How to live an authentic work life


Veteran ABC newsreader Virginia Trioli spoke powerfully on how she crafted an authentic work life for herself at the recent Women in Media Conference. 

Viriginia Trioli, Women in Media Conference 2018
Viriginia Trioli, Women in Media Conference 2018

Trioli advises “not to mute our voices, quiet our requests or dial down our demands”, particularly in a world that is reductive of us women and our capabilities. While the full transcript is worth reading here,  I’ve distilled into the key principles that resonated for me:

Kill ‘nice’

Don’t confine yourself to someone’s expectations of you. Listen to that voice inside that knows exactly what it is that you really want to do, but is being drowned out by the white noise of what you think you ought to be doing. Set the boundaries for yourself. This is my favourite part:

Get in touch with the difficult woman inside you — the one who insists on her voice being heard; the one who refuses to bend to ‘the way we’ve always done it’ before; who can identify what she was put here to do and asks for the help she might need to get it done…”.

Don’t be the ‘nice’ girl and please everyone. Please yourself.

Do your own performance evaluation

Don’t wait for someone who doesn’t have your best interests at heart to point out your shortcomings. Get there first and do something about them. Periodically sit down and take inventory of:

  • what I’m doing well
  • what I need to improve
  • where the gaps are in my skillset and knowledge base, and
  • how I need to fill them

Have a ‘save your arse’ file

Now that you’ve done the self scrutiny, she advises having a ‘save your arse’ file to draw upon when asking for pay rises. Show the facts of what you’ve contributed, and make it hard for people to say no to your requests.

“It’s basically a file of rock solid evidence that allows me to argue that I have added value, increased readership and have been useful to other staff,” Trioli said.

I’ve already started my file which will  be useful at performance evaluation time.

And then ask for what you want

When it comes to asking for what we want, more often than not women take a backward step by consistently underrating their abilities. Identify the next challenge in your career – and ask to be considered, even if you don’t have all of the listed criteria. Have that meeting with the senior director, and pitch your idea or solution. Don’t wait to be noticed or asked.

Ultimately we need to appreciate that our individual authentic working life will be different to someone else’s. For example, Trioli relates her joy in being considered for 60 Minutes, the most prestigious current affairs show in Australia, only to turn it down when she found out the travel commitments would have conflicted with the family life she wanted.

Being a difficult woman in a difficult world

Trioli talks about not only bringing our best self to work, but all of our capabilities and strengths. Most women underplay their achievements, demonstrating incredible organisational, planning, strategy and execution capacity in running a household, combined with work, and school and volunteer commitments. As for me, I’m dedicating myself to  becoming a  ‘difficult woman’ – the perfect antidote to being ‘nice’.



Why nice girls don’t get the corner office


At last, an explanation for why women continue to progress more slowly at work — women volunteer for tasks that don’t lead to promotions.

Research conducted by economists Babcock, Recalde, Vesterlund & Weingart, confirms that women are disproportionately saddled with ‘non-promotable’ work that has little visibility or impact.

Although neither men nor women really want to volunteer for thankless tasks, women do volunteer more, are asked to volunteer more, and accept requests to volunteer more than men. This is due to a shared expectation that women will volunteer more than men and not due to gender differences.

In fact women received 44 percent more requests to volunteer than men in mixed-sex groups. A request to volunteer was accepted by women 76 percent of the time, versus men who accepted 51 percent of the time.

Based on my experience in running a number of industry associations and committees this research finding rings true. As a general rule it’s the women who volunteer to do things. I could always count on the women who are prepared, organised and actually complete tasks. Generally (don’t hate me for saying this) the men talk more, and do less — of course there are exceptions. When men do help, they are more likely to do so in public, while women help more behind the scenes, such as assisting and mentoring others[i].

Who does the ‘office housework”?

Think about who manages the office ‘housework”, like organising social functions and team meetings, or take minutes in your workplace? It’s most likely a woman. While they don’t require much skill these ‘non-promotable’ tasks contribute to the social cohesion and help out colleagues but because they’re not tied to revenue or KPIs, they are not recognised in performance evaluations or lead to career advancement.

