts "like one of the girls" she is emotional, unstable, fickle. Talk about playing a game with a loaded deck.

I ran into the situation more than once during my career. I can pull out review after review that use the following adjectives to describe me:

  • too passionate
  • outspoken
  • aggressive
  • need to develop your leadership skills more
  • emotional
  • too invested in the job
  • bitchy or condescending, bossy, 
  • rub some people the wrong way
  • doing too much, other people are feeling "dwarfed" (yes that is a real quote)
  • "maybe take it down just one notch"

Sadly, this list could go on. It is this same list however that would have co-workers come to me for advice and bosses asking me to take lead, be an example and to grab the bull by the horns and get things done. All of my reviews in my career have been marked with an "exceeds expectations" and full raises/bonuses, you name it but the negative language you see above was also in all of them.

How do we then deal with this catch 22? I can only speak from my own personal experience and so I will share with you what I have experienced.

When all of this negative language is presented to you, find out what they would suggest you do to change it for the better. Ask you bosses questions. Questions and insight are powerful weapons. Use them to navigate the "aggression" which I call "confidence" to your advantage.

Don't just ask any questions though. Ask them tough question that require your superiors to have just as much responsibility for your success as you have. Ask what you can do. Ask for examples of when what you did or said could be perceived negative. You will start to see some patterns.

I noticed that the things they were complaining about were also the things they liked in other employees. So I did the comparison game. Now I do no normally recommend this but in this instance it made sense.

Seek out people in your organization that you admire, people who are hard working, have great reputations for getting things done and being effective leaders. Ask all of these people to coffee or lunch or even drinks. Now ask them questions as well.

When I did this I asked both the women and men the same questions.

What do you struggle with in the workplace if anything regarding your gender?

Is it hard to work in an office full of people of the opposite gender?

Got any tips for how to navigate the corporate structure with regards to these things?

When the women responded I started to see similarities. When I asked the men the same question I got a lot of blank and/or confused stairs and a question in return "I'm not sure I understand what you mean."

This was an interesting experiment and one I highly recommend. Next pull your bosses aside and ask some simple questions. Ask them to compare you to a male counterpart. GASP! right? Ask the following:

  • Am I more or less passionate than him?
  • Am I more of less aggressive than him?
  • Is my work better or worse than his?

When asked these questions, every single manager I asked answered "no" or in some instances "more and better". Well, that's not confusing at all. It's like the boys who says he likes you one day, then pulls on your pigtails the next day.

picture borrowed from http://sorryiamnotsorry.com/2012/06/27/taking-the-mystery-out-of-romance-how-to-tell-if-he-likes-you/

The cherry on top for me was the question below:

have you ever heard anyone in leadership use these same words to describe him?

do they call him a bitch?

Do they say he is bossy?

do they tell him to take it down a notch?

Blank stares, sit back in chairs, shadow of understanding comes across faces followed by a frantic brain scan to figure out what to say were typically the responses I received.

This is a long way to say that having the confidence to ask the questions and speak up when something isn't right is swag. It is graceful confidence because it is trying to determine where and if improvements truly need to be made. It puts the focus on the work and not the gender. 

I can not necessarily say after this happened, I no longer felt a gender bias at work. If that were the case, it would have been once boss I spoke to instead of multiple. However, I did notice in all cases, a different level of respect from those particular managers. In one case, my next review raved about all of the changes I had made to become a really "solid leader" of the team and that I had really taken the criticism to heart and made the necessary changes to go further in my career.

I swear to you, I changed nothing except the fact that I asked those questions. 


Sometimes we have to get people to see us in another light and sometimes you have to work your way around the path to get to the final destination. Do whatever works for you but don't shy away, get quiet and sit down in the corner. We gain nothing from shrinking into the background. Sometimes, you gotta get a little Kanye West up in the place (in the most respectful way possible of course.) So turn up your collar, put on those high heels (as my friend Suzanne just emailed me) and get your swagger on.

To the cool kids, hipsters and people in the hip-hop game, thanks for letting me borrow your slang for this. I realize I may not be the intended demographic for such language but it works and it resonated with me, so again ... no apologies, just thanks.


Have you ever got all Yeezy on a situation at work? Tell me about in the comments below or on social media using the hashtags

  • #kanyemademedoitdawne
  • #dawnehanksdotcom

Tomorrow we continue the series and just to prepare you, things may sound a little gross because we are talking about verbal diarrhea. I know, as Jimmy Fallon would say ...  EWW.