change at work

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

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.  

The most difficult word in the English language

Recently I went through a transition within my career. I left a company and industry I had been working in for almost 12 years. It was an extremely exhausting process. One filled with pain, anger and uncertainty. I chose to full-heartedly embrace that transition because I could see where it was leading. I didn't see the end destination necessarily but I could see how this was the right road to try and walk down. That vision is a beautiful thing but it doesn't necessarily make it any easier.

Typically, transition doesn't have that much appeal for people. I happen to know quite a few people who have been in flux for months and are coming up to a large transition in the workplace. I get calls every single day from people requesting help with their resume's and Linkedin profiles. They express uncertainty and feelings of fear, anxiety and in few (very few) cases a little bit of excitement.. This, of course is understandable, we as humans do not respond well to change.

In terms of change at work, the number one reason that people have feelings of anxiety and fear is because so much is unknown. it makes sense, think about the beginning of time and cave men were the hunters of the family.

Risk society is the manner in which modern society organizes in response to risk.
— wikipedia

There was so much unknown in their lives and therefore they were in a constant state of fear. It works that way for "negative bias" which we have discussed before but it also exhibits itself in other ways. One of those ways is something called "risk society".

[tran-zish-uh n, -sish-]
1. movement, passage, or change from one position, state, stage, subject, concept, etc., to another; change:

A fancy term to say we freak out when we think something is on the line. So how we do stop freaking out? First things first, let's really talk about what the word "transition" really means. The first thing that stands out (at least to me) is that none of the words used to describe transition carry a negative conotation. In fact the definition actually describes a process of MOVING FORWARD.

You may have notice the painstaking efforts I made to stay away from the word "change". I did that because I think that words causes seizures in people or something. But in the end it all boils down to change. We as a species do not take well to change.

I found an article from Forbes Magazine written by Jacquelyn Smith with some great tips for transition, "12 Tips for Overcoming Your Fear of Change at Work"

12 tips is great and the article is actually worth a read BUT...if you are anything like me, 12 feels like a lot. (said as I ramble on for multiple paragraphs). For this reason I thought it might be good to focus on one that isn't on the list. 


How simple is that? The first thing everyone wants to do when they freak out is find out as much information as they can from any source that they can. The problem with this is that it turns into one giant game of telephone. Remember that game from childhood? Nothing correct ever comes out on top in the game of telephone.

It is important for me to note that I did NOT use this advice when I went through my work transition. I looked for information any and everywhere I could. That is why it is my advice to you. I lived through it. I came out on the other end but I had a lot of bruises along the way. This is my advice. stop talking about it. stop listening to it. Whenever possible take the telephone away from your ear. Having rumors swirling in your head only brings about more fear. Imagine if you got the heck out of the game and could just wait for the real phone call to come in.

If you need to talk to someone, make it a friend outside of work and talk about something completely unrelated. Make it one of those friends that makes you smile and laugh and get silly with them.

Yup, I am talking about good old fashioned taking your mind off the situation. It is not avoidance per se, it is redistributing your energy into something you that doesn't make your blood pressure raise.