That’s not true for men, according to an earlier study by psychologist Madeline Heilman, where men were rated 14 percent more favourably than a women for staying late and helping colleagues prepare for an important meeting. When both declined, a woman was rated 12 percent lower than a man. So men are significantly more likely to be recommended for promotions, important projects, raises and bonuses because they help. But not women.

What’s even more concerning is the productivity impact of doing non-promotable tasks. According to the research, when women do more of the volunteer tasks, they are seen as less productive as they have less time to spend on their real work. Management may feel justified in the name of efficiency to keep allocating less-promotable tasks to the seemingly ‘less-productive’ women. In addition, those tasks may generate lower job satisfaction and in turn reduce women’s investment in her job.

Sharing the load

So what can women do? The research suggests that management could counteract the unfair load on women, by allocating assignments equally to both male and female employees. Organisations could encourage men to volunteer more themselves, and to empower women to demand fairer treatment and to show their full potential and talent.

Worryingly, the researchers recommend that women do not say No directly to doing volunteer tasks according to Heilman [ii]. However another way for women to say No to unreasonable requests would be to emphasise the impact on the whole team, and position her No as protecting others[iii].

Better still, women could be more active with their careers, by hunting out promotable tasks that contribute to revenue generation or reducing costs, take on higher profile projects and committees, and work on their personal brand.

[i] Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg, article in the New York Times: “Madam C.E.O., Get Me a Coffee”, February 6 2015.

[ii] Heilman, M. E., & Chen, J. J. (2005). Same Behavior, Different Consequences: Reactions to Men’s and Women’s Altruistic Citizenship Behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90(3), 431–441.

[iii] Adam Grant, (2013) Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success., New York: Viking

This article first appeared on LinkedIn.

Get your No right, and happiness will follow

What could you say No to, so you can say Yes to happiness? Dr. Happy from the Happiness Project writes about how saying No can liberate you from an “okay” life to live a “great life”.

If you want more happiness in your life, stay tuned for the 30 days of No challenge.  Head over to Facebook for more info.

Ideal vs. real life

I had a lovely picture in my mind of my idea life writing witty insightful and inspiring blogs to a regular schedule. That was my ideal life.

Then… there is real life, messy, unpredictable and a bit overwhelming. I’ve been dealing with the exhausting end to a big project. The start of another large and challenging program of work. Taking on additional extra-curricular commitments to which I should have said NO (to at least one or all of them).

And I’ve separated from my husband of 21 years. That was a very big NO. Finally after much soul-searching, heartache and lots and lots of tears. Then setting up house in a new place. So I’ve been working on rebuilding my life. Working out on what else to say NO to, to give myself some space and rest, and gather my thoughts.

“Normal’ transmission will start soon.

Saying yes to #Ladybadassery

I confess, I’ve failed miserably in saying no over the break. I meant to have a break, relax and recuperate. Instead, I’ve taken on a couple of side projects on top of my full time job, and amid massive personal upheaval. Not very healthy!

However I am delighted to say yes to a global initiative called #Ladybadassery and to being the Australian curator. This means that every week or so I promote an Australian woman who is forging her own path and achieving success on her own terms. Some of the stories are so ordinary and yet so inspiring – you can read about them here on #Ladybadassery.

Shining a light on #ladybadasses everywhere

The objective is to shine a light on extraordinary women operating away from the spotlight, who don’t usually receive much recognition outside of their niches.

#Ladybadassery was co-founded by two fabulous, smart, connected women Joanna Bloor and Wendy McEwen (Nee Hogan) who have provided much needed support and encouragement to younger women in their respective industries. If you’d like to nominate a #ladybadass, make a submission here.

So I’m all for celebrating the gutsy and determined woman who says no to being nice, and yes to being themselves.

An essential life skill – learning the Power of a Positive No

Positive NoFor most working women/mothers I know, myself included- overworked, overcommitted and really really tired – saying NO is our biggest challenge.

To learn this essential life skill, I’m working through The Power of a Positive No. How to Say No and Still Get to Yes by William Ury (2007). Ury is a respected author and co-founder of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation, and is one of the world’s leading experts on negotiation and mediation, so this is a good place to start.

