Los Angeles Daily News
Author shares winning tactics - Leslie Whitaker
Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Dear Readers,

Here are some inspiring words from Margaret Heffernan, author of "The Naked Truth: A Modern Woman's Manifesto on Business and What Really Matters" (Free Press, 2004).

An English woman who has done everything from secretarial work to trading gas futures, this 45-year-old mother of two offers tips on how to acquire power, navigate toxic environments and strike out on your own, among other challenges.

Q: You urge women to avoid male-oriented organizations where we have to blend in if we want to be accepted. Are there enough female-friendly employers to hire us all?

A: There are more good companies than people imagine. I'm struck by how many women make compromises before they do their research. Not every company requires women to bury their personalities. If they started with bolder assumptions, women would realize they are assets wherever they work. Keep your standards high.

Q: That is an example of negotiating with yourself, isn't it?

A: Yes, women shouldn't give up before they start because that becomes self-fulfilling. Don't make concessions too early.

Q: You moved to the U.S. for your husband's career. Wasn't that a huge concession on your part? A recent study found that far more women move to accommodate their husbands' careers than the reverse. Is there a way to even the playing field?

A: When we moved to Boston for my husband's job, I said the next move is mine. I was very explicit. We both believe in fairness, so it wasn't a problem. When I was ready to move back to England, I knew the timing might not be perfect for everybody else, but the moment was mine.

Q: You say it's essential to have a career plan, yet many women don't. Why?

A: Women often don't make career plans because they think having a plan will cut them off from opportunities. But I think a plan illuminates opportunities that they wouldn't have seen before. I learned this the hard way. Whenever I've made a plan, I'm staggered at what it achieves.

Q: What do you mean by "portable power"?

A: Sometimes we are looking for dependency at work. When we agonize over things like face-time (with superiors), those are symbols of dependency. The only power is "portable power," which is inside of you. You are safe because you are capable. That's the only safety there is.

Q: Many women who have stayed home to raise their families have trouble getting back into the workplace once their children are grown. Can you offer any advice for them?

A: Sometimes women don't see how their skills map onto business. Women negotiate all the time, for instance. We figure out who is going to pick up the kids, we handle Thanksgiving. If you can negotiate with your kids, you can negotiate world peace. My daughter is a great example. I bought her a pair of boots when I was travelling. They didn't fit, and she said I owed her a pair of boots, so I bought her a new pair. Then she realized that the original pair fit, but she wanted to keep both pairs. I was a little peeved because of the money, but I was dazzled. I said, "I take my hat off to you. I'd like to have you working for me because you know how to negotiate for resources." And she's only 6. I regard it as part of my job to make sure that's something she never loses.

Leslie Whitaker is co-author of "The Good Girl's Guide to Negotiating."