Here are some tips on how a frum woman can maintain a professional presence in the workplace
Chaim Shapiro’s article “They Don’t Teach Corporate in Yeshivah” offered a panoramic view of some of the challenges and culture shocks yeshivah graduates might find entering the corporate world. I’d like to offer a parallel glimpse of some of the challenges a frum female may find in the corporate business world, because after all, they don’t teach corporate in Bais Yaakov either.
When we were in seminary, our teachers introduced us to Rabbi Aaron Lopiansky’s Ben Torah for Life, which we used as a springboard for discussion of issues that might come up in the workforce, and necessary boundaries. We discussed not looking over the same computer screen as a male coworker, taking the stairs if possible to avoid being alone in an elevator with a man, and introducing ourselves with our English names or as Miss So-and-so. But there were some unspoken office culture norms that we never discussed while still on seminary’s safe shores.
Break the Shake
Be ready to avoid handshaking. It’s a good idea to come to an initial interview with a purse in one hand and a hefty folder in the other. Should the interviewer be male, you can do a demure different hand shuffle. Brownie points if your hands are unavailable because you’ve brought a tray of iced lattes to the office.
Always assume married until proven otherwise. I don’t care how cute the office yenta thinks you and the only male Jewish coworker are (even though your only interaction with him was his passing you the milk in the communal coffee space). Until it’s explicitly, verbally iterated that he isn’t married, always assume that he is.
Early to Bed, Early to Rise
While post-work mingling may lead to team building and greater camaraderie, they generally lead to interactions you want to avoid. Let your coworkers think you are a boring party pooper. You don’t do rooftop bars or drink, and you go to sleep early so you can be on time come morn. Do they think you’re a miss goody two shoes? So be it.
Jobs can be seasonal, and downtime happens, but no boss likes to see their employees twiddling their thumbs. Be resourceful, whether it’s taking courses that can add value to your company position or listening to podcasts related to your industry. No boss wants to pass an employee’s desk and see them on random news sites or listening to shiurim.
Keep out of Others’ Business
If your boss’s wife calls and he says to tell her he isn’t in the office, you say he stepped out and will call her back ASAP. You don’t judge.
Don’t Sell Yourself Short
It’s normal to be intimidated by the initial onboarding. Hiring managers can sometimes make a recruit feel like they’re doing you a favor by offering you the position. Sometimes this is the case; getting a foot in the door into a stable company with exponential career potential is something to be grateful for. But if a contract doesn’t sit well with you, talk it over with an industry professional, and don’t be afraid to alter the contract before sending it back. Employers’ bluff might be just that.
Invest with the Best
Find out from the get-go if your company has a 401K and if you can contribute. Finances aren’t dull. You’re welcome.
Leave the Drama to High School
If you have a hunch that a coworker is abusing their authority, or you see there are insecurity-driven office politics, don’t allow yourself to be sucked into the drama. Leave the sandbox games for high school. We’ve graduated.
Write It Down
If a client agrees to a new protocol, shoot them an email and bcc your supervisor. Everything is hearsay if it isn’t documented.
On that note, it’s very crucial to learn the nuances of “blind carbon copy” and “carbon copy.” Bcc is to keep supervisors and fellow teammates in the loop, anonymously, and cc is when you want to keep everyone in the loop, with an added “for all to see” nudge. (Example: When your supervisor compliments you, you want him to cc his supervisor.)
Out of Order
Work is not the time to order clothes. Period. It’s not professional, and unless you share the discount code with everyone, it’s unfair to make your female counterparts jealous with your 9-5 metziahs.
True story: A coworker’s Zara order accidentally was shipped to her desk and my boss asked her why she didn’t think he could use some new shirts as well.
Fake It Till You Make It
Every expert was once a beginner. When you were hired, part of the interview process was to assess whether you have the capabilities for this role. There is nothing wrong with asking for help and showing a willingness to learn, and your hustle should be applauded. If you’re in an environment where the feedback is false and the critique is harsh, it may be the wrong fit for you. Don’t ever be afraid to listen to your innate gut voice. Your mental health comes before your 9-5.
On that note, be prepared — all beginnings are hard. You’ll need time to adjust to the new schedule, people, and workload. And take advantage of lunch breaks! You might feel virtuous working straight through your break with just an RXBAR at your desk, but taking the time to recharge will allow you to head back to your desk invigorated and ready to tackle your tasks.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 918)
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