I wish I’d read this book years ago (but I probably wouldn’t have done anything about it back then). Ury perfectly describes the difficulty of saying NO to our nearest and dearest, and people on whom we rely, like work colleagues, managers and community leaders. In my case, saying no to my daughter’s constant requests to buy clothes/takeaway/icecream/makeup/shoes/concert tickets/staying out late/have friends stay over, makes me feel like a bad parent even though it’s in her best interests (and mine) to restrict them.

At the other end of the scale, Ury retells an example from the business world where an inability to say NO and challenge the group-think led to a $150 million loss.

NO is the word we use to protect ourselves and to stand up for everything and everyone that matter to us. You have to say NO to a demand or request that is unwelcome, a behaviour that is inappropriate or abusive, or a situation or system that is not working or is not fair.

Often we have a black and white view of saying NO – that it’s a power struggle. We feel like we have to choose between exercising our power to defeat the other by saying NO or losing our power and protecting the relationship. The way most people handle this conflict is by either:

  1. Accommodating: saving the relationship while sacrificing our own interests
  2. Attacking: which is the opposite of being accommodating, i.e. getting angry, finger pointing/blaming the other or destructive conflict
  3. Avoiding: saying nothing at all

These approaches usually lead to resentment and guilt, and what Ury calls the three A trap.

What I’ve found fascinating so far is his assertion that it’s not a zero sum game – that either you protect the relationship OR exercise your power. He suggests using both at the same time, “engaging the other in a constructive and respectful confrontation.”

How to say NO without feeling bad

The key to a Positive No is respecting yourself and the other person, which Ury describes in the Yes! No. Yes? sequence:

  1. Yes. The first Yes expresses your interests and is internally focused.
  2. No. Asserts your power.
  3. Yes? Furthers your relationship and is externally focused.

To illustrate using a real life situation, he mentions a family confronting their son destroying his and his family’s life through gambling.  Using the 3 step Positive No process, the intervention went like this:

  1. Yes. How much the son meant to them.
  2. No. He needed to stop gambling or lose their support.
  3. Yes? Inviting him to seek help at a residential treatment program.

He then got the therapeutic help he needed and recovered from his gambling addiction.

The gift of a Positive No

Ury says that learning to say NO skillfully and wisely, helps you create what you want, protect what you value, and change what doesn’t work. How we say NO determines the quality of our lives.

Because I’m in the mindset to change and transform my life (hence the blog!), this really resonated: Every creative change begins with an intentional No to the status quo.

That was the first couple of chapters in a nutshell.  I’ll report back on how I go with the Yes! No. Yes? sequence this week.




Stop being nice – Teaching our girls to say ‘F*** Off’

Actress Helen Mirren in an interview last year said that she regrets not telling more people to “f*** off” in her life. Continue reading “Stop being nice – Teaching our girls to say ‘F*** Off’”

A letter to my friends on starting The No Project Blog

It was my birthday recently. Aside from the lovely presents and wishes, I couldn’t ask for a better present than to give birth to an idea I’ve been gestating for a while – The No Project Blog.

When I started this blog a year ago, it was anonymous. I only told a couple of people as I was afraid of being judged negatively and being ridiculed particularly by people close to me. I doubted myself (still do), and questioned what right or license I have to comment – I mean who cares what I think? But I truly believe that for ‘yes’ people like me, that being able to say no is the basis for change and success. I know other people are struggling with this too in various areas of their life. we ‘yes’ people need practical help in saying no in order to stay sane.

But the time is right to make this public. Given the movement of women speaking out about Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump, it’s even more important for women to say no, speak up and stop being agreeable.

So what is The No Project blog? My object is to experiment with putting the No into practice – at work, and at home – and turn myself into a No Ninja. Each month I’ll try a different book/self help guru. Of course Oprah is going to be on the list, but I’m starting with the advice from William Ury, author of the Power of a Positive No.

Thanks to the lovely women who’ve given me encouragement to keep going with this idea and for being honest and sharing their struggles. Some of them have surprised me as they appear highly confident and successful, running their own businesses, so it’s really been a comfort to know that I’m not alone.

In the spirit of embracing the discomfort and scariness of stating my purpose in public, my goal is to have 1000 women sign up to be part of The No Project. If you’re interested or know someone who might be, please forward on. Or follow the blog on Twitter,  Facebook ; Instagram  and at